Fiction is Fiction

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

Eric Falkenstain watched Tyler Cowen’s recent TED talk, which argues that fiction is fiction:

We instinctively try to fit everything into such narratives: the health care debate, our career trajectory, our lives. Tyler notes that this may be too much. Life isn’t a story. Often it just keeps going, is messy, and has no point.

I found this a very refreshing point. My 10 year old son had to write a story, and his first draft was basically a narrative with stuff happening but no arc, no Exposition/Rising Action/Climax/Falling Action/Denouement: he went there, and Clay said X and so we did this and Connor said Y and yada yada yda. I tried to get him to appreciate the essence of a story, but it was suprisingly (for me!) not obvious to him, and his intuition was based on his experience with life, which is, there is no story.

I suppose that my view, that stories should have an arc, is more educated, and his 10-year old intuition is unstructured, incomplete. Yet his innocence betrays some naive wisdom, that life is in some sense ‘one damned thing after another’. It’s good to know the strengths and limitations of both views: without facts, everything is bullshit; without theory, everything is trivia.

It’s comforting to believe there’s a bigger purpose, yet we flatter ourselves that unlike the Coelacanth or starfish our finite lives have some transcendence, which in our secular age means some small yet permanent benefit to justice and equality (synonymous for many). Instead, I think today’s giants are all like great harpists of the past. They may have been fortunate to play an instrument well, but no matter how good, their skill is now an anachronism, and not valued in itself. Over time, it will be totally unappreciated, as future generations prefer different melodies and instruments. To think every drama in our lives is part of a story, written by fate, is alluring, but fanciful.

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