Notebook of Sand

• Recent Publications
• Recent Projects
• Conferences & Speaking
"Comparing Spatial Hypertext Collections"
  ACM Hypertext '09
"Archiving and Sharing Your Tinderbox"
  Tinderbox Weekend London '09
"The Electronic Nature of Future Literatures"
  Literary Studies Now, Apr '09
"The World University Project"
  St. John's Col. Cambridge, Feb '09
"Ethical Explanations,"
  The New Knowledge Forge, Jun '08
Lecture, Cambridge University
  Tragedy in E-Lit, Nov '07
Hypertext '07: Tragedy in E-Lit
Host for Tinderbox Cambridge '07
Keynote: Dickinson State Uni Conf
Upper Midwest NCHC'07: Speaker
eNarrative 6: Creative Nonfiction
HT'05: "Philadelphia Fullerine"
  Nelson award winning paper
NCHC '05:
 Nurturing Independent Scholarship
Riddick Practicum:
  Building Meeting Good Will
NCHC '04:
  Philadelphia Fullerine
  Lecture on American Studies
WWW@10: Nonfiction on the Web
NCHC '03: Parliamentary Procedure
ELL '03 -- Gawain Superstar
• (a)Musing (ad)Dictions:

Ideas. Tools. Art. Build --not buy. What works, what doesn't. Enjoy new media and software aesthetics at Tekka.

Theodore Gray (The Magic Black Box)

Faith, Life, Art, Academics. Sermons from my family away from home: Eden Chapel!

My other home: The Cambridge Union Society (in 2007, I designed our [Fresher's Guide])

The Economist daily news analysis

Global Higher Ed blog

• Hypertext/Writing

Writing the Living Web

Chief Scientist of Eastgate Systems, hypertext expert Mark Bernstein. (Electronic) Literature, cooking, art, etc.

Fabulous game reviews at playthisthing.

• Stats

Chapter I: Born. Lived. Died.

There is a Chapter II.

Locale: Lancaster County Pa, USA

Lineage: Guatemala

Religion: My faith is the primary focus of my life, influencing each part of me. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered by Jesus Christ. Without him, I am a very thoughtful, competent idiot. With him, I am all I need to be, all I could ever hope for. I oppose institutional religious stagnation, but getting together with others is a good idea. God is real. Jesus Christ is his Son, and the Bible is true. Faith is not human effort. It's human choice. I try to be the most listening, understanding, and generous person I can.

Interests: Anything I can learn. Training and experience in new media, computer science, anglophone literature, education, parliamentary debate, democratic procedure, sculpture, and trumpet performance. Next: applied & computational linguistics, probably.

Education: Private school K-3. Home educated 4-12. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Jan 2006. As the 2006 Davies-Jackson Scholar, I studied English at St. John's College, Cambridge University from 2006 - 2008.

Memberships: Eden Baptist, Cambridge Union Society, ACM, AIP, GPA.

Alum of the Elizabethtown College Honors Program, sponsored by the Hershey Company.

Truth revisited
Saturday, 4 Feb 2006 :-:

eLast Wednesday, I asked readers of this blog the following question:

I have been told by proponents of the merits of fiction that when one writes fiction, one can write more truely than one can with nonfiction. Is this the case? What sort of truth is written when you do that?

You Responded!

Robert Esland says:

What sort of truth is "A brief history of time?" Not only that, but what sort ot truth is it when books like these are presented as truth? Or as nonfiction for that matter?

For me, Genesis 1 is truth. But for many others, it's fiction. For many, Darwin is truth. For me, it's pure fiction.

To answer your question. If someone writes a novel all the while being true to a certain belief or conviction, there could well be more truth in that book, and there could certainly be more sincerity in that book, than in a nonfiction account which was based on unfounded premises, which are known by the author to be unproven, but which was nevertheless presented as scientific truth.

** * **

A very good answer to the first question of whether nonfiction is necessarily more true than fiction. The reader is strong in the answer to this question, because it is the reader who perceives truth.

Note, however, that while Genesis purports to be truth, Darwin didn't claim the same sort of truth. In the introduction to The Descent of Man, Darwin notes that he has a strong feeling that a lot of what he writes is in fact true, but he hopes that people find the problems, identify them, and correct any errors. The shift from creationism to a belief in evolutionary origins of man isn't just a switch from one truth to another; it shifts one's idea of given, absolute truth to one based on progressive, discovered knowledge. Of course, you could just argue that this is a change of sources, from the concept of an infallible deity to the idea of fallible man.

Another note: I would be careful about classifying nonfiction books as fiction if you disagree with them. If we do this, then the question I originally asked becomes pointless. Fiction becomes all those things which are wrong, and nonfiction perhaps becomes all those things which are right. It then becomes inappropriate to ask whether truth is to be found in fiction. Just as family and friends can be false, and enemies good-hearted, instances of the nonfiction and fiction genres can convey varying levels of different sorts of truth and falsity.

What sorts? Read on...

** * **

Hannah Eagleson says:

I wouldn't say that one can write more truly with fiction than with nonfiction, but I would say that men and women are sometimes more susceptible (or vulnerable?) to truth in fiction than in nonfiction. I think we're always filtering the world around us through our assumptions, and if those assumptions contradict the truth, we're tempted to stick with the assumptions. When we face nonfiction, we're consciously or unconsciously on our guard against being taught too much by life, just as we are in our daily activities. Our approach to fiction is a bit different. I mean no attack on nonfiction, which I respect, enjoy, and sometimes write (and what I'm about to say will have some application to nonfiction; but I think it generally fits fiction better).

When we read fiction, we tend to relax a bit, to enjoy the story. We are not necessarily expecting to meet truths that will change us, and we feel less threatened by the possible implications of what we come to know. We abandon ourselves to the river of story and enjoy the unexpected twists, the surprising sights downstream. We sit down to a feast and lose ourselves in the swirl of tastes and colors.

And when we are truly caught up in story this way, we become heedless of the cost, as we do when we truly love another person. In falling for a story, we can fall in love with truths toward which we had previously been hostile. Story is like a house, and the stories in which we dwell shape us in unexpected ways, like our childhood home. When the story is built honestly from true materials, we are drawn to inhabit it - to take on its patterns and habits until it becomes a part of us and we dwell in it. In this way, we recognize and accept truths we had feared or evaded, often before we even realize it.

In his youth, C. S. Lewis would have completely opposed many of George McDonald's ideas. Yet he read and loved George McDonald's novel Phantastes. Far later, he described the good things which came to him from the story and said:

In the depth of my disgraces, in the then invincible ignorance of my intellect, all this was given me without asking, even without consent. That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptised; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.

(note: after digging around online, I found that the C.S. Lewis excerpt quoted by Hannah is to be found in Lewis's book, Surprised by Joy. Not an unsurprising title for a book in which to find that passage, I suppose.)

** * **

Good point. This, of course, leads us to ask the question of "what is truth?" I'm not going to go down that road today. Sorry, Pontius.

Rather, I'm going to end with three comments:

  • I think that the effect described by Hannah is the effect of narrative in general, whether nonfiction or fiction. This "Pharmakon" is enhanced in narrative, spoken or unspoken. We just live in a time where it's assumed that "story" means "fiction."
  • Dylan Kinnett and I once had a conversation about a similar topic. He noted that nonfiction is a far greater organizational challenge, because one is limited to details that can be discovered. One has to find the story within the research. In fiction writing, according to Dylan, one has more freedom to shape the narrative.
  • Hannah Eagleson once remarked to me that her best fiction writing occurs when she herself doesn't know the story until it has been fully written. For her, the effect of writing is similar to the reader effect described by C. S. Lewis.

    This interests me. I don't think the distinction neatly falls across fiction/nonfiction genre lines, but it's interesting to note that some writers seek their stories within, and others find them in the world around them.