01 November 2018

Novels with Fiction

Javier Cercas, in his book, The Impostor, writes “Fiction saves, reality kills.” D.W. Winnicott earlier had stated that the reality principle is always an insult! I read the news today. Oh boy!! I need some defenses. Yesterday I roamed about in a local bookstore searching for something to save me. The news is so horrific that I desperately sought some relief. I couldn’t bear the history or the political sections: they would keep me immersed in the horror. And for the present I had no interest in reading about someone else’s (usually tormented, miserable or glorious) life in either the memoir or biography genre category. The cookbooks were out: I stand with Barbra Streisand who moaned that every time Trump says something she feels compelled to eat pancakes. She complains she is putting on weight.
     Actually, of late I have been reading mostly novels, or as Javier Cercas says, “Novels with fiction.” All books, Cercas suggests, are novels: in ‘novels with fiction’ lies mixed with truth become truth, whereas in ‘novels without fiction’ there ought to be no lies and the narrative purports to be a mirror of reality. I have been considering what truth the novel with fiction arrives at by intertwining truth with lies. Obviously that truth must not inhere to any single statement, event, or character in the novel but must pertain to the fact of the novel as a whole. The books I have now read by Cercas, The Impostor, a novel without fiction, Outlaws and Soldiers of Salamis, each a novel with fiction, concern exactly the nature of truth. In postmodern fashion Cercas casts doubt on the possibility of ever realizing it, and maybe that idea represents the truth offered within the novel with fiction. Searching for truth, his protagonists/narrators are frustrated at every turn by the impossibility of realizing it: in the novels everything is contained within multiple narratives, and truth appears within the lies and deceptions and indeterminacies contained in each of the stories. There is always something that remains untold and hidden from view. Someone with a limited perspective and vocabulary: someone has to tell the story. Truth does not figure as some destination/goal in the novel with fiction since truth seems in these novels indeterminable. Acting as his own narrator in The Impostor, Cercas frustrates himself searching for the truth of Enric Marco. Cercas says he cannot write a novel about Enric Marco because Marco has already told so many lies that his story was already fiction. Any further lying would be merely a redundancy. In fact, the impostor Marco creates himself as would a novelist create a character. Novels with fiction suggest at least that truth does not exist. In this way fiction saves because it denies that Truth exists and that we are not privy to it.
     Cercas says that the result of mixing a truth with a lie is always a lie except in novels where it is a truth. Cercas does not say ‘leads’ to truth; rather that this mixture of truth and lie in a novel with fiction is a truth; that the amalgam of truth and lie becomes truth, Truth is an accurate report of what happened.  The identity of the lie in novels with fiction exists in the attribution of motive and meaning to the truth. But these are unknowable as psychoanalysis reminds us even to the one who acts. Cercas recounts the myth of Narcissus which then serves as his metaphor. Tiresias tells Narcissus’ mother, Liriope, that her son will live to see old age “if he does not know himself.” But one day Narcissus becomes captivated by his image reflected in the water and seeinghimself he knowshimself and he dies. Cercas suggests here that ‘seeing’ is ‘knowing’. I’m not sure. It is only a mirror image that Narcissus sees. But here we might argue that fiction saves because its lies mixed with truth protects us from knowing oneself. The truth of any novel with fiction is that we cannot know truth, and we require novels to remind us of this fact. We are saved by the fiction from Narcissus’ fate. Facts, I think are reality with the life taken out of them. Facts are meaningless outside of the context from which they arise. Neils Bohr said that science was about the result of experiment and not ultimate reality. The latter is always beyond us.