Thursday, November 17, 2005

mimetic fiction

I may give the impression that I have everything against mimetic fiction or realism. Given the fact that I produce or help produce genre works instead of the dominant mode, speak as if realism were a bad thing, and generally decline to purchase fiction that has to do with exploring - yet again - the plight of the downtrodden, the socially-oppressed, the politically disadvantaged, and the marginalized Filipinos, it would seem that I don't even like it.

I actually do. And in my own way, in my own manner, I attempt a certain amount of verisimilitude in the speculative fiction I write. It's quite neccesary. Without that element of truth - be it researched factual events spun into gossamer plotlines, the manner the characters converse and what they talk about, in the "throwaway" details of setting, how the people in the story act and react, or how the narrative flows - the story would fail.

Just because a story is science fiction or horror or fantasy does not mean that truth goes out the door. The most powerful creations of the imagination have some provenience or connection, whether obvious or invisible, to something true. After all, behind the best carefully-constructed, delightfully-fantastic magical tale is an idea or a set of ideas, something those semiotic signposts point to, some shared insight of the human condition; and, given the fact that the author is human and the reader is human, what is behind the words resonates powerfully - if it is true.

So for me, while plot (or what happens in the story) is certainly vital, it is less important than how my characters, and the things they say or do, combine with all the other fictive elements to create the story's internal truth (which, hopefully, is in synch with the author's intended truth, though it is never always the case; in fact, sometimes the story reveals truths about the author that the author is not consciously aware of - the perils of deconstruction and privileged reading and all that).

As we grow as writers, there are at least two paths we can choose. We can learn to pay attention to the other elements of craft in our attempts to improve how we communicate with our Reader. Or we can turn inwardly, almost to the exclusion of our Reader, and turn craft into introspective praxis. Most walk a path somewhere in between, but what all paths have in common is truth - it's just a matter of how it is communicated (if it is identified or shared at all). What we cannot afford to do is to be lazy or to permit nescience to determine how we write and what we write about.

I suppose my only real beef with mimetic fiction is the limited subjects most Filipino writing focus on. I've become inured to the flavor of realism. It feels trite and washed-out. Because I am exposed on a daily basis to what is real, realism's power to persuade or convince me usually fails, except in the most terrible of circumstances (when you read death statistics in your morning paper on a regular basis, your heart and mind swiftly develop some sort of protective shielding - until the stats become suddenly painflly real when one of people who died is someone you loved).

I prefer to see truth cloaked in stars and steeped in wonder. It allows my mind to map out new places, limited only by how far I dare to go, and to restate the horrors of my everyday world with a vocabulary empowered by imagination - never sugar-coated.


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