Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Truth and writing

Writing a magazine article about seeming and being, this morning, left me mulling over the nature of truth as I ate my breakfast.

I’d written about aspects of my childhood, and it left me feeling uneasy. Certainly I’d described reality, the way things were . . . and yet . . .

Can you encompass a life in fifteen hundred words?

What I’d written was true, but in expressing one truth I’d cloaked another – by bringing one aspect into the light I’d thrust another, equal, truth deeper into the shadows. Made things look like something that they were . . . but were not.

Something Oscar Wilde said stopped me in my tracks:

‘I wrote when I did not know life. Now that I do know the meaning of life, I have no more to write. Life cannot be written; life can only be lived.’

Writing is inherently two-dimensional. For all it may seize the imagination, it paints a selective truth. It cannot do justice to the fullness of being, of reality.

Interesting that Jesus said ‘I Am the truth,’ and didn’t write a book.

The way gets more strait, more narrow. I have less and less to say.

I am working on crafting a novel. I’ve promised myself to stick to a thousand words a day. It’s like climbing a wall with small handholds sparsely placed. Not that life lacks depth and wonder, but that I cannot find the vocabulary to communicate the contentment and satisfaction of the simple, the ordinary, or the angular unremitting pain of failure and disappointment. How to speak the truth of the average human heart without doing it the most dreadful disservice? A truth once spoken immediately becomes a lie.


Anonymous said...

‘Writing is inherently two-dimensional. For all it may seize the imagination, it paints a selective truth. It cannot do justice to the fullness of being, of reality.’

That is true, one must live as well as read and write. But even so ... the great writers and playwrights speak to us. They don’t claim to speak for all or to encompass the whole of life’s experience. But they do speak to us. Deeply.

‘How to speak the truth of the average human heart without doing it the most dreadful disservice?’

I am so grateful for the many writers who have so greatly enriched my life. Writers of all kinds and genres. I am grateful for the sanctified imagination and incredible mind-vistas of J.R.R Tolkien (with C.S. Lewis not far behind him)– grateful for the insights into the human condition by early 20th century feminist writers like Rebecca West – grateful for Jane Austen, the Brontës, the Romantic Poets, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Herbert– grateful for the many Christian writers who’ve spoken wisdom and healing into my life, not least the creator of the community of St.Alcuin’s Abbey! And much else besides.

‘A truth once spoken immediately becomes a lie.’

I see how this statement reflects the pitfalls of writing autobiographical stuff. But surely the discerning reader realises that autobiographical work will be self-edited and selective. How could it be anything else? (Case in point: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Pioneer Girl’)

But I don’t think I can see how ‘a truth once spoken immediately becomes a lie’ applies to fiction. I’m not a great reader of fantasy (Tolkien reads more like imaginary history than fantasy) but I do enjoy alternative universes, whether the alternative world presented is historical, magical, or a reflection of ‘ordinary’ life. A good writer will enable my disbelief to be suspended, if the laws of their imaginary world make sense ...

- Philippa

Pen Wilcock said...

Gosh! Panoramic comment! Thank you. So much food for thought. xx

Sandra Ann said...

An honest and probing post and an epic first comment!

Prayers that you scale that writing wall because what you write blesses in ways you cannot even begin to imagine!

Hugs San xx

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

DaisyAnon said...

Yet again you seem to be channelling my thoughts and experience!

Recently I have been trying to make sense of some of my own multi-faceted, multi dimensional experience. And I have found it impossible to make a nice neat package.

I could tell several versions of the same event and they would sound completely different. Yet they are all true.

I have been mulling over your post as although it resonated so much I could not think how to reply.

Yesterday I did a government survey about lifestyle and life experience. I found it really hard because the questions seemed designed to lead down paths of pre-defined suppositions.

In the end I ended up not telling the 'truth' for many questions because I knew that their questions and answers assumed a different truth than the one I was trying to express.

I felt it was a very badly designed survey. It is alarming to think that my answers will help form future policy on various govt services.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, you express the problem exactly. It's like the 'uncarved block' of Zen. The only whole expression of truth resides in silence. Just as soon as one begins to chip away at the block, some of the potential is lost. x

Pen Wilcock said...

As to the govt survey, it was not badly designed - I suspect just the opposite. By slanting the questions, one can deposit responsibility with the one who supplies the answers, and ensure that the truth never appears. As in: 'Have you stopped beating your wife yet? Answer yes or no.'

Julie B. said...

I join San is saying that Philippa's comment was epic. Wow.

And I join everyone else in saying, "Hello dear Ember...thank you for all you write. We are better because of you." xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...


Thinking of you and praying for you in this time of sadness and adjustment, my friend xx

osynligstig said...

'A truth once spoken immediately becomes a lie.'

This rings true. Yet the way I understand this, which may or may not be meaningful, is that "the truth" being spoken here is reality - which is endless and complex and divine and practical and intertwined. And when we, who are finite and limited yet complex and entangled and diverse, try to describe it, what comes out is "the lie" because we can only ever describe reality as filtered through ourselves, and when the endless and divine filters through the finite it will lose something along the way. That is what a filter does.

But to me that is precisely the reason why we *should* speak. Because we are different filters, we all filter differently and so we all bring something different of the endless to hold up to the world. And I can see your offering and glimpse something though that which I may not be able to grasp by myself. None of the offerings will ever carry the whole endless, but if we put them together we can sense more, much more of it.

Pen Wilcock said...

Well put, friend! :0) x