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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" 
Subject: Re: (urth) Generic Considerations
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 15:12:45 -0700

Sepia ends by writing:

>As I said, I think we essentially agree.

I think you're right, and so will cut to a few points where ...
well, we don't necessarily _dis_agree but perhaps emphasize
different aspects. And I have some serious unanswered questions.

>I would use a different metaphor than that of a mirror reflecting reality.  
>Perhaps a lens or filter.

Prism, mirror, lens. The apparently obligatory Delany reference for
this note.

>I wouldn't say that biographies are necessarily fiction, but rather that 
>they fail the (misleading) test of "correspondence with reality" in *some* 

H'mmm. At this point I have to ask the questions I've been unasking
throughout this discussion. I don't like these questions, I suspect
them of being inherently unanswerable. But:

Correspondence with ... what?

And what does "correspond" mean in this context?

Unless and until someone answers those questions, which I don't
see anyone doing real soon, any "correspondence with reality test"
seems to me not only misleading, but meaningless.

This isn't sophomore posing; I know intuitively what I mean when
I talk about reality. Phil Dick probably had the best answer:
"What doesn't go away when I ignore it." (Or words pretty similar.)
But that's not particularly useful for testing against.

A text is (must I really say this?) a shaped thing, shaped for
some purpose(s). A Republican and a Marxian could write histories
of the same period, which would have almost nothing in common,
each with the highest concern for "accuracy" and "correspondence
to reality." Each will doubtless consider the other to have written
inaccurate histories with very little "correspondence to reality."
Can we actually say that either of them is "right"? (Well, yes, I
suppose we can, if we're Republicans or Marxians.) With the best
intent, the two will write books about very different "realities,"
because they _live_ in very different realities.

H'mmm. Another disclaimer seems necessary here: I do in fact believe
in an absolutely real, objective world. But I am quite certain that
none of us perceives it, as such. The Marxian and the Republican,
hard-headed realists both, perceive it in such different terms that
I can't believe either of them is "right," and, alas, can't convince
myself that anyone else is either.

All of which is ... I think ... very relevant indeed to Wolfe and
his "unreliable narrators."

>I would guess that Proust's quasi-autobiogaphy does not present certain 
>truth claims characteristic of histories and autobiographies.

I think I agree with this. And would add that I think it makes
certain (implicit) truth claims _not_ characteristic of histories
and (auto)biographies.

>These claims are largely implicit and tacit; conventions differ.  I 
>wouldn't rate these differences along a continuum of "more or less 

Well, not a linear continuum, anyway. I think it's "continuous"
in that there isn't a quantized measure of "fictionality," but
not linear in that there are multiple dimensions of truth/fictionality.
Asking whether "Temps Perdu" is "more" fictional than, say, Carter's
biography of Proust is kind of like asking whether twenty kilograms
is greater or less than five cubic meters.

Perhaps it's time to introduce the distinction between the factual,
the real, and the true into the discussion? Anyone want to try to
shave that particular barber?

(Personally, I find "fact/truth" to be a particularly useful
distinction: e.g., I will happily call the Genesis accounts of
Creation, with all their intercontradictions, _true_, but not by
any means _factual_. But it's pointless to talk about whether
the account is "real" ... obviously, if accounts can be "real,"
then it's a "real" account. We can encounter it in the world.

But try _defining_ those terms usefully.)


>Starting out by classifying genres in terms of their correspondence to 
>truth may not be that useful [...] It's not useless, but it adopts a 
>problematic view of reality.

What view of "reality" is not problematic?


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