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Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 13:33:48 -0700
Subject: Re: (urth) Generic Considerations
From: Jason Ingram 

I agree with most of Blattid's response.  A couple of clarifications:

Blattid writes:

> Well: No text completely or perfectly reflects "reality." The texts
> we call nonfiction are perhaps more revealing in the (often relevant)
> aspects of "reality" they omit than the ones they include. This is
> particularly revelatory of the author's purpose or agenda.
> But ... well, I just finished reading the two volumes (so far)
> of Morris' biography of Theodore Roosevelt. In what sense is this
> "fiction?" It selects details. It speculates, but attempts to make
> clear where speculation is taking place. I just don't know.

I would use a different metaphor than that of a mirror reflecting 
reality.  Perhaps a lens or filter.  I wouldn't say that biographies 
are necessarily fiction, but rather that they fail the (misleading) 
test of "correspondence with reality" in *some* respects.  For 
instance: representation of thoughts, anachronistic terminology, 
smoothing out the ambiguity facing historical agents.  Not that lists 
of facts compiled into a coherent narrative progression and centered on 
the life of an important individual lack value; far from it.  But 
Fernand Braudel writes history in a completely different vein; instead 
of arguing that his historical approach is more--or less--accurate, it 
seems more productive to focus on what useful aspects his approach 
reveals (as well as what it may conceal).

> Ummm. Not entirely true ... consider Proust again. Is _Remembrance
> of Things Past_ really more fictional than the average text of history
> or biography? Why or why not?

I would guess that Proust's quasi-autobiogaphy does not present certain 
truth claims characteristic of histories and autobiographies.  These 
claims are largely implicit and tacit; conventions differ.  I wouldn't 
rate these differences along a continuum of "more or less fictional."  
Naturalistic fiction might claim to be a "more accurate" depiction of 
reality than journalistic accounts; I think this is a useful 
distinction that Blattid points to, and that I try to tap into by 
talking about the function of discourses.  A bit more on this below.

(I write, and Blattid responds:)
>> but I don't think that positing the possibility of a one-to-one 
>> correspondence with some reality (whether transcendent or immanent) 
>> is a good starting point.
> A starting point for, uh, what?

Discussion and analysis.  Although I probably should have avoided the 
language of starting points and such.  So: Starting out by classifying 
genres in terms of their correspondence to truth may not be that useful 
(e.g. Math and propositional logic and Holy texts correspond most 
closely to reality; economic texts and statistics and engineering 
journals are second in rank; history and travel guides and maps are 
third;  biology, philosophy and biography are fourth; news reports and 
dictionaries are fifth; MF sixth; SF seventh; political speeches 
eighth; lovers' pleas and poetry last).  It's not useless, but it 
adopts a problematic view of reality.

As I said, I think we essentially agree.



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