Thursday, May 26, 2016

Terry Eagleton and the Problem with Fiction

I enjoy reading Terry Eagleton. To paraphrase an Amazon reviewer: "he writes with a slight condescending tone. Good people." His book, How to Read Literature, is another solid piece of work. In it he speaks of literary theorists.

Apparently, some of those deep into literary theory would say that made up characters and made up worlds are all there, all exist. I know, I know, this sounds like some overly theoretical idealism. Bear with me a moment. Now how they exist is another thing, but it reminds me of my friends precocious children whom I babysat one day. 

They asked me what I did and I said writing. Fiction? Yes. They scrunched up their noses and I felt proud that they had come out as close replicas of their technocratic parents, even if I was saddened by their disparaging voices.

"Why write what's not real?" they asked. A sentence to the exact word and tenor that I'd heard their parents use before. Interesting to see that replication; though to see what becomes of it in the teen years would provide a satisfactory schadenfreude. 

But for some reason, then and there, I felt a need to stand up for my flimsy trade and donning my writer's cap I told them that it was never about what was unreal. And suddenly, like some archangel I spouted out a theory that, until then, I had never believed. 

I first explained that the world itself was finite and human minds more so (in terms of range of actions and thoughts) and even if the reactions possible between a finite brain and finite world. Nothing in their range was unreal. Everything was real.

Having struck them dumb founded with these words, I then proceeded to tell them that whatever we didn't understand in this world, upon this is what fiction would be able to shine the first weak rays of light. 

I'm not sure what else I said. Most of it was in defense of from their barrage of questions. I'm not even sure if I had been using drugs that night. I told them that those fantastical worlds and witches all existed. They only had to find them.

Their parents would call me later that year, astounded at the children's growing capacity to read and fathom the world at hand and how they were busy building new ones. 

I babysat again a few months later. They were fast becoming young adults and when they wanted to show me the world they had created, I had to fight an impulse to tell them not to follow in my tracks and become something else, something more concrete.

But you know kids at that age. They wouldn't listen and dragged me to their room to show the new world. I opened their closet expecting to see a diorama or something of the like, but instead there glowed a portal to a living breathing world of little creatures going about their business of making a city. I leaned in to make sure it wasn't ants or something. No, it was an entire civilization.

I ran. 

Something about that house always creeped me out. I called their parents telling them I couldn't fulfill my babysitting duties. They told me not to get freaked out about the closet—somehow they knew—it was only kids being kids. But I wouldn't have any of it. I never returned. It's a horrible thing to see a theory of the world come to life. I'm still running.

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