Fee, fie, fo, fum, have said many an Englishmun, or men or women or children who speak the language of Jack the Giant Killer, or, as we could say, the language of Thomas Nashe, who determined more than four centuries ago that it would be only a great pedant “who will find matter enough to dilate a whole day of the first invention of Fy, fa, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” The antecedent folk stanza Nashe had alluded to in his pamphlet Have with You to Saffron Walden was of antient origin.
The inference was clear–no one knew where it had come from even in his day when literary connections to folklore and folk traditions were premium. Ah, the story’s the thing, what then do I bring . . . to be a story or not to be a story, that might be a question, but only one among many to ask, and then if it were a story, and a story, and a story that creeps in petty paces from scene to scene, this too would be neither foul nor fair, but fiction. All fiction is something made, from the Latin fictio, from the nominative singular third declension noun for ‘fashioning,’ ‘forming,’ often times with reference to language use, as in ‘an invented statement,’ as sometimes in the maner of false statements known to be false. If someone were to speak falsely and not know, this would not be fiction as we sometimes say. Truth value, though, is also a consideration of verisimilitude; yes, similar to what is true, how do we verify the facts of fiction? Verity, which comes to us from the Latin veritas, what is understood to be other than vanity, from the Latin vanitas, as in Vanitas non est Veritas.
What is like unto Truth? How are fictions not vanity, some concerned for propriety beyond the measure of appropriateness could ask? What is true and what is the Truth are twain that might never meet. Let us continue . . .
When I talk about verisimilitude, I am speaking of fictional truth, something we used to understand more clearly, or for which we had a more highly articulate comprehension, a greater dexterity for its use. To tell a story or not would be any man’s dilemma, his life in story, the history of his life, what to tell and how to tell it, considerations of form, of style, what words to choose, but also in what manner, for style is not a passive outcropping of one’s over-indulged subjectivity. We love to talk about a writer’s style, when in fact what we have done is identified a style of prose writing that could be categorized if one wanted to, but would in no way be necessary to do, except when one wanted to identify like prose styles or verse styles from among other storytellers.
We must only understand that a category is in effect a tool in comprehension–they have never been understood to be facts of nature exceot by those who have so misread them, misunderstood them, to be beset by them in way more of their choosing than from any imposition by any imagined academic hierarchy. A category is not a fact of nature, it is not a fact either phenomenal or noumenal except in itself as a category in our understanding, that tool that helps us build meaning, yes, we are the wrigthers of our semantics.
Fee fie fo fum, I say again, fee fie fo fum . . . I might smell the blood of an Englishmun as did Jack’s Giant when pondering on how he was going to make his bread, grinding bones to make it. What do I do to make my story? What do I use to make it, the makerly text? What should I ponder? Should I wonder how to make a text from the matters of memory? What pieces of the past should I use if I should use them at all? I do collect thus recollect; I put these pieces together, the puzzle of the text? there are puzzles to modernist texts, a degree of puzzling about all texts, something of this less intentional in historical writing as we had assumed historical writing was when we were in university.
One does not read Virginia Woolf without understanding the fictional text is a kind of puzzle; who has read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or his As I Lay Dying without having to piece together meaning, although this piecing together is not the only role of the reader in the engagement between reader and text. What is it that I arrange, should, must, could, in order to achieve . . . achieve what I intend or might not intend, trusting my intuitions enough to follow courses or make choices less than conscious.
Memory is the treasure chest of telling one’s story–this retelling that is one’s life story or a story from one’s life. Everything is autobiography? What kind of stories are we talking about here? My story–as alluded to above–how to tell it, when to tell it, where, to whom, for what end–there is always an end, a conclusion to a story, even if it is only as the etymology of conclusion suggests, the building of a wall to stop the flow as a dam does the flow of a river.
What is it to go back through memory–my own selva oscura, as Dante says at the opening, nel mezzo del camin . . . all this about memory, the labyrinth I walk through, an amazing journey to the center of me. We could ask if memory is a sea or a forrest or a labyrinth . . . we only need to choose one and understand this one to handle our making. I remember a lot, but what do I recollect and how is the recollection managed–these are questions that determine the outcome of my telling. Entering memory is a journey into the labyrinth, I have decided. Yes. Now it is a journey into the woods, I too have concluded. One for one story told; the other for another telling . . . minotaurs, witches and grails.
The soul is my labyrinth now.
I am Theseus. The soul is Hades––rescuing me my from my own underworld is always an appropriate project. Telling our stories becomes an act of salvation, one could understand. Orpheus tries this, a journey into Hades, to save Eurydice which is to save himself, no? Will I fail me as he failed Eurydice. I am Orpheus and Eurydice in every one of these journeys. My soul is also my dark wood, the selva oscura above of Dante, thus another comedy of other manners, other forms, different styles: the selves in the Self of many selves are the characters peopling my tales. I must go inside, deeper inside, further, farther which or both, distance in space and distance that is time or labor. If all the world is a stage, then the soul too is a stage for the selves of my Self to perform on.
We are always acting; it is not the acting that is false, unless it has no connection to Truth, unless it eliminates Truth as its target, as its goal, as part of the organic presentation. Everyone one of us are the players in this drama of selves in the theater of the Self . We are certainly players on the stage that is the world. We all of us wear many masks, one dramatis personae after another for us to perform on this stage, the world, one scene after another, everything about our lives is an ever changing mine-en-scene. We do build our character(s) as actors do in their theaters of boards. The real story of my life would be for me to travel deeper, more inwardly and get to the selves and the masks they wear; yes, it is not the masks I wear in the world but the ones I wear inside that I need to uncover, recovering g yet other faces I might use to face myself, the Self, what is it that I see in the mirror? I need to get behind them; I need to take them off and reveal what is behind them; an apocalypse of the Self.
Fee, fie, fictio, historum, folk tales, fiction and history, what do I smell in the form of another story to tell? I am hounded as I am haunted; I hound as I haunt. How has most of human history not been molded by the hunt. Narratives short or long; short naratives handed down orally; short narratives written, published and unpublished, read aloud or printed and read silently off the page; narratives short or long in verse; prose poems, ballads.
We have come to understand that ‘fiction’ refers to narratives that are imaginative, or so we used to like saying–imaginative writing. We still say this in our elementary schools to children because we believe that the word imaginative has magical properties for children, and that children must be exposed to things imaginative and magical because it will make them better persons, or so we must think, either consciously, or unconsciously collectively, because we say it so often, another received idea we use without thinking about what it means or where it comes from. Folk-tales that are handed down orally are not written; the teller of these oral tales where they are still conveyed orally does not worry about these imaginative considerations, at least not in the way we use the word imaginative.
Originality is not the mark of a good teller in any oral tradition, and the material handed down from generation to generation is good enough and does not need to be changed. It does not matter that the story is not original to its teller.
We are not talking about the myths of ancient people or a people in their antiquity, or a people closer to our contemporaneity who still maintain an archaic metaphysics, because for these people their myths are true stories and therefore are not fiction, although the telling may be quite similar, the form and manners used by the teller to tell the tale very much the same; each are orally conveyed, or later transcribed, as the cosmogonic myth of the ancient Hebrews was in the form of Genesis in the Jewish or Christian bibles.
Original, imaginative, traditional, handed-down, or how many other words we have for what kind of story is being told or read, either aloud or inwardly to the Self by the self (I often read aloud to myself when I do, read a story, weighing the words, walking the line, so to speak); moreover, do we bleed for our stories? There are more than more than one way to bleed. What a question to ask, though. There is always one kind of blood sacrifice after another throughout our history bearing determinations culturally, whether they be actual or theatrical, dare we say symbolic, or all three? I have understood for too long how we have dis-understood this word, ‘symbol,’ relatedly, ‘symbolic.’
Do we bleed for them, I am asking, our own stories, our auto-biographies, the way we must probe inside, we do cut ourselves opened, don’t we?
Biography a branch of historical writing, of course; autobiography a form of auto-surgery? I know I have bled for them, the way we could speak; the stories I have set myself the task of telling and not just in the flippant way we do when we just as often wish to divert the attention of others away from what we fear they will find out about us, all of this fear working its magic spells on us unconsciously. Making things up as we go along, a kind of internal improvisation, the unconscious will exerting its power over our choices. I know that others have said as much about this special kind of bleeding. I understand that some authors might bleed more than others, those that do, as they tell us . . . there is a kind of internal bleeding that allows you to live nonetheless.
We do love our stories. We do love the ones who tell them, who can tell a good one, orally or on the page. I will not list the delineation of good and bad storytelling.
To tell a story or not to tell a story, that is the question for all storytellers. Choosing to do so or not is more than the first step; it is the giant leap for all of us. Storytelling is humankind; we are the storytelling animal. What is history, though? We have the word from the French, the French from the Latin, the Latin from the ancient Greek. In French it refers to both what we in English mean by History and what we mean by story as in fictional story, or sometimes by non-fictional story. This latter idea that seemingly stands opposed to what history might be could be is does much in the way of confusing this relationship of story and history. If I tell the story of my life, how is that separate from history? It is not. This is what gives us mistaken received ideas about history, what it is.
History, in any understanding that separates personal story or anecdotes from history, becomes something apart from people, that is, people as a collection of simple, separate, individual persons. In this kind of understanding of what history is, we the people cannot make it, or participate in it. History then, in our minds, is a river we never swim in, an ocean we never sail, a land distant and remote, an undiscovered country of other events by and with other people. These other people thus remain separate from us, different from us, grander than us, perhaps?
All language is metaphor. Language is a social trope. We are creative in the simple phrases, the sun has risen, the sun rose, the sun rises. When things are good, when your life is pleasant or happy you say Things are looking up. Up is good is a metaphor. Any narrative could not help but be creative.
Narrative is a method of storytelling, in fact, it is storytelling. It is also a way of conveying both fiction and history–it orders things chronologically or a-chronologically, the latter itself indicating that there is a chronology of facts, themselves, perhaps, productions of memory or recording. There are facts in fiction, the facts of the story, the events, the places, the scenes as they are set, whether this be a short story as in fiction, a true story as in myth or journalistic reporting (the former framed by the archaic mind, which is not a psychological judgment but a fact of metaphysical mental construction), or biography, or an oral folks-tale or a verse narrative as in epic, for example, the Iliad. Any history itself becomes a story, just by the telling. I tell my story, whether I tell the truth or I lie. But even if true, the story is invented, no?
The inventiveness is the fashioning itself, and this is true for one kind of story or another, true stories or stories all made up. How is a woman leaving her home with make up on not her own fiction? We seem obsessed with facts; facts, facts and more facts, disregarding that The Earth is flat was once a fact.
The French use one word for both history and fictional story, l’histoire. I guess every fiction has its history; the novel Tom Jones, as we call it, is a history of Tom Jones, as the novelist Henry Fielding insisted when he gave it the title: The History of Tom Jones. We lose the reference to the novel as a history, or at least we had and thus we have for a time long enough to become entrenched in our referencing, a matter of custom. Every history, then, must have its fiction, this something fashioned, the story out of the material collected by the author’s inquires; in the mater of Fielding’s novel, the history is invented. History, as mentioned above, is from the Greek; Istoria meant investigation in ancient Greek. This is why Herodotus called what he had written The Histories. The novel Tom Jones is an inquiry into the life and times(?) of Tom Jones? Yes. How then is this novel that tells the story of Tom Jones different from the biogrpay I have on my shelf, Keith Richards, A Life? The latter is a first person account and the former is a third person omniscient account–but then how do first person accounts not share some of the omniscience of the third person narrative of the kind that is Tom Jones?
There will always be more in the heaven and earth of one man’s life than could be found or dreamed by any teller of his tale, including himself. Choice is essential; everything that becomes the story is in the choosing. These choices are in themselves creative acts. So, what is it then that we mean when we say story and when we say history? Any story is a kind of history, as we have noted above. Yes, many of the early novel writers in 18th century England attempted to blur these boundaries or avoided making them clearly distinct, those between history and fiction. It was not only Fielding. There is something easier to understand in French than in English when we confuse history and story–although the French really do not suffer the confusion we fear.
Having one word for what we mean by ‘history” and what we mean by ‘story,’ fictional ones, is not more confusing than having two words for two distinct concepts. The Anglo-Saxon speaking peoples of the world separate history from story, as such. Istoria in Greek was an inquiry or knowledge acquired by investigation. This does not by itself allow for categorical distinction between history and fictional story. I imagine that a story like Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is an investigation into the life of Goodman Brown, some of the life as it is chosen in the presentation, the effect of the narrative being both historical and historicizing, at least in the way that fiction can be a made up history, what we mean by fabricated as what we have conventionally meant by the term story. In antiquity, those who wrote what we would call history today were often those who had participated in the events, their making. This made history writing very close to biography, or more accurately, memoir. The role of testimony in inquiries could be used to understand what then fictional history is–“Young Goodman Brown” is the testimony of the narrator in the inquiry of who what when, where and how Young Goodman Brown.
We do separate the two, though, keeping our history apart from our fiction, at least we still maintain the illusion that we do. The latter about illusion is not an attempt to subvert faith in the possibility of knowledge about the past or to undermine belief in the truth value of historical writing. Yes, Mr. Coleridge, we do have to suspend our disbelief for historical writing as we do about our fiction. In a more traditional sense, history is the true story of a people or a person or a place, a country, a city, an empire, whatever have we in the focus of history writing, the product of what was once thought possible, objective historical investigation. In this, we have as mutually exclusive, fictional story and true story–that is, until we confront, as fore mentioned, that all mythology, apart from our Judaeo-Chritian prejudices against any mythology that could not be corroborated by the two Testaments, are the true stories of a people in as much as their stories of origins, all cosmogonic myths, are true for the people themselves living with these exemplary models, something we have to understand in way differently than we do or have done. Of course, as fore mentioned, the fiction writers of the 18th century tried to blur the lines between the two–what was the novel then anyway? The Preface to Defoe’s Moll Flanders speaks more on this than I could here. The same author presents a shorter set of inferences in his preface to Robison Crusoe, whereby he calls himself “editor” of this “private man’s adventures in the world” and where he then says near his conclusion of the preface that he “believes . . . [Crusoe’s tale] to be a just history of fact.” History here a “story,” yes, as all history is a story, facts as we receive them by history re-enforcing what we understand about the past. The factory of culture makes its history, as Ivan in Russia hired chroniclers to write a history of Russia that favored him and the Romanov family, much for a similar reason the Emperor Augustus favored the poet Virgil. Fiction and History win separate prizes from the Pulitzer committee. But what is it that they share in form–narrative, as we have said; verisimilitude in fiction being parallel to the historical facts able to be corroborated. I imagine, though, that verisimilitude in fiction is easier to maintain than veracity for facts in history/historiography that countermand a society’s received ideas and dogmas. Ah! Facts; facts, facts and more facts, Mr Gradgrind. There is a Mister Gradgrind in all of us. Yet how many of our facts, both personal and public, both individual and collective do we accept without inquiry. How many of the facts in our media are fashioned as in factory made. Yes, our media is a factory of facts.
We understand by representative examples over time that history and fiction were not distinct in antiquity or even the 18th century in the way we have subsequently made them–and they do remain more closely linked in cultures that still use one word for the two, as we have seen in French. They were not yet set as they seem to be today, or as they were some time not so long ago, still in my lifetime, even around the time I started college (yes, university). History as a discipline had come to represent the verity of verities, at least in my time in the university (at least in my mind, how I conceived history and its purport); this only residually so today. There was still a belief that objectivity could be maintained or at least pursued, which is the most vital ingredient in the notion of objectivity in historiography, that it can be pursued and that a vigilance in this pursuit could be fruitful in the ways a belief in its possibility make apparent. This belief is something leftover from an earlier part of the last century where history was the pursuit of truth about the past, the little ‘t’ truths and something of the larger ‘T’ transcendent Truth we must never get rid of, anymore than we would dispose of our compass in a wilderness. However, the ideal history is one that aligns itself more or most closely with facts as they were (not as they can be manu[fact]ured), truth as it can best be discerned in its lowercase variant. This was not something as open to revision in the way it seems to be now, for better or for worse. There are the times I still hope not to lose sight of what I had pursued for so many years, as a philosophy major under the tutelage of a wry-humored Platonist, when I was a philosophy student in university. Yes, I held the belief that I was pursuing the Truth; and even if that were foolhardy for many of my former friends from among the Catholic proletariat I grew up with, it was still a steadfast creed among those I counted as friends and mentors in the university. It seems just as foolhardy for too many of those who count themselves among the educated class of Americans, any one educated in the university over the last twenty-five to thirty-five years has a radically different understanding of what we call now Truth and what we understood the Truth to be. Doubt today has become the highest wisdom, and that is not a doubt that we begin with, a Socratic doubt at the onset of our epistemology, but an end in itself an ending of all epistemological inquiry. We have become very religious about our knowledge; atheistically religious in as much as we have concluded once and for all that Truth does not exist. The only thing, though, we are left with in this anti-metaphyscal metaphysics of culture is The Will to Power.
This belief of mine notwithstanding the current critiques of Truth or minor ‘t’ truths–for want of a better understanding of today’s critique of knowledge (the latter which sounds off more in tune with received ideas and new dogmas by the new intellectual hegemony than any sound basis for reforms in thinking) what is has been will be history and more importantly acceptable historiography is of paramount importance to how we understand our role in the politics and economics of today . . . fee, fie, fictio, historum. We have no giant killers. Those who do not remember history, are condemned to relive it, or so I recall in paraphrase of an inscription from George Santayana in Will Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Of course, in that book, history was still the objective discourse on the facts of the past as they were verified through a methodology that considered the quality of the sources, the validity of them, how even they were collected, complete with follow-up critiques of the conclusions, not something we are entirely without today. Objective was not as laughable as it seems today by those who imagine their critical acumen leaves them able to dispose of critical terms they misunderstand–often, dis-understand. There was a distinction drawn between the kind of history Herodotus had written and the one that Thucydides did afterward, although we did take too closely Thucydides’s assertions concerning all the supposed historiography before him as being of a lesser class of historical writing. There was something of even greater validity in the subjective (???) history Caesar had written in his Civil Wars, the latter falling under the rubric one history professor of mine called memoir, in spite of the diction chosen and rhetoric of objectivity employed. The rhetoric of objectivity not in itself the thing it purports to be. Witness to history, as we liked to say, was part of what qualified a person in antiquity to write a history of anything. Narrator as participator went a long way in validating the truth value of the inquiry, or the conclusions or the perceptions presented in the history.
The word ‘fiction,’ once again, comes from the Latin fictio, which means a thing made, fashioned, invented, as sometimes it referred to “invented statements,” once more, those that were false and known to be false. The artful liar was engaging in fiction. I often said back when I was an undergraduate, that if most people were in touch with their bullshit, how much they bullshit themselves and others, and just put it down on paper, they’d be fiction writers, and perhaps more of them good ones than bad ones. So then, in this sense of fashioning, making, inventing, everything told is fiction, even history, as asserted above. Just how much of memory is fiction, though, I am not herein going to discuss, but the gaps in memory are always filled in by the one recollecting–even a passive remembering has this filling in part of what takes place when remembering happens. how is it we fill them in, or with what we fill them in is the invention. The way a history gets told is a choice, this choosing is fashioning–all matters of style are matters of fashion in its broader sense as it also applies in its restricted sense. But then facts are themselves made in the sense that they have a context within which they function as facts; we do recall that the Earth is flat was once a fact for a great many people; the Earth is the center of the solar system was a fact for many centuries. I mean, nothing is told that is not first made. Again, the idea that history and story are linked is evident in the one word for both designations in the romance languages and the mother of them, Latin. The francophone world, though, for want of more acute focus, does not confuse what we fear is confusing, as I alluded to above. The single word demands more articulation; the divergence of the different words does not always insist on articulating their distinctions, even though everyone understands at one time or another that there are links or similarities between history and story.
Nonetheless, every story is a history of a kind, and every history is certainly a story of what was, at least what purportedly was; this latter distinction bringing us closer to what Herodotus had intended by his Histories and Herodotus brought many disciplines under the rubric of history. But then any method adapted to his inquiry he embraced. It is not the design of this essay to venture into what Herodotus’s methods of history writing were or are for us, not even in passing; but let it suffice to say that Herodotus was a masterful storyteller, and today he is more highly valued as an historian than he was in my days in college, just for bringing many stories into the mix. Historiography must be a mixture of styles, of forms, of methods, no? Thus many voices are brought to the page, which is good, but which also meets the demands of diversity’s dogmas as much as earlier histories met the dogmas of their ages.
What is history, though, is not the same question as what is historiography. Herodotus engaged in what he and the Greeks after him called Istoria. As aforementioned, Istoria was an investigation and what comes to be called history is the report on this investigation. To say “historical investigation” is thus a redundancy. In Herodotus we hear and thus see how others understood the past he speaks of, how they chose to tell their story, or how Herodotus chose to tell how others chose to tell their story, how they understood what history was. But when we discuss historiography, we are discussing the writing of history and any discussion of writing must address writing as form, writing as style writing as rhetoric, rhetoric as suited to its purpose or not, rhetoric as something the author has a handle on or not, rhetoric as either effectively presented or not. Writing, even historical writing, that is, historiography, can be judged according to aesthetic standards, as all writing can be.
We do the same as Herodotus today as well when we look for anecdotal evidence, when we look for the story of the simple separate person from among the many who lived. This of course fits our dogmas of individualism and exceptionalism, but then this is what marks American historiography from others. The history of art, the history of automotive sales in America, the history of the samurai, the history of science, the history of sailing, et cetera are nothing without the individual’s story, perception, observations, or opinions. When we speak about history in a multidisciplinary way, which to me was always what history was, even when history was supposed to be about revealing some quota of truth, or be aimed at Truth–and I do understand the inferences herein from using the word ‘quota,’ as well from referring to truth or Truth. What are we saying, though?
Is history one of the Humanities or is it a Social Science–and in my time, history was in the School of Social Sciences, and this spoke to a methodological distinction from history as a humanity in the School of Humanities. Focuses shift; of course they do. The dominant or most frequently employed methodology will also change, as will persist many examples of multi-methodological texts. This essay does not pretend to resolve these issues within the discipline of history or within or between any two of the sub-disciplinary approaches to historiography. These are endless? We could have history that is social science and history that is a branch of the humanities, no? They could not co exist in one department? I’m not sure why not. I do understand that History as a discipline in the university could benefit from a study of historiography in the way historiography gets analyzed in Literature Departments, although this is usually reserved for histories that have been assessed as possessing great literary value or appreciation. (There is such a thing in writing called the literary, and this cannot be made popular or democratized the way we imagine in our city or state colleges, the way we misunderstand in our public schools or any school or program that defers to the mandates of the state. Literary excellence is what it is: the literary in itself means excellence in letters, the kind of writing that is adjunct to a reading that is other than, more than, and beyond mere alphabetics. It is the kind of writing that demands a kind of reading that is in itself an exercise in literacy that increases literacy, makes literacy stronger, with more vitality.)
To tell or not to tell, that is the question in every culture, and in cultures that write, what is it that gets committed to paper determines what history gets remembered; we are not an oral culture, no matter how much we believe and fear that literacy is waning, or how much stock we put into the idea that ours is a culture transforming into an oral one. Every supposed oral forum is determined by literacy, by writing. But then this is the horror one gets from appraising the current state of literacy in America; we are still a literate culture, not an oral one. Very few of us even know what we are referring to let alone what we are trying to say when we speak in platitudes about our culture becoming an oral one. The differences and/or similarities between orality and literacy is non-existent in the understanding of most university educated anywhere, even in the United States.
Of course, in what we used to call a democratic forum, all ideas, thus in parallel, all stories competing for acceptance must have no censor. This of course is not exactly adhered to by the most ardently politically correct in our publishing establishment, certainly not in our universities, themselves having succumbed to the demands of the ledger book and the marketplace; the idea that we have multicultural slots to fill in our publishing is merely a way of increasing profits by subdividing the market, a basic tenet of microeconomics, learned by every undergraduate who takes Micro and Macro Economics as either a prerequisite or as an elective. However, even where all ideas competing for acceptance, there must still be competition, which means some form of discerning, which in turn means some form of discrimination, which does not mean blindly to prejudge. Historiography has succumbed to a crisis in epistemology whereby attaining knowledge has become impossible. This leaves historiography opened to a methodology that employs the narratology of the fiction writer, which, in an abrupt turn around, must never be entirely absent from even the most objective of history.
To prejudge blindly is not to be discriminating, which is what is so heinous about things like racism and sexism; there is often little to no discriminating involved. I discriminate between fresh and sour milk, very good and cheap wine, well made products and poorly made ones. If the wine is “corked,” or the wine is fine; I discriminate. But what we mean mostly about all ideas must have no censor is that we must not discriminate and thus must accept all ideas as possessing some validity. As children, we want what we think to matter to everyone we speak to independent of whether or not our thoughts are worthy of respect, and yes, respecting a man or a woman enough to listen to them is not the same thing as respecting and accepting what they say. We must have open forums of disagreement, and opinions must have quality otherwise we are in a situation where they only have quantity which leaves us open to an ethics numerically determined, which in turn only respects the rights of the current majority. This of course is similar to, but not identical with, learned consensus. And yes, there are intellectual elites, at least there used to be in our academies of higher learning. The church and the monastery have just about fallen below the horizon of history in determining the metaphysical energies and driving forces of the university system in the west; universities have become virtually fully bourgeois, and by this have fallen under the auspices of the ledger book. In publishing today, moreover, what gets published is as dogmatically colorful as it used to be white and male only; it seems we only ever flip the coin, which leads me to be cynical in face of others believing that history is progressive. But this also results in having to maintain this dogma. The fore mentioned coin-flip is, of course, a social corrective, yet aren’t laxatives also called correctives?
Social laxatives or laxities notwithstanding, narrative must be made, it is made, it is at the end of a creative process, or so we have come to say without actually knowing what we mean. A narratology of recounting the day–or should I restrict my diction to ‘retelling’ the day–would reveal the creative process, as it uncover what we mean by inventiveness. Diction is the choice and use of words in writing as well as speech. This choosing words is part of the fashioning, the making of any story. There is always present a wrighter in every writer, every teller of a tale. This wright has the same sense as used to be present in the word, playwright, one who builds a play, one who constructs, who makes . . . the thing made, again; a wheelwright makes wheels. Humans when they were called Man used to be the tool making animal; chimps chewing leaves to soak up water from knots in branches, or stripping branches and licking them to put into the holes of termite mounds exploded this and turned anthropology on its head. Humanology has struggled to recover in the last three decades since.
The past I have spoken of here was no golden age; it would be contrary to my ideas about adhering to a sense of Truth or would be indicative of an inability to be objective in weighing facts, in presenting the past, which is what history should do, present the facts as objectively as possible, restricting the sense of fact to some verifiable evidence of a true occurrence. History presents the past, I know, and in this, it is representation, which is what Shakespeare’s King Lear does, represent, each performance a multiplication of the representation. We are not here going to venture a discussion of truth on the stage, truth in acting, verisimilitude in theater. What was, becomes another form of is. Is all presentation a matter of re-presentation, thus a matter of delivering fiction? We could say yes and remain confident in our objectivity.
Implications and inferences seem beyond us in our culture of ignorance–ah! here comes the diatribe I have been sensing all along, one might say; I will not ascent to ‘could.’ Things do though have to be spelled out for us. We have succumbed to a mountain of critique of our civilization: thinking is not something we believe can be taught or should be taught or needs to be taught because somewhere we imagine that thinking is what we are capable of by nature. But thinking is not randomly passing images in the mind, or becoming thrilled by our own brilliance because we have divined meaning without verification. Verification itself is mistrusted; the ability to verify has successfully been undermined–and we wonder why we have the media we have, the power structure we have, the politicians to we get to vote for, almost believing that what is, is right; the Status Quo as it is is forever.
Nonetheless, nevertheless, moreover, however, although, but, so and yet . . . narrative is a thing made, and History is narrative, for the most part, at least traditional histories have employed this method of presentation; history is, yes, a thing made, this fashioning and making being the core of what we call fiction, and in as much as all the fore mentioned references to the Latin fictio point to this thing made, history is a kind of fiction. All stories also include some narrative, at least the kind we have in conventional fiction. But then we do say narrative fiction as opposed to non-narrative fiction; the latter being the kind of short stories that have more in common with prose-poems, or other lyric expressions, as we sometimes find in the fiction of Virginia Woolf, to provide at least one representative example of such writing and certainly not the only. Yes, there is lyric fiction. Lyric, narrative and drama are clearly distinct forms of expression, those distinctions are not going to be drawn; nor am I going to discuss exposition, expository writing, the likes we find in the essay form, a genre of literature I will only pass over in the ensuing discussion. The separate names of these forms of expression, principally writing, might imply inclusion in clearly drawn categories. These forms of expression are not mutual in their categorical forms, but may be mutually employed by the expression chosen; narrative fiction as opposed to narrative non-fiction, let us say. There is of course narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction, and the traditional notion of history resides in the latter, narrative non-fiction. Is there lyric history? This is another essay.
Narrative, however, is simply the product of narration; the act of narrating makes the narrative. This act, of course, is the subject of all narratology, whether it is the Odyssey, Moll Flanders, The Great Gatsby, Caesar’s The Civil Wars, or Gibbon’s The Rise and fall of the Roman Empire. We only have to reflect on our telling to know that narrating anything involves choices, many of them creative, others biased, still others perhaps short-sighted, others yet limited by available documents. Certainly rhetorical choices are involved, thus making the telling of any story not only a reflection of the teller’s style, the teller’s idiolectal variations on his native or non-native sociolect, his speech community’s negotiated and negotiable discourse, but is reflective of his creative ablity, his makerly relationship with his text. It also reveals his politics. All history writing is inevitably political and politicizing. I am taking my notions of politicalizing, of politicized discourse, or discourse in the act of politicizing (not the same things) from Aristotle–anything anyone does is by design or in effect political. Human beings are political animals; we are also storytelling ones.
Since all history writers are in effect makers of their texts, and all makers are poets, as is predicated by the Greek poeta, that is, maker, all historiography has its poetics. Now not every one can tell a story well, or even tell what has happened adequately, this we seem to know without having to say it. Bearing witness without prejudice; but what about the prejudices of memory, the prejudices of our culturally received ideas, its accepted dogmas? And any institution of state, or of religion, or of finance, as well as any State has its dogmas–your family has its dogmas, too; but then, the family is an institution. Now most people rarely pay attention to the difference between the expository and the narrative, let alone possess the good sense when to use either. I am not so certain that everyone needs to be able to do so; however, I am fast realizing that even among many of our educated elite (and successful completion of a graduate school program makes one a part of an educated elite, or at least it should; yet perhaps not the master’s anymore, but let us leave that alone for now), a distinction between the two forms of expression is absent. Even a rudimentary understanding of the two as categories of writing would go a long way in helping to manage one’s critique of history, historia, historum, fee, fie, fictio and all that.
Nonetheless, one still makes a text when he or she says anything about some event, some experience, some occurrence. The competence to tell a story well, of course, goes beyond mere grammatical competence, at least how we limit our understanding of the term grammatical. But there is some truth in the maxim, teaching grammar will not make a person a better writer. This of course points to a number of seemingly divergent things, but one is essential, and that is that no matter how a story is told, it is creative in the aforementioned ways someone is creative when telling any story, even a story about what happened at work or the token booth in the subway, The story-teller should know the differences between narrative and exposition, although this knowledge in itself will not a story-teller make.
Fee, fie, fictio, historum . . . all of us are storytellers, telling stories true and stories made up, stories in one form or another all of them sharing the makerliness of the text, whether that be oral or that be written, we grind the bones of memory to make our bread.