Sunday, April 10, 2011

Authentic Organic Prose

What notional and mischievous creatures we are with our responses to what is and what is not actual or, to use another plangent buzzword, authentic.

When you invent something from bolts of whole cloth of your imagination, then call it story, and in particular call it a fictional narrative, you are nevertheless presenting the material in such a way that most of those who read it will take it as though it could have happened in reality.  As they read, they will have let the pretense of the material as real slip into the background, all the subsequent while having suspended cynicism and disbelief, thinking the story is an eavesdrop on believable persons.

When you invent something from those same bolts of whole cloth, then say some if it or all of it happened in the reality before us, you are advancing the notion of yourself as a historian, someone with a degree of rigidity to his standards of reliability.  Thus, by inference, his narrative really happened.

The inexpert writer who is challenged by readers of his narrative that it lacks verisimilitude, the writer's defense is "But it really happened that way," as though that statement were sufficient cause for the reader to accept the narrative as true.

Of all the things that irritate you upon your entry into a place of performance, the disclaimer "Based on an actual story," or, better still, "Based on a real ( or true )story"  irritates most, causing you to wonder what part of the story was invented and what part real.  In some fast food restaurants, automated soft drink dispensers carry more honest labels such as fifteen percent juice, or contains lemon flavoring but 0% lemon.  You know where you stand.  In similar fashion, when you read that this is the actual juice taken from fresh grapefruit, you are alert to the fact of it not being from concentrated grapefruit or any other kind of fruit, but when you are informed of story being based on an actual story, you are in safer hands with the fifteen-percent lemonade.

The catch therein is in how effective the story--actual or shall we say "enhanced" is presented.  When we are presented with history and told it is historical fact, we may be safe in assuming the historian who researched the material was not a complete objective observer, but as he or she assessed the gathered data, came to some conclusion, which was then presented with due diligence.  Nope, that's saying historians are remarkable for not having a particular bias or vision.  Depending on the travel gear we bring with us when we sit to read or to watch, we are in no small way subject to the seductive dance of the text, presenting its evidentiary track of events and relics to us, leaving us no idea which if any events or relics were left out in the interests of space or time or both.

In some cases, as students and as writers, we are asked to provide a vision of a person, place, or event. The professor or the assigning editor may ask us to supply a new interpretation, a new read of probability based on what was at the time of writing a plausible reality as opposed to being based on a theory based on a real story.

The best we can hope for is to get ourself there to a point of as much belief and understanding as possible based on the material we have on hand and then the inferences come in, colored by the same cultural lathes that shaped our own psyche.  The best we can also hope for is that ineffable something that transmits plausible probability.  In that sense, fiction is more honest than fact unless it is the drama documented with journals, diaries, eyewitness reports.  The more plausible fiction becomes, the greater likelihood for the reader to believe it is the true account the writer wanted to tell in nonfiction but could not bring himself or herself to do so for fear of backlash.  You hear it with greater frequency now:  I'll read the novel to get at the actual story, which is the story by subtext, irony, and implication.  And even if the reader is presented with the actual score of a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, played at Dodger Field, and the reader knows for a fact which team won, the reader also wants to know other human details such as those that go on in the parking lots, after the game, out of the watchful or not-so-watchful eyes of the security guards, details such as severe and violent beating.

How much can we know?  How much of what we know is verifiable?  How can we trust the verification?  What would we have done instead of what we did do if only we had known the truth? 

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