This started out as a comment on Sarah Hoyt’s article here, but it got so long I decided not to clutter her com box so much.
I had struggled with this idea for a long time. What got me to confront it head-on was a friend of mine in college. He had an inoperable brain tumor, a litany of health issues I can’t even name, and he believed that fiction was pure evil.
It was ironic, he was a scientific atheist but he believed that anything fictional was a lie, and therefore evil.
Sure, there were a few exceptions– he obsessively listened to Dr. Demento, and read political cartoons in newspapers. But, I never told him that I was a writer, and a theist because I never wanted to have that argument with him. In fact, I *dropped writing* during that part of my life so I wouldn’t have to lie to him. For what it is worth, I managed several years with only sins of omission.
The saddest part is that he and I eventually went our separate ways because I would not date him– and could not tell him why. It was not his disabilities, it was that I could never be myself truly and make him happy.
In a Chestertonian sort of quirk I realized that to operate in this fashion lead to an aseptic but sterile existence I could not manage. There is a line from him that describes it better than I can– but I’ll try. You can make very good arguments about why fiction can be entirely evil. But to live in that fashion is to destroy so much, to contort natural life into such unnatural shapes that it becomes apparent that to call it thus is contrary to reason.
For example: if fiction is evil– then what is a similie or a metaphor? What is a fable, or poetry or the teaching parables of Jesus? What about story problems for your math homework? What about those old stories you tell your children? Santa Claus? What do you do instead of a bedtime story? What are silly songs with bizarre lyrics or the poetry especially of Edward Lear? What about representative art that shows things that never were? Things that are half-remembered, things that you saw in a dream?
If our memories are so fragile and false, where do you indeed draw the line? It seems to me that the human mind uses narrative to make decisions,
keep facts straight, create bonds between individuals families and societies– what are those family stories anyway? How much of them are really true? You may as well ask “what is truth”?
I don’t know how other people write without reading. I also write some non-fiction, and without fiction I would be lost in that as well. Good thing we don’t live in that world. Trust me, it is a sad and lonely place.