I recently read James Wood’s How Fiction Works. One notion that caught my attention, what he calls the “larger argument” of his book, is that fiction “is both artifice and verisimilitude” (xvii). The idea that fiction exists in the world of pretense and truth has me thinking and over thinking—which is one of the favorite pastimes of writers—and poets, of course. We mustn’t leave out the poet. The poet exists in this world of all words as well. So what is fiction? What is poetic expression? Sir Philip Sidney believed that “poetry is of all human learnings the most ancient, and of most fatherly antiquity, as from whence other learnings have taken their beginnings.” I tend to agree with him on the importance of poetry, or to put slightly differently, writing—the art of creating. From this creation wisdom, scholarship, and understanding forms. Fiction, and all genres of writing, in a sense, reconnects to reality and illuminates the truth of what it means to be human. Not all writing holds the same strength or truth, but the various forms do add to our human story. Some might argue that fiction is manipulation of truth, and maybe even that it is make-believe. However, we cannot escape the notion that we are all our own stories and fiction springs from human understanding of life.
In the poetry workshop that I am taking at University of Hawaii at Manoa to widen the horizon of my writing sphere, the instructor assigned a daily posting on Facebook. Each of these posting had to connect to an emotion. One could be anger, the next joy, and so on. The one rule was that we could not disclose to our Facebook world that we were posting for an assignment in a graduate poetry class. When I began, I began tenuously. I had fear of manipulation anxiety. I didn’t want to purposely influence the reactions and emotions of my Facebook readers or to be dishonest in any form. However, as I moved through the exercise, it dawned on me that as a writer this is exactly what I want to do. I want to use metaphor, simile, setting, and words to pull emotions/connections from those who read my work, and to write a good story, can’t forget this desire when I write. When this realization set in, I began to think of unusual emotions I wanted to depict. One day I did “incredulous,” I pointed out that the new trend on Facebook is to post links and images, not words. I said that the status update has been replaced by posting/sharing witty photos, videos, cartoons, or the big “FU.” This new trend acerbically reference politics, conspiracy theories, and current events. I then went into a bit of a rant (slight rant, I am not a good ranter. It makes me feel impolite). “We no longer have to use our own words or thoughts,” I ranted. Don’t have an original idea? It is okay; Facebook user can now refer to the prefabricated slogans. I finished by stating that humans are visual creatures, and a bit lazy. This comment received many likes and “I noticed that too. Come on people! Think for yourselves” comments on my feed.
After my shaky beginning, I moved forward with emotions of “poking the bear” and “love without stating the word love.” Unique emotional expressions were important to me. I didn’t want easy gratification. My “poking the bear” consisted of noting on my status that all the conspiracy theories are actually the conspiracy. I backed this theory up by stating that there could be some corporate mogul or bored student in some darkened room purposely messing with the fears of citizens. It could be true, right? What if someone or something just wants to wreak havoc by playing with conceivable fears society has about trust? Or not… Maybe we are all being watched. Everyone lies, abuses, and misuses for their own benefit, right? Or not…The worst is actually true! Don’t let your guard down! Don’t believe anything! This, of course, received many replies with links attached as proof of the conspiracy theories. I kept feeding their minds with contradictory thoughts and opinions.
I ended with “love without stating the word love.” What better form of love than the haiku, I thought. So I posted away:
One thousand white birds
your name whispered on the wind
caught in each feather
My haiku received gently reviews, and completed my Facebook manipulation of emotions journey.
After the assignment was finished, I contemplated the idea that everyday humans, with or without realizing, manipulate emotions and reactions from other humans. When Mr. Facebook user posts that he had a bad day, a cheating wife, or terrible teenage children, he expects a certain form of response from his Facebook audience. We as writers set out to connect and manipulate in a similar fashion. Hopefully a well formed fashion. But we do need reactions and readers. Writers need readers and their emotions.
One of my favorite writers, Albert Camus, sought universal communication with his writing. He wrote on a philosophical level which espoused the notion that art is simultaneously refusing and accepting reality. Which means that the artist/writer cannot remain locked in a completely objective world, they manipulate, speculate, and create. The writer cannot remain solitary and completely detached—the artist must engage in the world around him. However, there are lines that must be drawn to protect the freedom of expression without infringing upon the sanctity of what it means to be human and deserving of some objectivity and empathy. Art (or the art of fiction in this case) is advocating for humankind and refusing absolutes. When I began the assignment for poetry class on Facebook, I worried about infringing upon the emotions of others, because there is danger in creating art; it can be misrepresented. However, even this danger must not stop the artist from creating, the writer from writing. Perhaps an awareness of the two worlds we inhabit is necessary—the world of artifice and the world of verisimilitude.