Monday, 23 April 2012

Creating the Real: A Writers' Paradox.

I've discovered that the daily life of a writer is full of paradox and contradiction. One of the greatest of these is the relationship between fantasy and the real. Now this is perhaps more pronounced because I write Contemporary Fantasy in which there is an overt movement into the 'unreal', but I believe that the very nature of writing makes this paradox a concern regardless of which genre you write.

Shire Stock ImagesThe whole paradox centres around the idea that a writer, is by very definition an individual who constructs reality. And a 'good' writer is one who can create an alternative world with authenticity. Research is a very valuable starting point but it's not enough by itself. A 'world' can be meticulously planned out and researched but can still ring untrue in the minds of the reader.

Authenticity is the ultimate aim - but how can an invention of the imagination be authentic?
When I think about this idea I come back to the idea of the Simulacrum: a notion we briefly explored at university and which was reduced to a scrawled side note in the margin along the lines of
"An accurate copy of something that never existed in the first place." 
Followed by the mysterious "Plato" which could also have been "Pluto" depending on how much you squint to read my appalling handwriting. 

Being a good student I will have probably gone and got a book out of the library and looked it up - but being a typical student, I was probably half cut on cheap French red at the time and so my full understanding of it might be somewhat 'flawed'.

I've since come to understand the word Simulacrum to basically mean similar to - which is no major revelation when you actually break down the impressive looking word. Somewhere along the way it has managed to pick up an attachment of inferiority, as if it lacks the sacred qualities of the original. An idea that the pop artists of the 50's and 60's took great delight in challenging. 

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to show this concept is by showing you Magritte's: 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' - God love those surrealists and their witty banter. I remember seeing this image for the first time when I was about fifteen and that moment of intellectual awakening never left me. Of course there are now even simulacrums of this piece, indeed a whole website dedicated to it - how can anybody fail to love post-modernism and its irony!

This idea of the Simulacrum has been a fascination to writers, artists and philosophers for as long as thought has been thought about. The idea of image making, either in writing or any other art form has always posed a delicious contradiction.

Back to Plato  who gave a good example by using Greek Statuary; carved proportionately bigger at the top than at the bottom so that mere mortals looking up at it would see it 'correctly' - the idea that distorting the real creates an illusion of the real - and possibly a more accurate version of the real. Writers such as Palahnuick, Ballard and Everett are masters at these alternative realities exposing a more accurate version of the real world than the real world itself  - just think Orwell and work 'Nineteen Eighty Four'.

Nietzche argues that as soon as experience is articulated / translated into language then the reality is no longer. Baudrillard takes this one step further arguing that the experience made language becomes its own version of real - something that every writer lost within their own created worlds understands possibly more than most. It's certainly the argument that I am going to throw out next time some non-writer friend looks at me with a clear sense of fear at my diminishing sanity when I say things like, "Well, don't you have voices in your head that talk to you?" or "Of course my characters are real people!"

So fellow writer friends - how do you navigate this paradox? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

1 comment:

  1. What an excellent and thought-provoking piece!

    I use a starting point of reality in everything I write. If it's a scene in a shower room at the spa, I have to have been to one and felt the cold water puddled in the grout lines between the tiles under my heels and toes.

    However, if it's a desert moon on a far-flung planet that I've not been to I'll have to start with my recollection of the thirstiest I've ever been in my life.

    Why the "thirstiest" and not my recollection of being to a dry, arid plain here on Earth? Because those ideas are too generic, and the idea of thirst is relatable. It's character, not setting. I find that going down the path of "who" and not "what" right out of the gate establishes the connection between reader and word more quickly and with less failure than anything descriptive about the world of a story.

    Character is king, in other words. Figure out the authenticity in the person's experience and the rest will seem natural during the reading.

    j. //