Fiction’s Raison D’Etre

Quite a long time has passed since anything has been posted, hasn’t it?  I can only excuse myself by saying that my attempts at writing a profound article on Elfen Lied have all failed thus far.  Some of you would likely reply to me that writing a profound article on Elfen Lied is like trying to write a profound article on Battle Vixens; that Elfen Lied made its name with gratuitous nudity and violence; and that it offers little besides that.  On the contrary, my article would reveal that the writer uses such things not simply in order to shock, but in order to highlight themes about the fallen nature of the world and humanity’s overwhelming desire for innocence.  Yet, despite the excellent material at my disposal, the article comes out flat.  Imagine me as a carpenter with all the materials necessary for a luxurious mansion, and yet, after all my hard work, a lean-to stands as the end result.  Then, a scruple keeps running through my mind: do I really want to convince anyone to watch it?  You see, even though the show contains many positive attributes, they truly do go too far with violence and nudity.  If this work were written as a novel, I should have no problem; but, the viewer must naturally see everything, and might find themselves tempted to lust or have their souls damaged in some other way.  Or is my scruple excessive?

Now to progress to the article proper: why do we bother reading or watching fiction?  Concerning books, a writer in the New York Times announced that fiction is dead.  Even though one still sees a sizable following, moderns do tend to prefer their newspapers and true accounts.  (I’m reminded of how Albert Camus said historians would describe the 20th century man: “He fornicated and read the newspapers.”)  We are much more greatly attracted to the exact truth than people of prior ages.  Where we use exact quotations, our ancestors of earlier historical epochs preferred indirect quotes and, if they used direct quotation, they used it to make passages more lively and were satisfied as long as they captured the general import of what the speaker wished to say.  Then, there’s also a religious bias against fiction that has existed since St. Augustine wrote his Confessions.  Why bother with fables and falsehoods when the Bible suffices?  In general, the modern man prefers his newspapers, books about current events, and history to a good novel or play–and even though fictional movies and TV shows are very popular, might not reality television and slice-of-life shows eventually win out?

So, what’s fiction’s major draw?  Entertainment?  I must say that the thought that one only watches such stories to be amused has bothered me of late.  Please note that the verb amuse derives from an Old French word meaning “to stare stupidly.”  If staring stupidly into a book or television screen sums up this activity, would it not be better to kill it in our lives and render it as dead as the writer from the New York Times claimed it to be?  History features plenty of entertaining personalities.  Travel narratives tell of many fascinating places around the world.  Would we not be better served reading these things for entertainment?  We should at least acquire the real benefit of enriching our minds about the world.

Aristotle and C. S. Lewis appear to give the most compelling reasons for us to continue this hobby.  Aristotle claims that fiction (yes, his Poetics concern tragedy, but the mythological tragedies he refers to are all fictional) stands superior to history because it teaches general truths, while history relates particular truths.  For example, a novelist will usually portray virtue as preferable to vice; on the other hand, history may relate the life of a ruthless individual who gained every material good before dying peacefully in his bed.  Certainly, the general truth of crime not paying is a better lesson to inculcate than the idea that backstabbing, lying, murder, adultery, and theft may offer a way to material happiness!  But, religion and philosophy also teach such truths, so this seems like an insufficient excuse to justify fiction’s existence–especially so since religions offer the combined knowledge of some of the most brilliant minds over the course of millenia.  The input of one flawed human being pales in contrast to that!

But, I do believe that C. S. Lewis gives us the best reason.  He states that we read in order to see the world using another mind.  In doing so, our own minds become larger.  Of course, one does prefer to read those who hold the same opinions one has, and it might be argued that certain authors may poison the minds of those reading them.  Although, the latter group tends to be formed of a small group of vicious men whom a well educated individual would have little trouble in perceiving–except in one case at any rate.  I mention the exception because most moderns have been subverted, and advocates of this poison have little trouble luring the majority of people into its net.  I am speaking of fornication.  If you don’t believe this can poison people, just watch the anime School Days.  It might offer a good perspective for those who have accepted the post-modern idea that fornication is not evil.

So, C. S. Lewis says that we ought to broaden our minds as much as possible by seeing it through other minds.  Each person is completely unique, and it is worthwhile to try to understand how they think.  Lewis went so far as to remark on how wonderful it would be if dogs could write so that we could see the world from their perspective as well!  Merely knowing someone’s philosophy does not suffice in giving us enough knowledge about him.  I might add that knowing only our own philosophy does not give us enough information to know ourselves either.  People are also a tangle of emotions, fears, idiosyncrasies, experiences, and God’s grace.  Only in fiction do we see how a man’s rational nature interacts with his intuitive/emotional nature.  One may know perfectly well that he should stand his ground combat and that flight is shameful; but, seeing one person after another mowed down, having bullets narrowly miss him, being deafened and shaken by the eruption of shells, and–worst of all!–watching someone else run for his life might have the accumulative effect of causing him to run.  An officer with understanding will think that this gentleman has a chance to recover and perform better in his next action.  One without this quality may have him shot.

Also, it’s easy to hate factions.  For example, one easily sees why a monarchical government is evil, and that anyone who supports it over a republic is a blithering idiot.  However, if we read books like Sir Walter Scott’s novels we might understand why a monarchy might appear attractive to someone, and we shall not only not hate such a person, but even take pains to bring such a person to our point of view rather than treating them as an idiot.  We might recommend some Alexandre Dumas to show how treacherous and bloodthirsty a monarchy can be.  And indeed, a novel might be more persuasive than a historical account.  For example, some people believe than Marxism can still work despite Communism killing about 94 million people in the 20th century.  Reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward might make them have second thoughts.  In summary, fiction is more useful than other modes of writing for helping us understand the psyche and allowing us to consider matters with emotion and intuition rather than just reason, which is why it refuses to die.  The entertainment we also receive is only a bonus.

So, does my reasoning miss the mark or did I get it about right?  I hope that you enjoyed this overlong article and that it makes up for my long hiatus!

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3 comments on “Fiction’s Raison D’Etre

  1. […] dear readers, but this article is related to another rather popular article on this site titled Fiction’s Raison D’Etre. The title was proofed by the former French teacher who resides next door to my room, so you may be […]

  2. […] Fiction’s Raison D’Etre(I’m very proud of this one) […]

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