Life and Fiction

One of the last tests I took in college was for Theory of Literature, a high level class.  The test consisted of two questions, the first being “What is the difference between literature and real life.”

This being a test and my wanting out of college already, I didn’t laugh out loud. Nor did I look up and tell the teacher “put down the ash pipe.”

Oh, I should add I’d not attended a single class that semester — extenuating circumstances, as I’d been across the ocean with my husband and chose “final exam” as my grading option, so no one took attendance (I’d done my Master’s project the semester before that) — and had only had the time to skim the first 100 pages of notes.  This critter gave 700 pages of notes in a semester.

The second question was the use of the comma by one of my favorite poets.  Which you’d think was fine, except I missed my classes on punctuation at all levels and in all languages (I know it’s improbable, but if you don’t believe me ask my copy editors.)

So I shrugged and resigned myself to retaking the exam, aka “last chance final exam” in September.  Which would mean not going home to my husband for three months, but plenty of time to read the fargin notes. (The reason I hadn’t read them was a German final exam the day before.  Even though I used to be able to fake fluency in German, it was never my strong suit, particularly German linguistics.  I figured if I passed German I could read with Metaphysics Theory of Literature later. I am or at least was great at memorization and regurgitation.

However, the last thing I’d ever do is leave an answer empty. If you don’t pick up that lottery ticket off the road, how are you going to win the lottery?

I considered answering by starting with Shakespeare’s “if you cut me, do I not bleed” then going on as the spirit moved me.

But you know kiddies, someone so far gone as to put in that blessed question probably wouldn’t like the poke and that would mean I’d spoil chances for next time, too.

So….. I started spinning straw like my life depended on it.  From 11th grade philosophy, I pulled Plato’s cave and managed to write three pages of very beautiful prose about how life and literature was like Plato’s cave and the reality outside it.

The reality outside it, the essential forms were preserved in literature, while real life was but a pale shadow, etc.

She bought it. At least I’m going to assume so, as I had no idea what to say about commas (“Yes the poet used commas. Most of us do. Some badly” did not get used, but it was on the back of my mind.) and I was one of four –out of around 120 — students who passed that exam. Kind of tight on the passing mark, but hey, I passed.

Of course it was wrong and I had that turned around.  Yes, lying is bad, but I wanted to graduate.

People like us tend to slip into a world of dream, and miss the borderlines of reality. Forget where they are. Forget where we are. Forget who we are.

It’s very convenient, of course.  If you slip into dream, nothing can touch you.  I lived in that place myself for years.  When I talk about my first world (which I’m only now starting to write. It’s actually called schrodinger worlds.  You’ll see) it’s not the first world I wrote.  Darkships is actually the second.  The Shifters and all the others are just micro universes that exist for those stories.  (Yeah, I’m crazy. So sue me.)  It is the first world I CREATED starting when I was about six (with things corrected as to science as I figured out things about how humans and the world worked.)

I lived in it pretty solidly till about the age of 18. When I decided to start paying some attention to the world outside my skull.

I still slip into that world in times of stress, and if my mind goes when I’m very old, I suspect it’s where it will go.

I don’t know what happens after death, but at least some religions view it as your opportunity to dream endlessly.  Maybe they’re right, who knows? No one has ever sent back a postcard.

If that’s true, maybe that’s your eternal job all right.

But it’s not your job right now.  Right now you’re here.  Yes, things are going to get unpleasant the rest of this year.  Okay, more unpleasant.  But this is the lot we drew. This is the time we have.

And this is the reality.  Plato’s cave is very pretty, but if you get lost in there, no rescue team can pull you out.

This is not a rehearsal. If I cut you, you do indeed bleed.

I don’t know how long you — or I — have, but however much it is all we have.

Wake up.  Hug the people you love.  Pet an animal. Go outside and feel the sunshine.

The author will write “the end” when he thinks it’s fit.

Until then, get out there and live for all it’s worth.

This is the real life.

31 comments

  1. Beautiful — a wonderfully sourced answer to “If you can’t blind ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit.”

    Only with the caveat that if they’re pitching bullshit at you to start with, the absofuckinglute best you’re gonna be able to do it beat them at bullshit. You win.

    Commas? Poetic use of commas?

    I wrote a special original poem in celebration of your escape from your idiot prof.

    In as that grammar is a transient skill
    Beholden to the shifting tides of fad…
    Is twisted by each pedant’s overkill
    And broken by poor teaching… broken BAD
    In as that meanings held by words are killed
    By smashing on the anvil Common Use”…
    ‘Literal’ and ‘figurative” destroyed
    By such whores as would further this abuse…

    Professor, to thine own self be true
    You know not what you teach, nor ever knew.

      1. To be fair, in my route to publication, the hardest part was ridding myself of a lot of “pseudo-intellectual silt” that had come in via my college education, even though I thought I was filtering for it.
        Stuff like symbolism and cutesy turns of plot.

        1. Yeah. A lot of what Matt found doing edits was that same “pseudo-intellectual silt” that made manuscripts dull, pointless, plotless, and unreadable.

  2. This is my problem with Critical Theory. It may be right and there is no reality (thank you, Mr. Kant, for starting all this), but who cares? We may all be living in a simulation and everything is fake. Or the world might have been created yesterday; the “past” created right along with it. These are not helpful/useful points of view. Who cares if they’re actually “real”? I’ve decided that one’s epistemology should be chosen based on utility. To date, the Enlightenment’s embrace of Reason has had the best outcomes, so it’s good enough for me.

    Next up: If nothing is “real” and all discourse is across a power imbalance, then why fight it? That is, why is racism bad and why is social justice good? I don’t quite have the necessary vocabulary to phrase the argument in the appropriate cant.

    1. If we accept cultural relativism as more than an intellectual exercise occasionally useful in figuring out more efficient ways to kill enemies, then racism is not wrong. Because ‘all humans are people’ is not a statement that is true in every culture. It is a feature of cultures that are influenced by certain religions.

      If we are determined to tolerate all foreign cultures, we have no sound excuse to deny a culture that concludes that the wrong races, or homosexuals, or women, are not really people. And taking only the women’s studies scholarship as evidence, why would we conclude that women are people? XD

      What if the evidence that leads you to conclude that enlightenment reason is most useful is itself a clever fraud? In theory, rerunning my past analyses might be evidence that my memories of analyzing problems previously might not be a forgery. Unless I have not yet detected a defect in my current thinking that prevents me from properly evaluating my ‘memories’. 🙂

      Maybe the most useful test of critical theory would be slowly, one by one, feeding the critical theorists into a plastic shredder, asking them to stop the process purely with discourse.

    2. I have a variant of that, based on the famous Wager:
      Alright, what harm is there if this is a simulation, I’m the only thing, and I act like a decent person? Is there harm?

      Alright, how how about if this is NOT a simulation, and I’m NOT the only thing, and I act like a decent person? Is there harm?

      How both, but with me NOT acting like a decent person.

      Conclusion: it is most rational to behave as if the reality I see is real, and be a decent person.

    3. Younger son, upon entering a history class — 9th grade — and hearing teacher tell him that he couldn’t prove he existed, got up and started packing all his stuff. Upon setting off towards the door, the teacher asked him what he thought he was doing. “Well, if I don’t exist, I don’t have to sit here and listen to this.”
      He finally got the teacher to say “okay, you exist. sit down.” That kid…. well…. uh. He’s my male clone.

  3. I know that my life isn’t fictional because I would like to believe that my life would be more interesting if it was fictional. It would make more sense, at least.

    Also, if I was fictional, I would fire the current writing staff and even take a risk on Avatar:The Last Airbender shipping fanfic writers(1). At least I might get laid every once in a while.

    Right now, it is almost dusk-level light at 9:30 AM, brown/orange from all the fires going on. Stuck at home with CNN addicts (and maybe a new wi-fi extender and make another effort to work in my room). Going to have to call a State agency to see if I can get the job hunt moving better. Biofeedback training. Washing the dog blankets. Avoiding trouble.

    (1)-No yaoi or “boy love is the only real love!” writers, determined by checking previous material. Yuri would be fine, but only if I was going to get an awesome MTF genderswap.

    1. “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

      Usually attributed to Mr. Twain.

  4. I don’t really care if I’m living in a simulation or not. It’s my “lived reality” as they say. We endured mask-vile and visited three museums in the last two weekends (they were all having free days prior to full reopening for general public. It felt so good to get out of the house and so something that wasn’t grocery shopping or walking along the river (which while nice, and I’m very grateful to have it, gets old quickly when it’s your only outing). We both looked at each other and said, yeah, we have to get out of this rut we’ve allowed ourselves to be put in. Let’s see what next weekend brings.

  5. I’m starting to think death might not be so bad. Looking around the world at the moment makes me think we’re pretty much doomed now.

    1. We’ve been doomed since the world’s first produce-selling reptile convinced Eve to try the new apple upgrade. 😉 Depending on one’s faith tradition, that is.

  6. “What is the difference between literature and real life.”

    Seriously? Okay then, my try:

    Literature generally has a point to make. Life is pointless. (Unless it’s not, and I’m missing the point.)
    Literature generally has a beginning, a middle and an end. Life just starts and keeps going until you die.
    In literature, books often have sequels. There are no sequels in life, you only get the one.

    1. In literature, the main character is the main character, and the story doesn’t have to worry about the bit parts.

  7. Literature, if it is good literature, sells. Real life doesn’t have to– it’s already here whether we bought a subscription or not. Literature, conversely, might not sell, and can not be sold to all possible readers, if only due to the finite and localised nature of the media. Real life is distributed in a far more ubiquitous and egalitarian fashion. Literature is composed of more-or-less rational thoughts laid out in sequential sentences according to the grammar of the relevant language. Real life surpasses and surmounts both language and grammar and comes at one– or is present to one– simultaneously on every sensory channel. And so the list goes on, but at some point it comes to an end. Real life continues not only past the end of the book but the end of the reader.

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