Monday, September 29, 2014

Fiction, what does it mean to you?

So I wanted to take a break and ask people what they thought the value of fiction was (if any) and what it can do to improve a person's life. I'm asking because I wonder if people who write, or read, get the same reactions I do, such as why do I write fiction (being of a technocratic family, I hear this a lot). Or the general view in the at large world that fiction is make believe so why read it? Why bother? Better off reading about the world. No full on answers from me for now (that will be later). I will say that this can be looked in many ways, and none would be entirely wrong.


A few definitions:
I am, of course, mainly talking about modern fiction. The type being written and read today. For clarity's sake we can say fiction from the past hundred years, with a focus on today's fiction (therefore traditions arising from myths and other stories, will not be included. If this seems like a gross oversight then explain; I will always give way to good arguments).
And we can keep it to serious fiction and its value.
Also, the question is merely what reading fiction's place is in today's world (not that a certain degree is better than another kind of reading) not that one should read at least something (so why fiction and not only non-fiction).

More notes: I understand the limitation to serious fiction can be stifling. The definition of serious is up to you. I mean a book that shifted your perspective on life (I usually intend this for adults, as it's easier as a child to have one's perspective shifted). And the value of fiction as merely another outlet of entertainment (and as several friends told me, this is important, especially for people who have done much during the work day and simply want to relax with a good book) is not being derided here. That too is a goal. But is it the only goal? Should fiction merely be there for entertainment (I dare say no)? I understand that some people think this is useless, if there's something to be said, then it should be said without any make believe.

And more arguments are that it's a way to live other people's lives (then why not memoirs instead?) or that it creates a better human with more empathy (not sure this has been proven), or that it forces one to use more parts of the brain (especially serious fiction, and this has been proven, to some extent with fMRIs). Could be that you merely think it's there like art, something to make sure we're not alone, something to make sure that we know we are part of something else (the history the stories all point to this); this is, of course, harder to prove. And there is the cynical counterargument that all art is propaganda and fiction is no different, and thus no case can be made for it.

Any of these are good reasons for fiction to be around, what are yours? For defenders of fiction what do you say to people who only read non-fiction (there is a weakness here, right? Few people will ever argue non-fiction is not needed, as I would never, but the other argument is made every day)?  

So what are your thoughts?

16 comments:

  1. You want arguments. Here's one against; my grandpa told me this as I was growing up and he caught me reading when I was in high school and he was certain I was doomed, for no one wasted precious moments of their life reading things that did not matter, that did not pertain to reality: You're a man who's in some deserted section of the world (island, post-apocalyptic what have you) what would you wish for? A novel or a book on how to build a boat, or survive? This is the choice. No one would ever choose the novel, it's always the non-fiction that wins. Check mate.

    I know, I know. Let's tell a story: Same situation as above. You're about to die, genie pops up and shows you two boxes, you can't see though em, and you have to pick one. One you know has a novel, the other a non-fiction book which might help you survive. Which do you pick?

    Do you get it? That's life. You're running out of time, you're in a desert or on an island. Which one do you pick? I know I'll pick the non-fiction, I think a few fatalists will pick the novel. I'll tell you what, what a person picks is very telling of what kind of person they are, as is the person who reads make believe books.

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    1. Is this for real? Desert island? Son, life sure as hell ain't no desert island. It's a, for the civilian in a civilization (oh, I know, our tortured artist will say that every record of civilization is a record of barbarism.. damn ingrates those artists), it's an oasis. And yes, fiction is a luxury. I throw it up there with art (and it's lesser cousin entertainment, but more on that later) as a beautiful frivolous item to have, to hold, to enjoy.

      So fiction is in many ways art, as Lowhim said, and it's something that we need because we're the kind of person that likes that. Sure this all won't matter when the apocalypse happens (yes engineers will be needed more then), but it's something that should always be considered as good clothes and houses should: we can enjoy this now, why not?

      Beyond the hedonistic reason? I'm certain. I'd really rather dwell on why we like art and why it's something speaks to us, these shapes and words that another human being creates. Can you answer that: why does art matter?

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    2. All Art is...
      well you know the trick. But Anon's story reminds me of a fellow in the same situation. Poor bastard was a journalist. Caught up in the Levantine war. You know the kind: starts out all hope and flowers. A few bombs and nerve gas canisters later and you're fighting for your lives, caring not a wit for idealism, just if you can push the front line a few inches forth. And that's when the crazies (hell, maybe you became a crazy) take over. Better a rabid dog than dead (says Darwin).

      And this friend of mine, he finds himself not amongst friends but amongst the violent, the rabid. And he's lucky because they decide not to chop off his head, but to go out and leave him in the middle of the desert.

      Who knows why. Maybe they thought that some turn of events had to be from a spy, or a bad talisman like him. Maybe they'd been reading Borges and wanted to throw him into a labyrinth of their choice (who knows, perhaps he tried to word game them).

      Nevertheless, my friend, on the third day, delirious from thirst and the thought of dying out there. He too found a genie (or so he says, or more like he understands hallucinations) and was asked which box to choose from. He chose the non-fiction, found water and lived to tell the tale. but when he came home he didn't read non-fiction but fiction. Nothing but. So that's my point or story or fable. Do with it what you will.

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    3. Some good thoughts, some good food for thought, and some great scenarios. Anon, thanks for replying, though I don't agree with your view. Surely, life is suffering, but is it a desert with only two choices? Perhaps it is for some (I'm speaking specifically of the time to read books, which is what I see this choice as, while filled in a life full of things to learn). But even then I would say that fiction is needed. That it helps put things in perspective. I will write more on this later.
      Orthello, Great story, I will do with it what I will. That fiction can help in addition to non-fiction. Glad your friend made it out of the labyrinth.
      Plato, I agree that fiction is a kind of art, though one that relies on mass production rather than the usual sense of art where it's produced in ones or in limited editions at best.
      Thanks for the ideas everyone.

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    4. I think you're giving the idea of a desert too much credit. By desert perhaps you mean one a life without luxuries. Or what we consider civilized life or the life of a western person in the middle class or higher. Or that art is only enjoyed on that level.
      Yet art, or the feelings that give rise to art have been shown to be from a much earlier time, have they not? At least when we were dwelling in caves. That's simpler stuff, but it should be suffice to say that, well, it's something we all take a part in even if we're 'in a desert' and if not that, or if that's art and not writing then think on the other things such as story telling that we were telling stories or singing them around the campfire (there's a bushman study somewhere here where they proved this for at least one nomadic group) for our goddamn health and I stil think that in desert there would be room for writing fiction or at least telling a story.

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    5. plato, you're not even the Plato because the Plato I know wouldn't put up with this crap about fiction being art or being anything and I hope that you have even read a bit about the man because he was all for using poets or fiction writers for what they could be to make a stable country and make people grow good but that is not you you imposter you. The real plato would back me up and say no to fiction but yes to fiction when it helps the people in power that is the people who win, fiction doesn't win.

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  2. Drinking a few beers here, but lemme chime in. One needs to look at fiction as not some necessity of survival int he physical sense since it is a survival of our metaphysical selves. Not to say hocus pocus magic is real, but in the way it manifests itself (and that no science can yet pin it down, can yet put it in a lab and give us results) it is a very ephemeral substance and one most of us, like the people here, can't quite put our fingers on it. but it exists, this need for a visceral release of the imagination as well as the tie in to our world.

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    1. This is something that I'm trying to put words to. There is something important about the matter and we need to see it, or to help define it, at least.

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  3. Hi, there, fiction, is, life

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  4. Fiction is a sea of words. It either is a great swim, or one that drowns you. The longer it goes and the more you do fiction the better shape you are in. abs. Rock hard abs, but not abs but your mind. Think. Fiction is belief in humantiy

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    1. Reading anything engrossing can be just that, Anon, a sea of words. In my experience this can change the experience of swimming in the sea with the volatility of the waves and the struggle it is to swim through. To take the analogy even further, reading something deep is not always a comfortable swim, but it ends up being a memorable one. Not to say that swimming in a pool is bad either.

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  5. It seems to be something of a faith in this blog that literature, and fiction specifically...though how one draws that line might be one of the harder projects that mankind could ever take on and the truth is why would we spend money on such things?... As something more than entertainment.

    So let us examine that for as second. When English departments and fiction were created, it was meant as a loose replacement for what was being lost as religion and a needed boost for national identity. Propaganda then. Yes. And national identity can be blind to history. Nowadays there is a little more discussion on the topic ... See literary fiction and that load of tripe... But it is reflective of our society that it's more than ever about class. Or power. Never forget that. It is the stories that the powers that be want you to hear which matter and in this fiction is like anything else in the info field

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    1. If fiction is only entertainment (only, that is, it can be that and more) then pray for more. Read fiction for fun? Sure. Read it for a pinprick of the soul? Always.

      Like many people, I used to love reading for fun, especially thrillers but no more, my friend, no more. When I know that adults, grown up adults, love reading this kind of thing.

      But, you say, that’s what reading is Or maybe you say first we should be happy that they’re reading at all, and second we should walk away from all attempts at being elitist.

      After all, you go on undeterred by my stare, what one likes in reading is subjective, there is no real definition of literature except that perhaps it’s what those in power want to think is worthwhile reading for themselves and the masses, and thus must present a worldview that shines a good light on them and their views. These people aren’t reading literature, but something that would be considered approved reading by those in power, And that only goes to show that this is their way of exercising a kind of power. Why deride that?

      Well, allow me to retort, then. There are but a handful of ways on can interact with the world: with a serious case of avoiding the truth or facing up to the truth. That's it. We walk towards realism if we want to hand over a better world to our future citizens, or we walk away if we don't care. So don't lecture me.

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    2. What's wrong with adults enjoying some silly fiction? after a hard day's work, what else do you want to do? I'm guessing that you might not have a hard day's work. We see shitty reality all the time, why let a time that's meant to be for escape, be a time for worrying about something else?

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    3. Anon, I don't think that anyone is saying someone shouldn't enjoy some light reading. Indeed, as I stated above, swimming in the pool is fun, but one should always try to swim in deeper waters. It widens one's experience with the world, with humanity too.

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  6. Check. Some of us just want to read a good book. Check. If you say different you prob are just thinkin you better than us. Is gonegirl. Really worse than hologram for a king? Bull. check Remember if they are so smart why aren't they rich. Checkmate

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