Letters From An Alien -Facts and Fictions

Posted: October 1, 2011 in Letters From An Alien, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing
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‘In a work of nonfiction we almost never know the truth of what happened. The ideal of unmediated reporting is regularly achieved only in fiction, where the writer faithfully reports on what is going on in his imagination. When James reports in “The Golden Bowl” that the Prince and Charlotte are sleeping together, we have no reason to doubt him or to wonder whether Maggie is “overreacting” to what she sees. James’s is a true report. The facts of imaginative literatures are as hard as the stone that Dr. Johnson kicked. We must always take the novelist’s and the playwright’s and the poet’s word, just as we are almost always free to doubt the biographer’s or the autobiographer’s or the historian’s or the journalist’s. In imaginative literature we are constrained from considering alternative scenarios — there are none. This is the way it is. Only in nonfiction does the question of what happened and how people thought and felt remain open.’

from Janet Malcolm, The SIlent Woman (Granta UK 1996), 155

I don’t know if  Foucault’s Daughter  would agree. In my novella I documented the ‘death of the author’ and I deliberately left many stones of the narrative unturned. I think there were alternative scenarios to the one I suggested. But none I guess beyond the reader and the text. Nobody could come back from the dead, or from ‘real life’, even if I’d mentioned them or used their words in my book, and tell me I was wrong. They were figments of my imagination.

Whereas in non-fiction, some people  will have a different  story to tell, and a contrasting  version of reported events. They will be able to refute the contents of the work. In fiction you can only read it differently.

  1. Gs says:

    “I think there were alternative scenarios to the one I suggested.”

    Regarding this, I think Ms. Malcolm would suggest that, as the author, you chose the particular set of facts for your story thus, those facts are “set in stone.” Any interpretation of them cannot rely on presenting a different set of “facts”.

    So, for example, for the Prince and Charlotte’s affair to be interpreted, it can’t be interpreted by rewriting the “facts” of their involvement. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know the author’s actual chosen set of “facts” but if those facts were, for example, both parties consenting to the affair then any interpretation has to rely on the fact of this consent and not on a different set of “facts”, such as, Maggie was involuntarily drunk.

    It may be that there is some question as to, for example, whether Maggie was consenting. That is always a possibility. In that case, her consent would not, necessarily, be a “fact” but an interpretation itself. An interpretation that she was consenting.

    Incidentally, while doing a little googling related to your post I came across this exchange between Gore Vidal, the famous writer and critic and John Bayley of St. Catherine’s College. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1984/mar/01/cracking-the-golden-bowl/ The exchange centered around interpreting Henry Jame’s “The Golden Bowl”. I found it really interesting. You can’t get any higher in the chain of credentials for literary criticism than these two must have been.

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