Searches for Truths

Members of the OnFiction group have (if I may speak for all of us) been a bit dissatisfied with the idea that non-fiction is true and fiction is untrue. We prefer to see fiction in terms of its subject matter: exploration of how selves make their sometimes problematic ways through the social world.

Uncertainty about what really happened is an issue that rightly exercises historians and journalists. But the deeper issue, raised by [Frederic] Bartlett though not mentioned by [Daniel] Mendelsohn, is that when remembering or, indeed, when trying to make sense of anything for the first time, we are constantly engaged in an “effort after meaning” (Bartlett, p. 20). In his refusal to write an autobiography, Freud wasn’t worrying about truth and untruth, but about truth and lying.

Fiction, then, in which one searches for truths other than those of mere actuality, as if from the inside, may be the real expression of the human effort after meaning.

Keith Oatley