Posts Tagged ‘fiction’


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Off-and-on, I work on the plans for a couple of pieces of serial fiction. And thus it is repeatedly brought to my attention that, for the stories really to work, a profound necessity must drive events; essential elements must be predestined and meaningful.

This characterization contrasts markèdly from my view of real life. I think that people may be said to have personal destinies, but that these can be unreälized, as when we say that someone were meant to do or become something, but instead did or became something else. And, if I did believe that the world were a vast piece of clockwork, then I'd be especially disinclined to think that its dial had anything important to say.

Virtually True-to-Life Story-Telling

Thursday, 8 May 2014

There's a sort of story-telling that has not yet, to my knowledge, really come into existence, though it has been possible for many years. It has been approached from multiple directions; and, if it emerges in no other way, then it will emerge from computer gaming, when AI in personal information technology becomes sufficiently powerful. However, it doesn't actually require AI at all.

In real life, when one comes to a place, as one interacts with what one finds there one discovers things about the place — stories. We can have story-telling that mimicks this process. What I suggest is that we will see works of fiction that are computer programs in which there is no game in the ordinary sense (though a game in the more general sense of game theory is unavoidable), but there is a virtual reality in which a story or stories may be discovered — without forcing. (That is to say that none of the cheap devices of chose your own adventure books or programs will be considered acceptable.)

An example of the experience of such a game without AI is easily imagined. The user launches the program. There is no prologue. He or she finds himself just inside the gate of a property, with various things in his or her possession. Leaving the property in any way exits the program. Proceeding into the property gets one to things such as one or more buildings. The buildings have things such as desks; the desks have drawers. The drawers have contents. Examing these contents and other things on the property, the user perhaps learns things. Reflections may or may not be revelatory, depending upon the stories. There are no declarations of achievements; one is never told when all the important pieces have been seen. But stories are there and some people find them. There will be writers who learn how to move the user to joy or to fear or to sorrow or to melancholy in this way.

AI can be introduced first for beasts — birds, rodents, perhaps cats. It will be a while before a proper dog can be implemented. (And I'm not so sure about a cat.) Other persons probably first begin as those at the other ends of telephone lines.

Lying Liars

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Without some basis in fact — without at least a basis in the recognized structure of reality on some general level — fiction would instead be gibberish. And most fiction involves considerable factual elements — it describes a familiar world and may even involve passing reference to specific, familiar, real-life persons. Some fiction makes more than passing reference.

Satire normally involves more literal truth than does ordinary fiction. because some element of the real-world is a target,[1] perhaps for purposes of commentary or perhaps merely as an opportunity for absurdity.

Harlan Ellison has sometimes asserted that he might be called a paid liar. He does, after all, state things as if they were true that he knows to be false. But his fiction doesn't quite fit the ordinary notion of lying. Under this notion, to lie is to make a statement which one knows to be false, and to make it with intent to deceive. Ellison makes false statements, but presumably expects his readers to identify the fiction as such, and hence not to be deceived. Backing-up, the key is not merely that the false statement is presented in just any way as if true, but in a manner that one might hope and expect to be presuasive. Even if we should insist that any statement that one knows to be false would constitute a lie, clearly there is an important difference between willfully false statements which are hoped to mislead and those which are expected to be treated as falsehoods.

Sometimes the author of fiction relies upon immediate context to indicate the work as fiction — the work is wrapped (as by the label novel). In other cases, the content is sufficiently at odds with expectations that it would not be believed by anyone with at least an ordinary degree of rationality.

Satiregenuine satire — reveals its fictional content, as distinct from its factual content, in that the fictional component is presented to amuse by violating established expectations, while the non-fictional component does not itself seem an attempt to be funny.

Unfortunately, this convention, like many social institutions, is not consciously discerned by most of those who rely upon it, and that lack of awareness creätes an opportunity to use ostensible satire as a vehicle for deception. If one insinuates false-yet-unamusing assertions within a work, these may be taken as part of the factual component by a large share of the audience. If someone should protest that false statements are being presented as fact, that someone can be dismissed as ignoring that the work be satirical. (This dismissal will be more effective if the work also has falsehoods that few would take seriously.) Few people will be positioned to respond that genuine satire does not present deliberate falsehood as fact is presented. And so purported satire becomes a vehicle for deliberately false statements made with the intent to deceive. Lying is labelled satire, and ordinary defenses fail against it.

The use of ostensible satire to lie has been very popular since the rise of the Baby Boom Generation. But it's not as if one can give a public lecture on how to lie in this manner without undermining the device. In consequence, a lot of people are using it to lie without quite understanding how and why it works; others, more oblivious, have concluded that all these falsehoods really have been amusing, and imagine that when they too string-together falsehoods, these must likewise be amusing.

Yester-day and to-day, there was a fiasco on the American political left. First, Roger Simon made what seems an attempt to satirize the circumstances of Paul Ryan. The attempt was perhaps sincere, but it's hard to find much funny in it. And it was taken to be mostly factual by some of Simon's own tribe, including various prominent members. Tobin Harshaw is blaming this confusion on the literalism of Americans, but the primary cause is not so much literalism as it is the degeneration of the concept of satire.

(Of course, I expect those on the left who believed Simon's claims to attempt to excuse themselves by claiming that the political right has become so absurd that it is practically impossible to tell fact from fiction.)

[1] The real thing satirized may be a story or idea of something that is itself unreal; but, without some real referent (such as a story or idea), one does not have satire.

In chapter three remember

Monday, 24 November 2008

Yester-day, I finished reading The Pig Did It, by Joseph Caldwell. Although it has some genuinely amusing movements and clever notions, it was on the whole a disappointment.

The book rests upon the author's recognition of how an obsessive desire to be loved by some particular person is often mistaken for romantic love of that person, but really is no such thing. However, the author, in turn, appears to have confused that recognition for a positive understanding of love, whereäs he displays no such thing, in a book which is about love.

In an interview, Caldwell said

Stories really reveal… people. I mean, even if you're telling a tale, uh, what you do is that it tells about people, and people can identify with other people. Y'know, they can say Oh yes, I have feelings like that, Oh yes, I'm capable of that, Oh yes, I've done that, or Oh yes, I wish I'd done that, and that's what, uh, keeps somebody reading, because they're… when we read, we're really reading about ourselves. …to a great degree. …if it's any good at all. Because we recognize, in the characters, aspects of ourselves that are set down, possibly, or one hopes, with a, uh, perhaps a clarity or with an interest that hadn't occurred to the reader about himself, before that.
I think that he's at the least largely correct here. Well, the central character is, by-and-large, an ineffectual ninny. It's a bit of a stretch to imagine the reader saying Oh yes, I wish I'd done that!, and those who are saying Oh yes, I'm capable of that! or Oh yes, I've done that! either imagine themselves to be ineffectual ninnies or lack even the efficacy to recognize a ninny.

Returning to the matter of love, another character ultimately falls in love with this protagonist, but there's no explanation as to why. He does a poor job of most of the tasks to which he has been appointed, literally stinks most or all of the time that he is in her presence, and treats her system of values as bizarre (which, indeed, it seems to be).

For his part, he has been falling for her, even as he wrestles with concern that she might have committed a homicide, which homicide might have been some act of jealous rage. A moral of the story seems to be that when one gives one's heart to another — to any other — one accepts a risk that this other person might in fact be a murderer. Well, true; but ordinarily that giving of one's heart is based on so firm a presumption that the other person is not some wanton killer that the presumption, like that of the ground not swallowing one up, isn't even conscious; and without that presumption one wouldn't fall in love.

Love indeed isn't the same thing as a desire to be loved; but it also isn't some intrinsically mysterious attraction. It's nearly tautological that love is about personal attributes that one values, though one may not recognize oneself holding those values and imputing those attributes to an object of one's affections, and though one may be terribly mistaken in that imputation.