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December 18, 2009

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That's an interesting viewpoint. I find it helpful (as an actor, poet and non-fictioner) to make a distinction between fact and truth.
If you're doing your job, truth should be rampant (except where, say, artifice is the point), regardless of use of fact or facts. And each genre (and subgenre) has its own expectations about how that truth is upheld: e.g.: acting demands consistency w/the 'given circumstances' of the written play and verisimilitude in the additional details added by that particular production; a memoir demands dialogue be in-character but allows artful paraphrasing and even composites of multiple people. Rightly we are not concerned with facts in the same way a piece of journalism is (or should be, right?).
I agree with the amusement at the audience assumption of autobiography - but to turn that on its side, remember that we (as audience) often discover details, mindsets and biases that have (seemingly-)unconsciously entered an artist's work.
So, does it matter whether artists get their material from personal experience? It doesn't matter, but I think you'll find that, by default, we do use our personal experience, whether we realize it or not, or whether we label it that way or not. [Even if you create a character or a voice that is completely foreign to you: you may know that character is 'right' by the fact you share nothing with him: even that fact relies (if negatively) on your own experience.]

If personal experiences include the senses sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, there are very few artists who are exempt from these "restrictions."

That's an interesting distinction between fact and truth. Of course, all art is seeking truth, as much as we can believe in it as such. The problem lies, as I see it, with the idea of the novel--and was probably solved, as much as it can be, with Ulysses--and the way in which we want to envision our artists. As far as a mirror of life is concerned, the novel seems to be it: it's whole and complete in and of itself in the way an individual life is, and holds the promise of encapsulating the human experience of life in the same way. Only better, and more truly, because it's the telling of a life/human experience in the hands of an artist, which is better than in the hands of ourselves. Without getting into all the psychoanalytic transference issues that I'd love to raise, we look up to the artist, and idealize the novel, as something that can in and of itself contain the truth of our existence--within a single work, pages sewn between two covers (thank you, printing press). Where fact/fiction comes into play is a little more speculative, but I believe that fact appears limiting--these particular things happened in this particular way. No matter how much imagination is involved in the writing of an essay, no matter how many leaps the writer takes, or connections made to other thoughts/situations, the particulars remain. Fiction, on the other hand, the idea that the content of those pages is purely the product of the artist's imagination, again holds the process of infinity. Set free of a particular truth, the reader is able to imagine a universal truth, even as s/he reads the fictional particulars of the fictional lives in the novel.

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Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
                   

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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THE RULE OF THUMB
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Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.

 

 


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