f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Going Back a Day

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Going Back a Day

I’m all over the place this week. It’s much easier to write when I have a theme for a week, but that’s not always going to happen, so this week it’s divine randomness.

So we’re headed back to The Gospel According to America and Herman Melville. I know you’re thrilled. This is a quote that I’m sure Mick Silva could spend a month on.

Dark in this section is talking about the dangers of simplification, especially in rhetoric. How “tidying up reality” is actually a practice of self-deception. Here’s Dark:
“When Melville, the narrator, steps out from behind the curtain in The Confidence Man, he reminds us that reality is hardly done justice by tidying efforts and that a story too tidy is probably, if we haven’t already guessed, good news for Satan’s kingdom: ‘That fiction, where every character can, by reason of its consistency, be comprehended at a glance, either exhibits but sections of character, making them appear for wholes, or else is very untrue to reality.’ Just in case we need reminding, being untrue to reality, to the complexity of actual life, is what propaganda is for….”

There are a couple of pretty bold claims in that statement. There are some claims, that if paired with current criticism of CBA fiction, should raise some eyebrows and/or hackles.

The question before us is simply this: If a work of Christian fiction (CBA or otherwise) fails to be “true to reality,” is it in danger of being merely a piece of propaganda?

And, the more difficult follow-up question: What does it mean to be “true to reality” in a work of fiction?

I’m not asking you this question—I’m asking myself this question. I’m trying with chainsaw and logging flannel to get the plank out of my own eye in this instance.

Has my writing failed to present life and faith in their full complexity? Or have I been complicit, because of narrative need or my own spiritual shallowness or editorial contrivance, in making things “untrue”?

Because I’ve been feeling the implications of that might be greater than I’d first guessed.