So many excellent comments associated with my previous writing, Shadow Talk, as well as exceptional writing in other weblogs such as Jonathon’s, Dorothea’s, Aquarionics, Elaine’s, Laura’s, and (soon to be) Chris’s. I only wish I could do justice to the debates because there’s a rich story unfolding among all the different views, but I’m not sure I’m the one to tell it. All I can do is give my own understanding of the topic of ‘truth in weblog writing’ and that’s difficult enough as it is.
When I tell a story from my past I try to describe events accurately; however what results is inevitably ‘tainted’ by my personal viewpoint of the event. Someone else reading my story might say, “I don’t remember it that way”, and I’m sure they’d be equally correct. Chances are a videotape would prove us both wrong.
The important part of the story isn’t necessarily any individual fact; it’s my experience of the event, my image of it, which I then share with my readers; to me, the image is the truth, though the facts, if recorded, might not completely agree.
Am I practicing a deception if my view of the events differs from the actual facts? No, because what I’m writing, my feelings and responses, they are very real. They are the essence of what I’m trying to convey with my stories.
Of course, one could say that this isn’t the same as deliberately creating a story and putting oneself into it. After all, the former is nothing more than writing from our own personal perceptions of an event, while the latter could be said to be writing from a lie. From …bits of alibis and consistent lies, as Jonathon would say. Still, I’m not so sure the two are that different.
A few weeks back I wrote about two essays — one by Virginia Woolf the other by Annie Dillard — that had enormous impact on me when I read them in college years ago. The subject was the same, a first person narrative about watching the death of a moth; but each writer’s written description and interpretation of the event differed enormously. In Woolf’s the moth dies nobly, quietly, and with dignity, while Dillard’s moth died with passion, with a fierce resistence, burning brightly at the end.
I would give anything I own, including the soul I don’t believe in, to be able to write as well as both of these women did in these particular essays. However, if you were to tell me that the incident of the moth really didn’t occur for either author, that they ‘made it up’, it wouldn’t matter a bit to me. I would still love these stories as much, and they would still have as profound an effect on me.
In my comments Language Hat brings up a very valid point about the introduction of fiction into our personal narratives:
Most of us, on the other hand, use fictionalization as a means to make ourselves look better or somehow impress others, and since we don’t have the insight and imagination of a Joyce or a Faulkner, the results tend towards a homogenized “story-telling” mode that can be mildly amusing but doesn’t hold the attention for long.
I agree with Language Hat, this type of fictionalization becomes all too obvious at some point and rather boring, even embarrassing. I saw this once with another weblogger, someone who I haven’t read in a long, long time. But then, I’ve also seen this happen with webloggers who have no idea that they’re ‘fictionalizing’ themselves. They cast themselves as the heros, the shining knights, in their own stories and they are no less sad for all their belief that they are being ‘honest’. (I have a lowering thought that I’ve done this a time or two myself.)
If another weblogger tells me that they’re an agent for the FBI, working undercover to hunt terrorists, but in actuality, they’re a security cop at a mall, I would be furious, and they would be foolish, because that kind of lie will out. The same as saying you’re not married when you are, or that you have children when you have not, and so on. Even saying you have a cat, when you don’t, is a foolish lie that has nothing to do with writing, literature, or weblogging for that matter. A person pretending something they’re not isn’t writing, but a sad admission that they think little of themselves.
This type of lie, this personal fictualization as Language Hat so aptly calls it, is completely different from the subtle storytelling in the essays about the death of the moth I mentioned earlier. In these, it doesn’t matter if the event was real or not because what the writer was feeling, the thoughts and images they wanted to communicate with these stories were very real. More so, the stories reveal rather than conceal the author. They didn’t seek to hide behind the story of the moth — they sought to use it to tell a story about themselves, and how they experience life. Both writers used the moth to describe their own fears of death, their own views of how they see themselves dying. And that’s as authentic as you can get in writing.
I think this is the point that Beerzie Boy was making when he said:
I like to think that for myself, when I change facts it is fairly superficial as far as the “factual” aspect, and the purpose is usually to make the underlying meaning (theme? message?) more concise or clear. In my view, changing facts for self-aggrandizement is intellectually wrong, but it really hurts the writer more than the reader; generally if writing is insincere it undermines a work’s artisic qualities.
I’m not sure if the story of the moths is the same as Jonathon’s bits of alibis and consistent lies. He’s the only one can answer that and I am looking forward to hearing his answer, and exploring the concepts further, if he chooses to share them. Regardless, I have a feeling that Jonathon’s ‘consistent lies’ are closer to who he really is, and far more authentic, than recent posts that focused on the war in Iraq, for all their truthfulness.