Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Truth in Fiction

Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli writes about finding greater truth in reading fiction than non-fiction:

What I've discovered over time is that nonfiction books very rarely present anything like nonfiction. That is, most postmodern nonfiction. When your view of reality is that reality is shaped by the language you use to describe it and by the oppressions, hidden or overt that define it, it would be difficult to present anything in an objective way, because there cannot be any objectivity.

Fiction, on the other hand, shows me the human condition, and because the author lays his cards on the table on way or the other, I can determine whether what is shown is truly reflective of human experience or is shaped by the bias of the author to lead me to an agenda. If the latter, and if the agenda is one that I do not like, I am likely to throw the book across the room. But when it is an agenda I concur with, such as Flannery O'Connor, I get so much better a snapshot of reality than in any nonfiction I've read in the last ten years....

Well enough. It is my contention that I have learned far more about life and the things that really matter from fiction, or from non-fiction disguised as fiction than I ever did from reading non-fiction. C.S. Lewis's vision of heaven and hell in The Great Divorce has done more to make me think seriously of the last things that any dozen books of straight theology on the last things.

I certainly agree with Steven that truth is often best presented in fiction. Though perhaps, it has a great deal to do with what kind of truth one is trying to convey. Books on politics and political history tend (I would say) to be the worst offendors among non-fiction in being totally locked into their own points of view. Much history, however, is written from a far more honest perspective, and provides a fascinating window on the history of the human experience. Biography and autobiography can also be either highly biased (as is often the case with popular "Here is what the life of this famous person really meant" books) but can also provide some of the deepest insights in literature into the human person. I'm greatly fond of Trollope, Austin and Dickens, but all fall short compared to Boswell's Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Lately I've found myself reading rather more non-fiction than fiction, though I tend to avoid the more ideologically charged writers from either side of the political spectrum. Yet the power of fiction to convey truth should never be underestimated. Lewis' fiction conveys Christianity rather more compellingly than his apologetical works, and Dante's Comedia conveys Catholicism more compellingly in many ways than Aquinas' Summa.

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