[ilds] Fact and Fiction

Godshalk, William (godshawl) godshawl at ucmail.uc.edu
Tue Oct 20 15:24:57 PDT 2009

History is lies agreed upon.

Is the "historical" Napoleon any realer than the "fictional" Napoleon?

Or "words on a page" ever "perceptions" and/or "thoughts?" 

In fact are "words on a page" language? Don't we "turn" them into language? Without us nada.


W. L. Godshalk *
Department of English    *           *
University of Cincinnati*   * Stellar Disorder  *
OH 45221-0069 *  *
From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf Of Bruce Redwine [bredwine1968 at earthlink.net]
Sent: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 1:28 PM
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Cc: Bruce Redwine
Subject: [ilds] Fact and Fiction


Depends on what you mean by "just words, words, words."  Words as perceptions, thoughts, language?  As for Tolstoy's Napoleon, I'll be entirely conventional and say he's fiction, with a little fact thrown in.  But what about Emil Ludwig's Napoleon?  Is he fact or fiction?  That famous biography is fact, no?  Well, maybe, and only insofar as it's accurate.  Is it true?  Do we ever know anyone so well as to say, this is the way he or she really and truly is or was?  Here, we're getting close to Durrell's idea of "selected fictions," which opens up the debate.  So, we need not limit this idea to represented works.

Here's a story from the newspapers of some years back.  A funeral was held for a successful businessman in Florida.  At the gravesite were his wife and children.  Also at the gravesite were another wife and children.  Both families had never met before.  Both women shared the same husband, lived fifty miles apart, and were completely unaware of one another.  You might say the deceased husband read Durrell's Quartet and decided to live his own "selected fictions."  So, as far as the respective "wives" were concerned, you might also say the man they knew was a "fiction."  He was not what he seemed (and here, Charles can bring in Hamlet on "seems").

The confusion here arises from the use of language.  "Fiction" is a word with several senses, a couple of which I have just used.  I prefer to reserve "fiction" for the imagination.  For what the wives experienced, I would say they were deceived and their husband a gross deception.


On Oct 19, 2009, at 6:30 PM, Godshalk, William (godshawl) wrote:

Bruce writes:

Bill's next question might
be, "Why are they confusing things?" My reply, "They're just young and
childish, or they're old and childish."

I respond:

That's making light of complex issue. I think. Napoleon is at presence not amongst us. When he appears in a book of fiction -- and he does -- is he a real person or a fictional character? Both? Does context really count here? Or is Napoleon at present always just words, words, words?

And so on.



On Oct 19, 2009, at 8:37 AM, Marc Piel wrote:

Surely they are "caricatures". The question is how
far a caricature is based on reality?

Bruce Redwine a écrit :

Back from a lecture on Tutankhamun's medicine cabinet and all the
speculations Egyptologists like to indulge in.  I love it for that;
another kind of imaginative thinking.  Never let anyone fool you that
archaeology is a science — it ain't.  Along this line, I have
never thought of Shakespeare's characters as "real" and seriously
if you questioned your students closely, any of them really think
are.  Better question, what did Shakespeare think?  I think
stuff-of-dream speech /(//Tempest, /IV, 1, 156ff) gives you the
answer.  Who thinks Sherlock is real?  You gotta be kidding me.
And the
Soaps — they're pure late afternoon escapism, mainly for
housewives, I
bet, bored with their lot.  No, the world would be a far worse place
without Hamlet and Holmes.  They give hope and deliverance from the
world.  Remember, God is a humorist.


On Oct 18, 2009, at 3:16 PM, Godshalk, William (godshawl) wrote:


You and Norm may not be that far asunder. Let me read the book and
you know.

About the reality of fictional characters, I can report that my
students always (maybe not always, but often) talk about
characters as if they are real -- same as the ladies in the grocery
talk about the soaps as if they are real.

Everyone thinks Sherlock Holmes is a real dective -- don't they?

Would the world be a better place if Hamlet and Holmes had never


W. L. Godshalk *
Department of English    *           *
University of Cincinnati*   * Stellar Disorder  *
OH 45221-0069 *  *
From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca<mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca> <mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca>
[ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf Of Bruce Redwine
[bredwine1968 at earthlink.net]
Sent: Sunday, October 18, 2009 4:44 PM
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca<mailto:ilds at lists.uvic.ca> <mailto:ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
Cc: Bruce Redwine
Subject: Re: [ilds] real emotions and unreal figures


Deep question.  I guess everything people perceive (very broadly),
a scientific sense, can be reduced to neurons in the brain.  Off
however, testing my own feelings, I don't think of literature as
"unreal people whom we think of as real."  I know I'm going into
another dimension, the author's Imagination, whatever that is and
whatever that is in tuned to, and great authors make this transition
more enjoyable than others.  I happened yesterday to take up Emily
Brontë's poetry once again, and her receptivity to "the Invisible"
struck me as very similar to Durrell's.  Does anyone think of
Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw as "real?"  Or Justine and Darley?  I
doubt it.  They're a part of Emily's and Durrell's worlds, which we
readers want to inhabit, however momentarily.  I'm arguing for
something mystical, which is the best way I can express it right
and against something in Holland's line of inquiry, if I
understand it


On Oct 18, 2009, at 12:56 PM, Godshalk, William (godshawl) wrote:

       " All my life, I've been fascinated by the way people relate
to literature and the arts. As a result, I have been teaching and
writing about psychoanalytic psychology. cognitive science, and what
they tell us about the responses of readers to literary texts,
and occasionally the other arts.

       " Recently, I've gotten intensely interested in what
neuropsychology has to say about the literary process. My most
book, Literature and the Brain tells how our brains function in
special ways when we are transported by a story, a poem, a play,
or a
movie. We no longer sense our bodies or our environment. We do not
disbelieve the most imporbable things, and we feel real emotions
towards people and situations that we know are quite unreal.
Literature and the Brain explains that our brains behave in this
special way because we know that we cannot act to change the work of
art. The book goes on to address some basic questions about
literature. What makes us sense some language as literary? What does
it mean when we say a literary work is good or great or awful? What
brain states account for literary creativity? Why have all
cultures in
all times, so far as we know, had some form of language art?"

So writes Norman Holland about his newest book, Literature and the
Brain. I have not read the book, but I hope it gives us a way
way) of dealing with the problem of unreal people whom we think of
real. I think of women checking out at a grocery store and talking
about the soaps.


More information about the ILDS mailing list