Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Presupposing Consensus Reality in Fiction

We are wed. We are moved. We are gently settling in. Life is wonderful.

In other news, annoyed by a book, I put it down for good and picked up Cloud Atlas, instead, to re-read the hefty tome before the film arrives to ruin the dream of the book in the mind with actors and screenwriting and whatnot. Annoyed by this other book, though, I searched my brain for why it bothered me so.

It was the sort of book that gets reviewed in important mainstream magazines, and it was well-written, and it wasn't anything but personal preference for why it bothered me, so take all of this not so much as a manifesto or angry yowl or anything of the sort, but as a sort of exploration of what bugs me sometimes in some books. As one might suppose, there is a strong preference that I have in my fictional writing and reading for the non-real. In general, but not always, I prefer books that do not engage with reality as we understand it, but instead integrate the unreal, the speculative, etc., or at least presume an awareness of the mysteries of this world that are beyond the known.

I was thinking about this because I am actually working on something (not a book or work of fiction, etc.) that is strictly realist, involving murders and the solving of murders. The thing that bugs me is that there is no possibility of the unreal in the text.

But, the thing I think about reality is that we do not grasp it. We only think we grasp it. When we say "reality" what we're actually saying is "consensus reality" and that is not the same. This is the sort of thing that self-help gurus like to exploit to encourage people to change their lives, and the thing that scientists explore, and the thing that religion exists to explicate occasionally: we do not truly know what is real.

In the realistic fictions, ones that leave no opening for a sense of mystery, ones obsessed with recreating the world that is for the page, there is a limitation to what is possible, and an artificial construct of a reality that reflects the consensus back upon the lulled mind. The magic thing about reading weird fiction is that consensus reality is challenged, pushed, and occasionally broken. Also, reality is a shifty thing that moves with measurements and moves with time and belief and understanding. Fiction of the experimental and mysterious pushes the goal posts, just a little bit, to move the boundaries of consensus reality outward, and prime the mind for what strangeness will come when we know more, grow more, and reach out beyond the perceived limitations of the flesh, and of the systems of this world that seem so immutable.

Realistic fiction is a fine thing, but the stories of this genre I enjoy the most often do not particularly obsess over consensus reality, and leaves room for the impact points between the known, the known unknown, and the unknown unknown.

Soundbyte hunting? Well, here is one for you: Realistic fiction is actually consensus reality fiction. There. Flame me, if you must for saying it, but keep me out of the genre versus literature, because this is definitely not part of that debate. There are plenty of wondrous literary tomes that qualify to my evolving understanding of what I really look for in a text, including things like Wuthering Heights which has such lovely, mysteriousness in the explorations of dark, destructive, healing loves.

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