(This is Part II. Click here to read Part I.)
In his recent book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, author David Shields offers an intriguing perspective:
Somewhere I had come up with the notion that one’s personal life had nothing to do with fiction, whereas the truth, as everybody knows, is nearly the direct opposite. Moreover, contrary evidence was all around me, though I chose to ignore it, for in fact the fiction both published and unpublished that moved and pleased me then as now was precisely that which had been made luminous, undeniably authentic by having been found and taken up, always at a cost, from deeper, more shared levels of the life we all really live.
The Writing Of Reality
I don’t write much fiction. I’ve completed a few short stories, but mostly I’m a non-fiction kind of guy.
Still, I feel the months I spent writing (not to mention the years I spent imagining) those and other stories is sufficient to make my own account worth sharing.
You see, I believe that I can make up names and titles and pretend that humans live on water rather than on land…
But I do not believe I can make up story.
I can imagine the rules being different, or perhaps their being broken, but the rules themselves were not written by me. Everything I do is merely a reaction, a response, to that which is established— to what was written into the fabric of reality itself.
Once I imagined a scene where a character was trapped, alone in the dark and hurting, and that they had some strange, mystical connection with a friend on the outside of their prison. Imagined that through this connection they were allowed, together, to spread out— to share— the trapped character’s painful burden.
If you were to read it (and perhaps one day you will), you’d certainly think it fiction… and that it truly is.
But my imagining of that scene was the result of something entirely real.
I was drawing on experience, on times when I was alone and hurting, even though no physical prison surrounded me. Drawing on the ways my wife, my friends, and my family all sustained me— how they shared that burden alongside me, even if they didn’t know it, even if none could see the walls and chains that confined me.
That scene is fiction.
But, I assure you… it is completely and utterly real.
Sounds And Echoes
We arrive now at the heart of the matter, which is this:
What if James Holmes didn’t shoot up a theater because of a character called the Joker? What if there’s a character called the Joker because people like James Holmes shoot up theaters?
In essence, I’m wondering if perhaps we’ve gotten it backwards. And, actually, I’m very near the point of being convinced that we have.
Even when we’re no longer pretending the stories we read and watch are unrelated to the real world around us, we remain under the impression that it’s the real world which is impacted by the stories.
But this has hardly ever been the case. Look to the writers and story-tellers throughout history and they will consistently tell you…
It’s almost always the other way around. The stories are the result of that which happens in the real world.
Reality comes first. Our stories merely echo it.
Story Coming Home
Storytelling, as McKee so eloquently put it, has always been “a double-edged encounter”. But the alien world is simply not enough. The alien world is no more than a vehicle. It is the untainted canvas.
And the canvas is nothing if the truth is not painted upon it.
Speaking of canvases, I’ll leave you with a mystery which I deeply desire to unravel…
Regardless of all I’ve said before this, it can’t be denied that there’s something unique to this current Batman trilogy. It’s something about the canvas, I think, that makes the difference.
We make up the name Gotham, when literally everything else about it is clearly New York.
What does it tell us when we no longer need to find our best stories in a galaxy far, far away, or in some ancient era? What does it tell us when they’re so close to us that all we need to do is simply change a name?
You cannot blame Christopher Nolan. The box office numbers show he’s merely giving us what we truly want.
So why is it that this story, and this canvas, are what we so desperately desire?