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26 May 2011

What is the Opposite of Fiction?

Launching off a controversial but best-selling memoir by Augusten Burroughs was a very interesting piece on NPR the other morning about memoirs and whether they are supposed truth.  Memory is faulty.  Viewpoint is exactly that -- a point in a multi-dimensional world.  Who was it who said that facts are simply the version that most people agree upon? 

And in the case of the Robisons, it's he-said-he-said -she-said.  (You know the "facts" are going to get a little skewed when Augusten Burroughs's mother knows her son (and of course refers to him in her book) as Chris Robison.

When many write a memoir, they may consult their journals or their scrapbooks, but not police blotters, school records or plat maps.  This was the uproar over James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, one of Oprah Winfrey's few stumbles when she tried to uphold the value and impact of the story rather than the veracity of the contents (mentioned in this radio piece).  He mis-remembered (or over-dramatized) an easily verifiable (or discountable) account of an event of his arrest and detainment.

What my late father-in-law Charles Dunphy always used to say and his sons still uphold, "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Between complete truth and pure fiction are writings called memoir and written records called history as written by the victors and survivors, and then, something called good literature.  "Pure" fiction can often come in the form of science fiction, alternative reality, fantasy and fairy tales, believable only with a substantial suspension of life as generally encountered.

A blithe description of complete truth, though, is much more difficult to give.  Truth is in the eye of the beholder.  Sometimes, it's not truth; it's sincerity.  If a person says, "I love you," must it be true or is it simply what he sincerely believes to be true?  You might argue that this question is not fair, because it's not objective.  But, my friend, neither are memoirs.

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