Truth and Literature

A World Without MusicJ. Conrad Guest, author of A Retrospect In Death and A World Without Music (plus several other books) just posted a blog about truth and its importance to literature. Like J. Conrad, I believe that fiction should impart “Truth” with a capital letter or even just “truth” with a small letter. If there is no truth in fiction, it is merely entertainment, and that seems a waste of both the human mind and human potential. For sure, it is a waste of my time.

J. Conrad quoted Susan Sontag as saying, “In my view, a fiction writer whose adherence is to literature is, necessarily, someone who thinks about moral problems: about what is just and unjust, what is better or worse, what is repulsive and admirable, what is lamentable and what inspires joy and approbation. This doesn’t entail moralizing in any direct or crude sense. Serious fiction writers think about moral problems practically. They tell stories. They narrate. They evoke our common humanity in narratives with which we can identify, even though the lives may be remote from our own. They stimulate our imagination. The stories they tell enlarge and complicate — and, therefore, improve — our sympathies.”

Then J. Conrad asks, “How many writers today seek truth in their work, and how many simply identify an audience — for instance, unhappy housewives, or fanatics of vampires or werewolves — and simply write to that audience? The mercenary who writes for a paycheck is really saying that sales are more important than truth.”

It’s interesting to see someone besides me lamenting the lack of truth in fiction — I thought I was the only one who thought fiction should help us see the truth of the world, to see the truth of what is beyond the world, to see the truth of our place in the world. One does not need big words, convoluted sentences, and ponderous tomes to show truth. Simple words and engaging stories can make truth more readily accessible to even someone like me who has spent a lifetime searching for truth.

Literature can take us beyond ourselves, take us deeper into ourselves, take us into the minds and hearts of others to help us understand a greater truth or to see the world in a fresh manner. Good stories are like the first pair of eyeglasses to someone with poor vision. I still remember as a child being bewildered by other people’s uncanny ability to know what even unfamiliar streets were called, but then I got my first pair of glasses, and oh! I understood! They weren’t somehow superior to me in their understanding of the world. They had simply been able to see that which I couldn’t. And that is what fiction should do — enable us to see that which we couldn’t.

Truth seems to be something writers and readers shy away from, especially since so many people believe that truth is relative and so there is no point in discussing it or showing it or even alluding to it. But the truth is, Truth is never relative. Truth is Truth. Only our perception varies. At rock bottom, there is immutable truth. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that immutable truth is — no one can. It’s bigger than any of us, and yet we all add to and reflect the truth in what we do, and especially what we write. In addition, we each have our own immutable truth. Whether we know ourselves or not, there is truth in us, and perhaps this individual truth is what people mean when they say truth is relative. (Some people do not accept my assessment of myself as being true, for example, and their perception could be right for all I know, but neither their opinion nor mine changes who or what I am.)

I seldom read any more. When writers don’t bother to show me Truth or even their own truth, then the writing seems trivial to me. I’d rather do something more truthful. Dance, perhaps. Executing a perfect triple time step is truth, too.

J. Conrad Guest ends his post with: “In today’s book industry, if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t relevant. But if truth isn’t relevant, what’s that say about the world around us?”

Good question.


Click here to read: What Is Truth? by J. Conrad Guest


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

6 Responses to “Truth and Literature”

  1. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Without Truth, fiction is too mundane for words.

  2. J. Conrad Guest Says:

    Pat: It’s always a pleasure to see my words find their way over to your blog. Thank you!

  3. Sonia Lal Says:

    I think fiction needs to have emotional truth. Do you some other sort of truth?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Emotional truth, psychological truth, cosmic truth, personal truth, historical truth, human spirit-ual truth. Any kind of truth. Just something that makes it . . . not trivial.

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