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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Write the Truth. What else is there?

I'm reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road: The Original Scroll at the moment. Now, this is a very groovy book: so much of what Kerouac wrote didn't end up in the published version of the novel. The names are real (a whole lot less confusing for sure) and there are many scenes, different sentence structures, lots of stuff, that make it a whole new and exciting experience to read.

Anyway, one of the features of this book are the essays in front of the novel itself. They are by all sorts of Kerouac scholars, literary types etc, and they give some interesting new perspectives on this very famous, very cool and life-changing novel (as well as others by Kerouac such as The Dharma Bums, Big Sur and others). In one of the essays there is a quote from Kerouac's diary or from a letter he wrote (I forget which):
"There is nothing to do but write the truth. There is no other reason to write."
That's what he said, and to me it seems a pretty succinct way of putting my own writing philosophy (well, a part of my writing philosophy at least).

Kerouac's quote says two things. First, writing the truth is the only thing to do. And, second, writing the truth is the only reason to write. The conclusion one could draw from this is that all of his writing was true, or the truth. Of course, as we know, Kerouac wrote novels (among other things: his poetry is pretty wild also) about his own and his friends' adventures and lives as part of what became known as the Beat Generation of the late 1940s and 1950s. And, as one who has read the biographies, I know that what he wrote in his novels wasn't always factual: he made stuff up, invented characters and events and so on. Just like any novelist does.

You notice I said his writing wasn't always factual. That's not to say he wasn't writing the truth. Another of Kerouac's quotes (again I have no idea of the exact source, sorry) says, "The truth is the way consciousness really digs everything that happens." In other words the truth is in the eyes of the beholder. Anyone who has read Kerouac will tell you that he always went for the essence of whatever was going on; he was very intense, always open and looking for the heart of the matter - and the people, places and goings on he was involved with.

Now, if that essence of heart of the matter stuff had to be dressed up or disguised for whatever reason, then it was okay as long as it, to quote from another quote (the author of which I have long since forgotten. I collect quotes but often lose the bits of paper I wrote them on), "serves some notion of truth''.

There is obviously room for manipulation here isn't there? What if I as a writer tell you that what I've written is true, and I lead you to believe that this ''true'' means factual? It's easy to do and it's done all the time (no need for me to point out the litany of literary hoaxes from over the years that gets trotted out in discussions of this sort). And, the manipulation may not necessarily be deliberate: I could by innocent omission give the impression that what I've written is fact. Again, it's been done.

What it boils down to for me is pretty much what I refer to in the description at the top of this blog: we are all searching for truth, artists perhaps more than most people. but the only truth we can ever know is that which comes from our own exploration of ourselves and the world. It doesn't matter how we dress it up or in what terms we define it or whatever; all that matters is that it is our truth. And that we are honest with ourselves too. If we are honest with ourselves, then we are by default being honest with our readers (if we are lucky enough to have readers that is). As writers, as artists, that's all that is required of us. Like Kerouac says, let your own unique consciousness really dig exactly what happens.

1 comment:

  1. There is this conflict within me when I write. The conflict is between truth and reality. They appear the same on the outside. But what I call reality feels more plastic and subjective to me. I can imagine multiple levels of realities, even contrary ones. The visible world for instance, it is given to us by our senses and operates within the limits of our perceptual capacity. But it is very limited in extend as has been realized already. It can only be called a version of reality and not the whole of it. There is also no agreement on this form of reality among the members of the same species. You and I may not agree on the color or the shape of the object that we both see. Our perception of reality may change based on our angle of vision and the tools we may have. From it appears that there are personal realities even. It also appears that reality is created by the observer and not the object or the event in that sense. This might seem an extreme point of view. But I think the real is the interpreted rather than object related.

    But truth is another matter altogether. It looks like a judgment on the perceived experience. The spiritualist at a séance experiences the reality of spirits and judges his experience as true. The Atheist on the other hand experiences the utter idiocy of the spiritualist’s stance and judges it to be false, thus holding on to his judgment of reality. So what is true to one may be false to another.
    This is what troubles me most. When I start out to write, I need to say the truth as you and Jack Kerouac say. Otherwise there is no point in saying it. But I perceive multiple realities and have passed judgment on them that they are true. It is ‘what my consciousness dig’ as Kerouac says. They are often contradictory.
    For example, I firmly believe that the world is delusional and exists only as a universal dream, somewhat like the human existence in the movie matrix (The theory of Maya). But in everything else I do I follow the dictates of my senses. Both are true to me. As I said I can envisage other realities in between these extremes. Once I grant that the world is delusional any interpretation goes because all interpretations are equally meaningless. I can also take the existential stance and celebrate the given world.

    Well which of my judgments on reality is more primary, or more truthful? Or to be precise, should a writer have a definite stance from which he operates throughout?


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