23 May 2023

No Absolute Truth

…because it's all relative(s). Usually dead ones.

  • The authenticity police are merely preserving disorder, especially concerning the silences in this article — silences regarding other aspects of "authenticity." The author is not the work; the work is not the author; and however much interplay there is between them, the entire point of a work of fiction is that it is a guided expression of the author's imagination. Certainly some "lived experiences" give authors a, well, surer and more credible such guidance concerning those who have similar "lived experiences": A novel in which the protagonist (or antagonist, or other central character!) is a member of identifiable group x and whose experiences/character parallel those of readers who share that identification will have lower barriers to the "willing suspension of disbelief" than will nonparallel, and even disjoint, experiences/character.

    But should we demand that Gabriel García Márquez have lived not just the life of a Latin American intellectual, but that of a Latin American military dictator, before crediting him with insight into that mindset (especially at the remove of magical realism from shared experience)? I think not. Shared experiences are just another research/expressive-shorthand tool for a writer (however important and difficult to substitute). As I've remarked here before, most "authenticity" arguments are not about credibility but about relative valuation of different experiential bases; one of my most-frequent examples is "military and thriller fiction" written by those who've never experienced actual command, never been in that position — even in peacetime — of making those life-and-risk-and-death decisions about others consigned to one's leadership (and ultimately care).

    Far too often, arguments about "authenticity" devolve to "which particular experiences are the subject of currently-socially-acceptable discourse?" for values of "socially-acceptable discourse" that are themselves often exclusionary and not inclusionary. This is related to, but not really the same as, "representation." And at its extreme, it becomes library/curriculum censorship: It's all about thought control via suppression of others' viewpoints. There's a difference between "getting it so archly wrong that it's serving an inconsistent purpose" and "doesn't match a particular reader's expectations based upon a particular reader's experiences." That last is a deep, and not so subtle, trap: It denies outliers when it takes an outlier to create a novel (or any internally-consistent book-length work) in the first place. It's an overextension of "write [only] what you know" into a denial of empathy and imagination… which are rather the entire point of most writing, and certainly of fiction, in the first place.

  • Consider, for example, the possibility that the Authenticity Police (close friends of the French Dictionary Police) successfully convince a significant portion of the reading public that "only those who've participated extensively in service of passive capital investment can write 'authentically' about 'banking' and failures thereof." Well, I haven't; I was in government service, making less than a parochial-school teacher of equivalent length of service (with the bonus of having my butt shot at), and have almost always represented those with not just inadequate passive capital but virtually no liquid capital at all. Which doesn't mean that — contrary to the former CEO of Silicon Valley Bank's bloviation — I'm unable to spot a liquidity trap or prioritize institutional survivability over my personal annual bonus on the way to early retirement (or, worse, building multigenerational empires for the benefit of sleazebuckets). In fact — and in distinct opposition to the Authenticity Police mindset — by being an "inauthentic" mere observer, I have a much better chance to avoid the tunnel vision in that weltanschauung, and even to describe that weltanschauung because I have to.

    Or maybe it's just all rationalization. Not rationality.

  • Meanwhile, an industry with even greater salary disparities than "banking" is largely left unconsidered — particularly since the proportion of the great unwashed who "benefit" from the respective industries is, umm, substantially different. And all too authentic. Really: Show me an NCAA policymaker, or college chancellor/president who has fallen in line with that perspective, who is not a white upper/upper-middle-class man. There probably is one, or maybe more than one; but they're just as prominent in college administration in general and athletic-affairs administration in particular as they are throughout the entertainment industry, especially publishing.
  • Or it could just be about betrayals of 'murika or of individual (non)-'murikans. <SARCASM> Oooh, I'm neither a slaveowning Deep South landowner nor a descendant thereof, so I'm not allowed to authentically discuss either the "incidents of slavery" or any of the fallout thereof. It would be inauthentic for me to imagine anything outside my own, or at one remove my immediate family's, experience. It would be impolitic and disloyal for me to even acknowledge others' experiences, perceptions, religion, or anything else. Or being an "intellectual" because that's not 'murikan — that's entirely restricted to clove-cigarette-smoking Frenchmen of the 1920s with no employable attitude/skills, consideration of others' welfare, or humility (or at least to those who aspire to that lifestyle). </SARCASM>