Tuesday 15 April 2003

Truth or belief

In Burningbird’s comments, Stavrosthewonderchicken pushed back in no uncertain terms against Bb’s enthusiastic response to my post Alibis and Consistent Lies:

I really intensely dislike the idea of people misrepresenting themselves in order to tell an interesting story. I realize this is a completely unsophisticated stance to take. I never claimed to be sophisticated - in fact, I pride myself as being someone who understands sophistication but prefers not to partake. A meta-sophisticate, if you will.

Anway. Sure, tell stories. Sure, spin yarns. But if those yarns are Made Up Just So Stories, and someone is presenting them as the truth, well, they can shove it.

Of course, there is no such thing as the *truth*, I think. Objectivity is an illusion, certainly. This odd thing people have about not editing their posts is inexplicable to me, I must admit. Art is just experience repurposed, maybe.

If someone chooses to be entertainment, that’s fine. They can play sleight of hand with malleable reality, spin a delicate tower of partial truths and entertaining lies, but they will remain entertainment to me, and enjoying entertainment is something that’s much less important to me than feeling as if I know a person, certainly valued, but not in the same way. Any dipshit can tell entertaining lies. It takes more to live a life whose story is worth telling, or to find a way to chant the song of ones life in a way that makes others wish to listen.

Not everyone is Hunter S Thompson. Everyone has an obligation to self-mythologize, to paraphrase someone or other, but in the end, a failed mythmaker is just a liar.

To which Burningbird replied:

To be honest, I’ve probably mis-represented Jonathon’s style and approach. I’ve been doing this a lot lately, in a continuing sequence of muddying up the waters. Pretty soon, people will cringe to see my trackback link to their writing.

To the contrary, Burningbird. Lately I’ve been misrepresented by experts, whereas your post provided an honest and valuable insight into how I’d originally embraced the concept that not all of this is as it seems.

There’s a fine irony here in that Stavos, Burningbird, and myself were the three offenders in the How Dare Anyone Criticize Meg Hourihan case, which happened to be the first time I articulated the notion—following Stavros’s lead—that blogging could be more than link+quote+comment, time-stamped in reverse-chronological order.

There’s a greater irony too, that Stavros is—despite his protestations—an accomplished storyteller: a natural, if you will, like Burningbird. He might argue that he is only recounting the events of “a life whose story is worth telling,” that he’s merely “chanting the song of [his] life in a way that makes others wish to listen.” I’d reply that, although literal “truth” might be fundamental to Stavros’s method of storytelling, when I read his stories it’s irrelevant whether the events occured exactly as he describes them, I simply wish to surrender to his narrative voice.

So, Stavros’s reservations included, I’m thrilled by this debate. Not just because it’s encouraged me to focus on the only two things that truly matter to me—writing and story—but equally because the viewpoint that Stavros articulates lies at the heart of the debate about the Japanese literary form I love the most: the shishōsetsu. I’ll write a lot about shishōsetsu in the coming weeks and months but, as it happens, something Steve Himmer wrote today—perhaps the most wonderful compliment that anyone has offered about my writing—sums up the essence (and the problematic nature) of the shishōsetsu form:

I don’t know if Jonathon ever dated a woman named Ikuko for real, but I know that I believe the stories he tells about her.

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"...when I read his stories it's irrelevant whether the events occured exactly as he describes them, I simply wish to surrender to his narrative voice."

But don't you think it's possible that it's because of his commitment to truth that his narrative voice is so compelling?

Posted by language hat on 16 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

...when I read his stories it's irrelevant whether the events occured exactly as he describes them, I simply wish to surrender to his narrative voice.

Well said. That's how I feel too.

Posted by Beerzie Boy on 16 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

"Everyone has an obligation to self-mythologize".

Why's that? You go on a trip, do Ya load up the bags with bricks...?!? ;-D Thanks, but no thanks.

"Objectivity is an illusion, certainly." Well, it certainly is if You've not seen and experienced objectivity.

Objectivity is expressed through how One views Oneself... It's unique to each individual, contrary to what some would call common sense.

But everybody HAS experienced this, in such common fashion that it's overlooked. Being so absorbed in a movie to be shocked when the lights go on and You remember You're in a theatre...

Playing with a child.. not because You want them to do anything.. not jes to kill some time.. not because You want them to become anything.. not outta obligation. Just because they wanna play and You wanna play, and that's all.

Thaz Truth. Truth is expressed in action. Wording is action, but is SO easily contrived... Oral as well as written words are not to be trusted too far.. thus the old saws.

Posted by jt on 16 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Oh... And not-doing is action also. You can often find as much, or more, about another person's Truth by what they don't do.


Sure, it doesn't really matter if a person is BSing on their blog, if the author INTENDING to write fiction and the reader knows it... Otherwise BS is still BS.

(And difference between fiction and fact sometimes being blurred considerably, even in journalism.)

People BS all the time, tho, even with the best of intentions. And people have inconsistent views of how muchuva stretching of the truth is acceptable, depending on circumstances. (Normally acceptable for oneself, if for good reasons, and normally NOT for others...;-)

For tongue-in-cheek example, "To be honest, I’ve probably mis-represented Jonathon’s style and approach." Ooops, Shelley, You "lied" on Your OWN self...;-D An honest mistake.. jes didn't turn out to be true... But no way-a KNOWING without getting clarification from Jonathon (assuming Jonathon's reply was basically truth, which I obviously did).

I find it easier to look at things as more-or-less Truth.. some more.. some less... ... ABSOLUTE Truth...??? I'll let others worry over that, as I have enuf trouble just trying for objectivity.


Posted by jt on 16 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

What the heck happened to comments by Elaine and another Gentleman, I skimmed earlier... Another thread.. another blog..?!?

Posted by jt on 17 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour