To be a story or not to be a story, that might be a question, but only one among many, and then if it were a story, and a story, and a story that creeps in petty paces . . . this too would be neither foul nor fair, but fiction. His story is one that could . . . or is it that it should be told. What story, though, should I telll? I mean, which one from the many that coudl be told shoudl I tell? When I tell you the story here there is always necessitated from you a certain susoension of disbelief, and that;s even if the story is non-fiction. All belief is a matter of faith. If I believe something, as I say, based on facts, I still have to have faith that facts are what they are in order to make me believe what I do. All fiction is something made. It is in theorigin of the word. To tell a story or not would be any man’s dilemma, his life in story, the history of his life. Where are the lines between them? HOw come I cannot see them? Where does this thing story begin and history end? The gray, I see; everything is in shades of gray, she said. When I tell a story, I am making a story, creating it, fashioning it, I could say, shedding light, someone else says. There is always something made about every true story. Just as every photograph is a choice of exposure, of film and film speed and aperture and shutter speed and angle, how things are cropped, et cetera. You have to know that all representations of true moments, as we might say, are themselves choices and the choices are themselves fictions, made moments, made re=presentations.
There will always be more in the heaven and earth of one man’s life than could be dreamed by any teller of his tale. So, why do we look to others to tell us the tale of someone/ Is it not because all of us know just how full of shit we are that we cannot think anyone will tell the truth about himself? What is truth or the truth of a man’s life when we have so undermined the belivability of truth, especially Truth with a capital ‘T.” What is it then? A story is a kind of history, something easier to understand in French than it is in English. The anglo-saxon speaking peoples of the world separate history from story, as such; at least we do to the extent that our history is not fiction. Of course, the fiction writers of the 18th century tried to blur the lines between the two–what was the novel then anyway? The Preface to Defoe’s Moll Flanders speaks more on this than I could here. The same author presents a shorter set of inferences in his preface to Robison Crusoe, whereby he calls himself “editor” of this “private man’s adventures in the world” and where he then says near his conclusion of the preface that he “believes . . . [Crusoe’s tale] to be a just history of fact.” History here a “story,” yes, as all history is a story, facts as we receive them by history re-enforcing what we understand about the past. The factory of culture makes its history, as Ivan in Russia hired chroniclers to write a history of Russia that favored him and the Romanov family, much for a similar reason the Emperor Augustus favored the poet Virgil. Could facts be nothing more than a fashioning, a making. Facts as presented are always re-presented, thus they always carry with them something of the opinion of the representer, the representation, a kind of reflecting and refracting, there is n o color without a light that shines. Shine some light on the facts, we say.
History and fiction were not distinct in the way we have subsequently made them. They were not yet set as they seem to be today, or as they were some time not so long ago, still in my lifetime, even around the time I started college (yes, university). History as a discipline had come to represent the verity of verities, at least in my time in the university; only residually so today. This belief is something leftover from an earlier part of the last century where history was the pursuit of truth about the past. However, the ideal history is one that aligns itself more or most closely with facts as they were, truth as it can best be discerned in its lowercase variant; but it was not something as open to revision in the way it seems to be now, for better or for worse. There are the times I still hope not to lose sight of what I had pursued for so many years, as a philosophy major under the tutelage of a wry-humored Platonist, when I was a philosophy student in university, yes, I held the belief that I was pursuing the Truth; and even if that were foolhardy for many of my former friends from among the Catholic proletariat I grew up with, it was still a steadfast creed among those I counted as friends and mentors in the university.
This belief of mine notwithstanding the current critiques of Truth and truths; for want of a better understanding of today’s critique of knowledge . . . the latter which sounds off more in tune with received ideas and new dogmas by the new intellectual hegemony than any sound basis for reforms in thinking . . . what is, has been, will be, history and more importantly acceptable historiography is of paramount importance to how we understand our role in the politics and economics of today. Those who do not remember history, are condemned to relive it, or so I recall in paraphrase an inscription from George Santayana in Will Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Of course here, history was the objective discourse on the facts of the past as they were verified through a methodology that considered the quality of the sources, the validity of them. There was a distinction drawn between the kind of history Herodotus had written and the one that Thucydides did afterward. There was something of even greater validity in the subjective (???) history Caesar had written in something like his Civil Wars, the latter falling under the rubric one history professor of mine called memoir, in spite of the diction chosen and rhetoric of objectivity employed. The rhetoric of objectivity not in itself the thing it purports to be.
But then his story. He is a man not so unlike any other man. What does it mean to say such a thing to someone who knows nothing of the person concerned in this telling? How telling is it? You might ask. It’s not very telling about the man without some thinking involved or engaged by the reader. it is telling about the context how the context is set, what it tells about the teller are volumes, if you could pardon the cliche.
Fiction comes from the Latin fictio, which means a thing made; so then, in this sense, everything told is fiction, even history. I mean, nothing is told that isn’t first made. Again, the idea that history and story are linked is evident in the one word for both designations in French, l’histoire; the same can be said for other romance languages and the mother of them, Latin. The francophone world, though, for want of more acute focus, does not confuse what we fear is confusing, so they in turn keep one word for both distinctions, we do not. Nonetheless, every story is a history of a kind, and every history is certainly a story of what was, at least what purportedly was; this latter disntiction bringing us closer to what Herodotus had intended by his Histories and Herodotus brought many disciplines under the rubric of history. It is not the design of this essay to venture into what they are, not even in passing; but let it suffice to say that Herodotus was a storyteller, and today is more highly valued s an historian than he was in my days in college, just for bringing many stories, thus many voices to the page. In Herodotus we hear and thus see how others understood the past he speaks of, how they chose to tell the story, how they understood what history was. We do have to remember that the Earth is flat was once a fact.
He is a fiction, but there is truth in every fiction, This is something you have to know.
We do the same as Herodotus today as well when we say the history of art, the history of automotive sales in America, the history of the samurai, the history of science, the history of sailing, et cetera; or when we speak about history in a multidisciplinary way, which to me was always what history was, even when history was supposed to be about revealing some quota of truth, and I do understand the inferences herein from using the word ‘quota,’ as well from referring to truth or Truth. How much fiction is in his history passing as history–moreover, all histories tell a story and in the telling . . . does the prism lie about the whiteness of un-refracted light when it shows us the rainbow?
To tell or not to tell, that is the question in every culture, and in cultures that write, what is it that gets committed to paper determines what history gets remembered; we are not an oral culture, no matter how much we believe and fear that literacy is waning, or how much stock we put into the idea that ours is a culture transforming into an oral one. Every supposed oral forum is determined by literacy, by writing. But then this is the horror one gets from appraising the current state of literacy in America; we are still a literate culture, not an oral one; very few of us even know what we are referring to let alone what we are trying to say when we speak in platitudes about our culture becoming an oral one. The differences and/or similarities between orality and literacy is non existent in the understanding of most university educated anywhere, even in the United States.
Of course, in what we used to call a democratic forum, all ideas, thus in pararllel, all stories competing for acceptance must have no censor. This of course is not exactly adhered to by the most ardently politically correct in our publishing establishment, certainly not in our universities, themselves having succumbed to the demands of the legdger book and the marketplace; the idea that we have multicultural slots to fill in our publishing is merely a way of increasing profits by subdividing the market, a basic tenet of microeconomics, learned by every undergraduate who takes Micro and Macro Economics as either a prerequisite or as an elective. However, even where all ideas competing for acceptance, there must still be competition, which means some form of discerning, which in turn means some form of discrimination, which does not mean blindly to prejudge.
To prejudge blindly is not to be discriminating, which is what is so heinous about things like racism and sexism; there is often little to no discriminating involved. I discriminate between fresh and sour milk, very good and cheap wine, well made products and poorly made ones. If the wine is “corked,” or the wine is fine; I discriminate. But what we mean mostly about all ideas must have no censor is that we must not discriminate and thus must accept all ideas as possessing some validity. As children, we want what we think to matter to everyone we speak to independent of whether or not our thoughts are worthy of respect, and yes, respecting a man or a woman enough to listen to them is not the same thing as respecting and the accepting what they say. We must have open forums of disagreement, and opinions must have quality otherwise we are in a situation where they only have quantity which leaves us open to an ethics numerically determined, which in turn only respects the rights of the current majority. This of course is similar to, but not identical with, learned consensus. And yes, there are intellectual elites, at least there used to be in our academies of higher learning.
The church and the monastery have just about fallen below the horizon of history in determining the metpahysical energies and driving forces of the university system in the west; universities have become virtually fully bourgeois, and by this have fallen under the auspices of the ledger book. In publishing today, moreover, what gets published is as dogmatically colorful as it used to be white and male only; it seems we only ever flip the coin, which leads me to be cynical in face of others believing that history is progressive. But this also results in having to maintain this dogma.
But what about this man who we only know as he or him, a man, as it has been said herein, not so unlike any other man. Any other man is another way of saying all men; yet, there is a way of saying no one when we say everyone. There is no one closer to no one than everyone, nothing closer to nothing than everything. Nothing is more tangible for us than everything.
The fore mentioned coin-flip is, of course, a social corrective, yet aren’t laxatives also called correctives? Social laxatives or laxities notwithstanding, narrative must be made, it is made, it is at the end of a creative process, or so we have come to say without actually knowing what we mean. There is always present a wrighter in every writer, the same as used to be present in the word, playwright, one who builds a play, one who constructs, who makes . . . the thing made, again. Humans when they were called Man used to be the tool making animal; chimps chewing leaves to soak up water from knots in branches, or stripping branches and licking them to put into the holes of termite mounds exploded this and turned anthropology on its head . . . humanology has struggled to recover in the last three decades since.
The past I speak of here was no golden age; it would be contrary to my ideas concerning adhering to a sense of Truth or the ability to be objective in weighing facts, in presenting the past, which is what history does. It presents the past, what was becomes another form of is. His past seems particularly irrelevant to this discussion of who he is. Is it true that what a man is is found in what hen was, who he is in who he was? I’m not sure of that.
Implications and inferences seem beyond us in our culture of ignorance; things have to be spelled out for us. Thinking is not something we believe can be taught or should be taught or needs to be taught because somewhere we imagine that thinking is what we are capable of by nature. But thinking is not randomly passing images in the mind, or becoming thrilled by our own brilliance because we have divined meaning without verification. Verification itself mistrusted. Verifying for you who he is; give me an impossible probability before a possible improbability. You know what I mean. The poetics of representation is clear; the mandates have been learned.
Any narrative is a thing made, and History is narrative, and all stories include some narrative, at least the kind we call fiction. But then we do say narrative fiction as opposed to non-narrative fiction; the kind of short stories that have more in common with prose-poems, or lyric expressions; and there is lyric fiction, a distinction must herein be drawn among lyric, narrative and drama. They are not mutual. There is of course narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction, and this is where the traditional notion of history resides: narrative non-fiction.
Here now you want me to tell you something of this man and the only thing you keep getting is one exposition after another about how I could tell you tale, or how I could write you a history. I have not yet engaged in narrating a story or a history, true or not true, fiction with fictional truth. There is truth in fiction. There is fiction in truth, in true stories. Memory, if you will, is a kind of fiction.
Narrative, however, is simply the product of narration; narrating. This act, of course, is the subject of all narratology, whether it is the Odyssey, Moll Flanders, The Great Gatsby, Caesar’s The Civil Wars, or Gibbon’s The Rise and fall of the Roman Empire. We only have to reflect on our telling to know that narrating anything involves choices, many of them creative, others biased, still others perhaps short-sighted, others yet limited by available documents. Certainly rhetorical choices are involved, thus making the telling of any story not only a reflection of the teller’s style, the teller’s idiolectal variations on his native or non-native sociolect, his speech community’s negotiated and negotiable discourse, but is reflective of his creative ability, his makerly relationship with his text. Herein, all makers are poets, as is predicated by the Greek poeta. Narrative poems are stories told; poetry in this way is fiction, fiction in itself poetry in that it is made.
Not every one can tell a story well, or even tell what has happened adequately, this we seem to know without having to say it. Bearing witness without prejudice; but what about the prejudices of memory, the prejudices of our culture’s received ideas, its accepted dogmas. And nations as well as any institution of state,of religion, of finance–your family has its dogmas.
Now most people rarely pay attention to the difference between the expository and the narrative, let alone possess the good sense when to use either. I’m not so certain that everyone needs to be able to do so; however, I am fast realizing that even among many of educated I know, a distinction between them is absent. Even a rudimentary understanding of the two as categories of writing would go a long way in helping to manage one’s critique of history, or one’s reading in general.
Nonetheless, one still makes a text when he or she says anything about some event, some experience, some occurence. The competence to tell a story well, of course goes beyond mere grammatical competence, at least how we limit our understanding of the term grammatical. But there is some truth in the maxim, teaching grammar will not make a person a better writer. This of course points to a number of seemingly divergent things, but one is essential, and that is that no matter how a story is told, it is creative in the aforementioned ways someone is creative when telling a story, and the story teller should know the differences between narrative and exposition, although this knowledge in itself will not a story teller make her.
Who is this her? Am I her? I am who I am when I narrate, but who is the narrator? You must not confuse the narrator with the author, and you can separate author from writer, writer from the whole person who wears the mask of writer. Shouldn’t writers be by nature writers, or is that reserved for a connotation of poet that I have held for a long, long time. Have you yet decided who I am, whatI am, when I am?
Let’s never mind about him and who he is.
He opens his eyes. He looks to the ceiling, He sees the the crack in the ceiling he has seen before, every day in fact since he cannot recollect when.
He follows the crack in the ceiling from one end of the room to the other. The line runs from one wall opposite the wall with the headboard of the bed he just bought at Macy’s. It’s not a prominent crack, but it is a visible one. It appears from beneath the fresh paint that the landlord had a painter put on. The room was subsequently painted by painters he hired to paint his room blue. He had a blue room when he was a boy, a teen living in Rockaway, how many decades ago he has to count.
He looks to the window that faces the rising sun. It is after dawn, he can tell, but not yet late enough in the morning for the sun to have come up over the buildings across the complex from his building, high enough for the sun to be shining through the window. It is still dim in the room, must be within an hour of dawn. He does not look at the clock.
He opens his eyes wider. He looks away from the window and to the window by his side of the bed. he has a side even though there is no one on the or in the other side. He always sleeps on the right side. He does not take up the whole bed. There are mornings when the other side is virtually undisturbed.
He removes the covers. He sets them aside. he sits up. he puts his feet on the floor. he gets up and goes to the bathroom as he does every morning,has done every morning for as long as he can remember. He pisses as he always pisses, a lot. he drinks may glasses of water during the day. He takes vitamin B complex.
After he pisses, he flushes and washes his hands. He makes his way into the kitchen to have juice and fruit with yogurt before he makes and drinks his coffee.
After he finishes his juice and fruit with yogurt and coffee, he washes the dishes and puts them in the strainer he bought at IKEA maybe a decade ago. He returns to the bathroom to take a shower. He takes a shower. He leaves the bathroom for the bedroom wrapped in a towel he had left on the hook behind the door yesterday after having taken it from the line closet opposite the kitchen in the hall by the front door of the apartment.
He dries himself, his torso, his arms and his legs. He towel dries his hair just washed with the shampoo he bought sometime last week, some herbal shampoo he was told is good for the hair.
He gets dressed quickly. He goes to the front hall and the shoe rack where he keeps his shoes. He puts on sneakers, a pair he bought just before he left for Madrid this past summer. He is finally going to bring on the several rolls of film he shot in Madrid. He took several rolls of color and several rolls of black and white, He knows a place in the Flat Iron District, not far from the Flat Iron Building itself at 23rd and Broadway and Fifth, just across 23rd from Madison Square Park. The far east end of the Park is Madison Avenue.
He packs his shoulder bag. he takes the book he is reading, a mystery translated from the Spanish. He’s thinking he might get contact sheets and choose from among them to have enlargements made he can then have framed and put up on the newly painted walls in the apartment. He wants to decorate his place in photos he himself has taken instead of prints of other people’s work, even prints of Van Gogh or Picasso or Matisse or Monet no longer impress him as much as his own pieces, his own work.
(Where is this going, you might ask. I ask the same thing from time to time. I do not always know where a piece is going before I write it. Sometimes the characters tell me where the piece is headed, giving me directions as I go, Other times I can divine it, being God sitting before the blank page. I am God on these pages. But then that is the author who is God, no? Or dos the narrator share in some of this divinity?)