Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fiction as Truth

I argued with my brother once about nonfiction vs fiction.  It was a while ago but I recall him arguing something along the lines that fiction is devoid of any sort of useful content - that it is strictly entertainment, something that wastes away the hours instead of bettering yourself.

While he was certainly correct that a lot of fiction is entertainment, that does not mean it is anymore or less entertainment than nonfiction.  One of the vectors of argument were that fiction was intended to be entertainment, while nonfiction is intended to educate.  Then, what are books intended to teach little kids to read?  The stories often portrayed are fiction, but the intention is to educate children to read - and even enjoy reading.

So then is Dr. Seuss a solid piece of nonfiction, right up there with the dictionary?

Certainly, trying to make the argument that the difference between fiction and nonfiction is of intention is pointless.

By its very function, fiction is when the author constructs a new world, rather than attempts to recall what used to be.  Therefore we have fiction that is not particularly entertaining but can be certainly used to glean some information from.

The contra is true as well, that we have nonfiction that is not particularly educating, but can certainly be a good chuckle.  Briefly I recall real-life accounts of policemen in their dealings with particularly stupid criminals.  It happened, and it wasn't particularly enlightening except in that sense that you learn that people can be that stupid, and it was certainly a riot.

I think it's accurate to estimate the average work of fiction to be intended for entertainment and the average work of nonfiction to be intended for education.  But like as before, just because it's intended for such doesn't mean it's worthwhile - and in fact the average of education one can glean from fiction outstrips the average one can glean from nonfiction.

In short, fiction can tell you what people think the world is or ought to be far more honestly than seeing their nonfiction.  You will always get a glean of their perceptions, of their understanding of the underworkings of the world from the basic mechanics of how their characters and world function and go about their life.

You know right up front that everything in fiction is constructed, even if it may be based on something else.  You do not get that same luxury with nonfiction - you have to determine whether or not it is true or false.  If it's true and you realize it's true, you are educated.  If it's false and you realize it's false, you are educated as to the author's ideas and perceptions.  If it's different from what you think it is, you are actively uneducated.  At best you have gotten no education out of it, at worst you have been compromised by a faulty premise.

Therefore, on average fiction is more educational than nonfiction.  It's even more true than nonfiction, given that everyone knows exactly what it is, rather than nonfiction which sometimes is truth and sometimes is a lie.

This does not mean that the value of the education you get out of fiction will necessarily be higher than from nonfiction.  Nor does it mean the contra.

The information you can glean out of fiction is surprising, and I'll go into it at a later day.

No comments:

Post a Comment