A Disturbing Article and Its Comments

I just read a post on Book Blogs and I’ve included the link in my title if you’re interested. While the article itself is interesting and merits reading, I’m horrified by the resulting comments.

The article is by Guy Gavriel Kay who is obviously a hero of mine, so I’m biased. What he states is a no-brainer to me as a writer:

“What is at work today is linked to a general erosion of the ethical value of privacy and a parallel emergence of a widespread sense of entitlement to look at – or to make use of – the lives of others….

Do we value privacy in any real way? Thinking about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace … all these suggest we value exposure rather more. And instead of challenging this transformation, as they are supposed to – certainly at the more thoughtful edges of the art – novelists are buying into it wholesale….

Here’s the New York Times on Oates’s, Blonde: ‘If a novel can’t deliver Monroe’s beauty … it can give us her interior world.’ What has happened when a reviewer suggests that a novel gives us the true inner world of a real person? This is nonsense, and it is pervasive. Novelists are both caught up in this trend and even making of it something of a cause. Listen to Bruce Duffy, author of The World As I Found It, a novel about Wittgenstein. This is from the Afterword: ‘I was disgusted – no, outraged is the word – that to some, Wittgenstein’s life was clearly considered off-limits …’
Disgust? Outrage? Surely this is the language of entitlement. Admitting of no possible alternative, no intrusion, no … loss. Do we want to forbid such writing? Of course not, but shouldn’t we at least consider, be aware of, what we might be losing when these fictions and the worldview that underlies them become widespread?
What I’m suggesting is this: what we see in these fine works – and they are fine works – along with countless inferior ones, is a dramatically expanded perception of entitlement, and of eroded privacy, of a piece with other aspects of our time.”

(I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him.)

Anyway, to me, his point seems a no-brainer, right? Yet the majority of the commenters believe his premise is wrong and that they do have the right and even the duty as writers to fictionalize (and therefore marginalize) the life of a real individual. They seem to feel the only problem with doing this is the potential for a libel suit.

What ever happened to the writer’s responsibility to write truth? (Yes, even in fiction, maybe especially in fiction, one must write about truth.) I do not believe that in order to find universal truths in fiction, one must state that our works of fiction ARE reality. That’s absurd. To say that Braveheart is really the story of William Wallace is the untruth and I’m happy that the writers of that movie did not state such a thing. Unfortunately, writers no longer feel as much compunction and now border on telling lies about reality and calling that real.

I’m rambling now. I’ve been awake for over an hour and have nothing but this blog and my disturbed state of mind to show for it. I guess even rambling about ethics and entitlement is better than not discussing it at all.




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3 Responses to “A Disturbing Article and Its Comments”

  1. Sabrina says:

    I was going to make a point after reading your post, but wanted to read the article before commenting, only to find GG Kay said it for me. Actually both points I was thinking of–if you feel you have to write about a historical figure in a fiction story, keep them as a side character, not an MC or POV character. Otherwise why not just write fantasy with all fictional characters? I think that's why I like fantasy. If I want, I can take aspects from histotical figures (for a char. w/a diff name, of course) and play with them all I want, because it's not that person. Sam with writing a fictional place. If I haven't been to that city, I don't have to worry about getting key details wrong. (One of these days, though, I will write a story set in Hawai'i.)

    Thanks for the link, this was a really informative post/article.

  2. Victoria Dixon says:

    I'm glad you enjoyed it! I've had all sorts of responses to it on different locales. It's helped chill me out a bit at least! LOL

  3. Dara says:

    I tend to agree with you on this. There needs to be some truth to it, even in fiction. I guess it stems from my history loving nature–I really get irritated if authors give their characters and their story a revisionist view, especially if it's supposed to be straight historical fiction and not alternate history or historical fantasy.

    Perhaps that's why I spend so many hours researching–I want my story to be as close to the world at that time as possible.

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