The word Fiction comes from the word fingere which means to shape or form. Before the advent of the Novel most texts were either religious or works of non-fiction. The Bible and other ancient epics were understood to be real accounts of actual events despite the fact that they were mythological metaphors for assimilating reality. In the 1500’s Montaigne dug up the French word essai meaning an attempt, a test, a trial and gave a name to an early form of writing that would have a profound effect on what would eventually become the popular novel. The industrial revolution via the railroad brought a massive wave of workers to Europe’s great cities. The intermingling of cultures and people from places that used to be disconnected, places that were once isolated by vastness and differing topographies started to contract and the space between cultures and ideas became ever so smaller. This new smaller world with its new efficiencies in mass production contrasted sharply with the old agrarian reality of remoteness, of regional accents and specific niches. Ideas were no longer isolated to one geographical location. The intermingling of once segregated philosophies gave rise to one of the most concentrated epochs of creation in the era of modernity with the Novel as one of the major players. Copy makers raked in big profits from the selling of manuscripts which in turn gave economic autonomy to the creators of those manuscripts and thus hailing in the age of copy right and of the Novel.
The Novel is a populist depiction of reality. When it first appeared it was viewed as a low brow gossiping mechanism that appealed mainly to the middle and upper classes. It differed from other forms of older and prior fiction in that its rules of composition and artistry were malleable. The Novel allowed for a completely new kind of narrative, a made up account of the trivial and of the neurosis of our everyday interactions. The Novel’s appeal was its artistic portrayal of the cotidienne, starring the every day mundane reality of life, the lies, the secrets and their consequences. The fiction of the Novel became very popular, very quickly, as has proven to be the case with new moods of delivering and consuming the uncouth and disreputable bits of life. Here was a new device for publishing the story of the masses through fiction, pop culture engaging in the underlying political narrative via the democratizing effects of the new technologies of mass communication, our plebeian story finally in lights.
The same democratization and readily available technology that gave birth to the infrastructure upon which the Novel flourished is the same democratization that now makes authors of all of us on Facebook. When the Novel was introduced it was dismissed as pedestrian banter and it took titans of 18th century literature to prove so otherwise, taking the gossip of the sidewalk into the salons of the bourgeoisie. The chatter of the 18th century middle class is to the Novel what the social media stream of updates is to the contemporary narrative.
One of the byproducts of the digital revolution and the social media forum is that, thanks to picture filters and our ability to curate and edit our remarks before posting, our lives will never again have to appear to be out of synch with the perception that we have of ourselves. The incessant social media content stream is the Novel in soundbites, a digital forum for personifying the daily gossip of our idiosyncratic interactions, a quasi-anonymous catalog of the intimate and mundane starring the collective group-think as the main performer in 140 characters or less. But, I ask, is the blurred realism of the social media narrative functioning in reverse of how the Novel once did? The Novel was a fictional depiction of reality. Is the social media status update a fiction trying to be real through never ending edits and filtered content? Or is this a new fiction in a yet to be understood illusory Eden where our digital avatars play roles based on the real life we think we are depicting when there is no audience in the grandstand to watch us?
And Still Just Because Everyone Can Doesn’t Mean Everyone Should
Even if the new novel is written in 140 or less the most sought after narratives whether real or not will continue to be the narratives that succeed at creating characters so believable in their flaws and their characterization that they will continue to induce the audience into a state of suspended disbelief where archetype and audience become indistinguishable from each other. The rest of us will continue to play unnaturally flawless characters in a very bad novel.
The Work Shoot
Speaking of poorly executed characters, Adrien Brody the excellent film actor, is now a painter. He recently had a show at Art Basel in Miami. Being that Mr. Brody is such a star he had no troubling wrangling up all the hoopla necessary to execute his newly developed character. The only problem is that is that the character that he is now portraying is a less an artist and more a caricature of Adrien Brody playing an artist who used to be Adrien Brody. More simply put his show “Hotdogs, Hamburgers and Handguns,” is so over the top ridiculous that it’s hard to believe that he is serious, but in case he is really trying to tell us something about ourselves such that handguns and fast food will be the end of America, then to that I raise my glass and say que provocador! My apologies to Brody(as he now wants to be referred to in the art world). Is he really trying to play this off as real? I implore you go check it out because I will not attempt to critique visual art work as this is outside of my range of pontification and understanding, but as far as this being a “work,” like in a wrestling match, this is prime grade stuff and that I have no problem talking about since that was the focus of Episode 3 The Kayfabe Spectacle (check that out before you check on Brody).
In any case at another showing at that same art convention something peculiar occurred that could have been taken out of the pages of a Kafka novel or the Dada manifesto. A woman was stabbed in the neck while models, movie stars, athletes and pimps perused the fine art on display. At first the patrons mistook this as yet another gimmick, a piece of performance art providing an additional layer of commentary for a misguided dissection of art, but was this real or not? Nobody seemed to know, but regardless a woman was stabbed in the neck and for a brief moment amongst the circus that is the Art Gallery, the patrons had the rarest of fleeting delicacies that most of us hunger for, something real.
Those Guys Really Hate Each Other
The proverb blood is thicker than water is mistakenly understood to be referring to the idea of blood, as in the blood of our biologically familial brethren, as being much more important than the friends that we accumulate along road. However, there is another interpretation which seems to make more sense. The blood in this case is a covenant of sorts referring to the blood spilled during war with our comrades in arms and with our enemies. The water is a reference to the water of the womb, we are closer to those we have spilled blood with than to those with whom we share a mother.
Boxers will typically hug each other after the end of a fight, an acknowledgement of having shared and spilled blood in the name of the theatre of competition. However, there are moments when the dramatized resentment of the pugilists on quadrilateral stage is overcome by what appears to be true resentment and not just spectacle; boxing becomes a display of competing excellences hypnotized by seemingly true spite. As spectators, that kind of hate resonates with us because it looks real, which is why it is not uncommon to say, “Oh those guys really do hate each other!” The intangible sincerity of men hitting each other while under the spell of hatred and violence has the capacity to echo loudly within our subconscious because it strokes our lust for seeing something real, something more reflective of our own feebleness and not just rehearsed athletic confrontation.
Protect Yourself at All Times
With fandom comes responsibility, like boxers, to protect ourselves at all times, to be on guard for the repercussions of the theatre devices that superimpose fiction on all of the different and simultaneous realities, those fraudulent moments where as an audience we work ourselves into a shoot without even knowing it. Spectating fiction obliges us to be constantly twisting and bending, to be leaning our heads from one side to another and not get caught unaware by the sideways reflections of the real and know when to distance ourselves from the delusions created by the contrasting realities.
Proust spoke of the art of putting a book down, about knowing when a book is no longer befitting of the reader’s custody, to put it down and walk away. I want to believe that this is a meditation on the art of the exit. One of the hardest things to ever master, because of the counterfactual nature of our advanced mammalian intellect, is knowing when to walk away. We are cursed by our knowledge of the realm of possible outcomes and because of it spectate beyond the end of the performance, waiting for something to happen, waiting in the grandstand for something real.