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Friday, Jan. 28, 2005 - 11:55 a.m.

George Orwell once remarked that during times of revolution, the intelligentsia, writers chief among them, are often the first ones to be shot. Of course, the newspaper men, the authors of political tracts are the earliest to be visited by men with guns and instructions, but the fiction writer is nonetheless feared also - the best fiction is parodoxically, that which is most honest and true.

Do men then fear the fiction writer, like they fear the non-fiction writer, because they fear the truth?

Not exactly. What these men fear from the fiction writer is their inability to control him; their fear of him stems from their own loss of control. The journalist is a witness while the fiction writer is one who imagines. You can blind a witness, but where is the eye of the fiction writer located? And it is a delicate matter to attack a fiction writer's work, because the attack itself constitutes an admission of the verity of the work, an admission of one's guilt. It is quite a ridiculous endeavor to attack fiction, as Clinton found out with Primary Colors.

In dire times, the role of the non-fiction writer and that of the fiction writer are reversed. The non-fiction writer is compelled to report on false victories, inflated factory outputs, the empty progress of the government. The fiction writer on the other hand, writes about the reality that he perceives, in allegories, metaphors and masked fables. Ask which would have been more "real" to the Russians under the communists: Orwell's Animal Farm, or a copy of the Communist Youth Daily?

We have talked about the men who fear the fiction writer, but the question of "realness" also invokes the scenario where a woman may fear a male fiction writer (or vice versa).

When the woman sees a character in a work of fiction bearing her name, she is instinctually gripped by fear or anger, irrespective of how the fictive character actually correlates to her real self, if at all. Understandably, this fear and anger originate from a similar loss of control, but this time over how the character acts and thinks in the body of the fiction.

There is no defense for the fiction writer because he does not feel accused. He will never retreat into the argument that "it is just fiction, damnit," because it is never just fiction - the words are written because there is a single story that he wants to tell.

And they help him to find that story. All the real-life names, people, places, half of a conversation, a specific phrase that someone often quotes, its unique cadence, the sparkling trace of a memory, of a remembered incident or an accident of meeting, all transposed into his imagination. All these pieces of reality arrange to form a scaffold, to build a story and the story undoubtedly bears their imprint and shaping. But ultimately the story is not the same as the scaffold.

He sifts through, he trawls, sniffs, tastes, discards, manipulates, re-orders. The fiction writer is not a historian, and he cannot tell you which paragraphs in his writings are real, which sentences are hyperboles of reality. He is concerned not with the truth of history, but with the truth of the fiction. He can only say - here is my story.

There is no way for a woman to quarrel with someone like that, to dispute with him, to persuade him, to compell him to her point of view - except to have him shot.


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