Truth from Fiction

Last Friday Rachel and I were sitting at Barnes & Noble reading.  (This has become a very enjoyable habit for us)  We were privileged to witness a class from a local elementary school on a field trip to visit the store.

I have to admit it was a little distracting, but well worth it if even a few of the children are motivated to love books and reading.

The employee conducting the tour spoke loud enough for all of us to hear.  He said a few things I took issue with. For instance, in the “hobbies” section, he pointed out that “your mom might like to knit, or your dad might want to build you a cabinet or something. Books in this section would help them.”

Yeah, moms all knit, and dads are the ones who build things.  Except that Rachel brought a lot more power tools and experience with them into our marriage than I did.  But enough about that.  Something he said bothered me much more than his latent sexist stereotyping.

The guy explained to the kids that “Fiction is made-up or make-believe stories, while non-fiction is about real things and the truth.”

As you know if you follow my reading page, I’m currently reading Sheldon Siegel’s Judgment Day. Siegel’s novels are about the life and work of Mike Daley, a former Catholic priest turned defense attorney. Mr. Daley has a teenage daughter who behaves a lot like the actual, non-fictional teenagers you and I know.

About 2/3 of the way through Judgment Day,  Daley’s daughter is giving him grief over something.  In an attempt to avoid getting into the argument, the author shares this thought:

“It’s a bad idea to wallow in the mud with an angry teenager.”

Yes it is.  We all know this, don’t we?

274 pages into a work of fiction we find a statement that is as true as my writing that it is raining outside.

Perhaps we will take up the matter of whether all non-fiction is based on, about, or even relates to “truth” some other time, but for now, remember, fiction is not the opposite of truth!

5 thoughts on “Truth from Fiction

  1. I was just watching “V for Vendetta” the other day, which always seem to get better after each viewing. Most of the movie deals with just what you say here. “Artists use lies to show the truth…” Perhaps a little more extreme, but similar nonetheless.

    Certainly something that is truth can be no more or less true wherever it is found.

  2. if he was explaining fiction and non-fiction to little kids then cut him some slack. I don’t think he was trying to say there was NO truth in fiction books, but as he did say the stories are made-up. There are still truths in made up stories, but I don’t think elementary school is the level you necessarily get in a long discussion about that.
    As far as the latent sexism… well, I am not saying I am agreeing with the guy, but I would bet he is pretty safely playing the odds. He definately could have chosen less sexist ways to say that. Also, if you had a conversation with him, per your ‘name calling’ segment, you might find in the household he grew up in his mom knitted, and his dad built. Which would mean he might have been speaking out of a descriptive of his experience, rather than attemping to posit a normative for society.

  3. I don’t have a clue how to knit (though I know it has something to do with yarn and sharp objects – including guillotines) and I’m not so good at building things. My wife is better at both.

    As to fiction, I’ve long disagreed with John Searle who considers fiction to consist of “pretended” speech acts.

  4. “Fiction is made-up or make-believe stories, while non-fiction is about real things and the truth.”

    Unfortunately, when certain writing is labeled “non-fiction”, very few of us apply Paul’s recommendation to “test everything” and hold on to the truth. We never read “real things” and the “truth” — we read someone’s written report of these things. The reality and truth in their writing depends largely on their interpretation of said real things and truth, their ability to communicate this to readers and the readers’ ability to comprehend what is written. Each element of this process often introduces someone’s personal perspective, preconceptions and interpretation.

    Fiction is not always devoid of truth and non-fiction does not always accurately portray truth. Too few of us test that.

  5. I have found profound truths in novels. and realized that a non-fiction text was full of lies. The test of Truth is simple, yet so easily distorted by what you want to hear. One knows Truth, it has a ring of authenticity, it engages one’s soul. The great distraction from the search for truth arose out of Empiricism, which convinced a lot of people that their subjective reality cannot perceive out there reality. Start where you want – i often go back to Willem of Occam – the Western Mind has tried to turn it’s back on common sense. And common sense finds it’s greatest expression in fiction. I learned some facts about sex in a book, but i know whatever I may know about love in works of fiction. and poetry, don’t forget that poets thru out history. Shelley famously said that poets are the secret legislators of the world. in our world the power of poetry has been usurped by advertising – who ever coins the phrases that roll off our tongue has mastery of our thoughts. Some say Romantic love was created by the poets, some credit Dickens for awakening the Victorian era to the cruelties their privilege was based on, the Velvet Revolution was lead by a writer of singular beauty, Vaslav Havel.

    I credit you Steve for perceiving something off in the bookstore employee’s lecture. Not that I blame the guy for promoting false consciousness in children. Our cruelty to children is boundless, and lies wound. Even if the person telling lies has no idea that they are lies. Sexual stereotypes are lies. His description of the difference btwn fiction and non-fiction may have been dumbed down for the sake of simplicity, but the stance is a more discreet way of lying to children, because children are actually capable of understanding subtleties. We have to maintain that stance as a set of blinders to how inhumane our treatment of children really is. If we can continue the pretense that the child doesn’t understand then we can continue to abuse children because there is no witness. The child’s testimony doesn’t exist.

    i seem to have touch one of my own nerves because I had not intended to go off like this. you see, i read a book by Alice Miller…

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