Where do you find the truth?

maht91's picture

"Facing the Facts: An Exploration of Non-Fictional Prose” is the title of my English class. What is the definition of real? How do you define fiction and non-fiction? To what extent do we trust the facts presented in non-fiction to tell us the truth? These are some of the ideas that we are exploring in class. We try to dig in the layers of words to find the truth, the reality and the facts in the non-fictional prose that we read. “Reality Hunger” written by David Shields, is the first book that we encountered in class. The title of the book, Reality Hunger, seemed like a great way to start our hunt for reality and feed our hunger. Well, reading the book might have opened new ways of thinking by presenting interesting ideas, frustrating at times, but it did so in a manner that set me, as a reader, away from the book. I was not able to trust what David Shields was trying to tell us in Reality Hunger. I refused to accept the invitation of ignoring the rules of copyright and citation, of abandoning the boundaries, and of acknowledging the reality that we can’t find the truth. The way Shields presented his ideas in the book were radical and extreme at some times because I felt he was forcing the reader to read the quotations he collected, which only made me grow away from accepting and trusting what he says.

But, when, the week after, we read “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” written by Alison Bechdel, I found myself trusting her narration and approach to writing and feeling sympathetic with the story she was telling. The graphic memoir that Bechdel wrote invited me, the reader, to a different reading experience compared to the invitation set forth by Shields. I felt more comfortable reading the graphic memoir written by Bechdel, perhaps because it is more of a personal story. Even though, both Bechdel and Shields made use of other people’s ideas, thoughts and quotes, Bechdel was able, in my opinion, to tell her story with a higher credibility. In this paper, I aim to present my views that I found Bechdel memoir more trustworthy compared to Shields book, and to argue that Bechdel memoir gained my trust as a reader because of the structure of the narration, her use of images, and sharing her personal story with the reader. 

                                           

The regular and coherent form of the narration is one way that Bechdel used to present her ideas and the reality of her life. The structure that Bechdel chose to tell her story was coherent and easy to follow. For instance, all the chapter titles describe fully the contents of each chapter. She starts off with “Old Father, Old Artificer” in which she describes her father and what he meant to her when she was young. She then smoothly moves on to chapter two, “A Happy Death,” and brings up her father’s death, suggesting that it might be a suicide attempt and so on. The series of events each complement and expand on what has been previously revealed about her life before and after her father’s death. In contrast, Shields does not reflect that same smoothness and coherence with the titles he gave to his chapters. For instance, “Reality” is one title, “Memory” is another, “Now,” “Personal,” and “Coda” are others. You could start reading any of those chapters without considering the order. You could even chose to skip some of the quotes in each chapter, and you would still not jeopardize your understanding, because after all, Shields book is a collection of quotes that he put together. This shows a deviation from normal structure and form found in most books, which frustrated me as I tried to read through the book.

Another way that the structure played a role in advancing the coherence of Bechdel’s narration is the tie between the beginning of the book and the ending. For instance, in Bechdel’s memoir, she starts off her narration with three different snapshots of her and her father showing how he is catching his daughter, trying to keep the balance so that she won’t fall. This shows how much trust she has in her father. Towards the end of the book, she again, trusts her father as she jumps towards him. She says: “He was there to catch me when I leapt.” The connection between the beginning and ending tied the whole story together and explained the ending of her narration. On the other hand, Shields’ beginning and ending did not play that much of a role in easing the reader out of the conversation that he created in his narration. This follows from the inconsistency in presenting his ideas, organizing them and telling them to the reader.

Moreover, through the equal use of well-crafted images and actual words, Bechdel’s narration of her graphic memoir succeeded in adding authenticity to her book. I think that Bechdel had the advantage of telling her story through the use of both images and words; she was able to elaborate and expand her ideas through the use of the images. For instance, on page 220-221, there is a series of images, all the same size, and same colors that show Alison and her father.

             In these images, you get another perspective about the relationship between Alison and her father and the unspoken truth about their homosexuality. It is clear from the images and the words the way Alison approaches the conversation and the way her father responds. You could see the disappointment on Alison’s face and the long pauses of silence. Again, on page 19 when Alison tries to show emotion to her father by kissing her father’s knuckles “Have little practice with gesture, all I manages was to grab his hand and buss the knuckles lightly…” (as shown below), she also demonstrates the power of connecting words and image. Alison has long attempted to understand her father, and both the vividness of the images along with the words show great emotion and depth on Alison’s side and helped add another layer of credibility to her narration.
    

 However, in Shields book, the narration lacks the credibility because of the inability of the words alone to give a true full account of the author’s message, and with the lack of structure, it made it hard for the reader to get an in depth message from the quotes. One could argue that Shields did not want the reader to search beyond what he gave us; he wanted us to ignore the citations and not look for the Owner, if I am allowed to use this word, of the quotes. The abruptness of the sentences, and lack of any specific pattern, nevertheless, as, for example, in quotes 324 through 330, forced me as a reader not to get to the heart of each one. Perhaps, the lack of more illustration, which Bechdel overcame by including the images, made Reality Hunger narration less trustworthy.

Finally, sharing a personal story with the reader is another way that Bechdel used to gain the reader’s trust. She shared with the reader the difficulties she went through in telling her parents about her homosexuality, and also what she went through trying to deepen her relationship with her father. The easiness with which Bechdel narrated her story through an easy flow of ideas, images and words, has created an atmosphere of trust between her and the reader. This is because she was sharing very deep secrets about her life and her father’s life.  On page 58, the Alison receives a call from her mother: “Your father has had affairs with other men.” Another instant where Bechdel shares her homosexuality secret: “Only four months earlier, I had made an announcement to my parents. I am a lesbian.” I did not see a reason to distrust what Bechdel was telling the reader because of the seriousness of her secrets. The narration of her personal story and her personal experiences since her childhood until after her father died has made her memoir more authentic.

Some might argue that both Shields and Bechdel have violated the truthfulness of narration because both of them have collected quotes from other writers and incorporated them into their books. However, while I was reading Shields’s book, I felt as though he was forcing me, as a reader, to accept his ideas, or rather the ideas he collected from different people. In contrast, Bechdel made the transition from the quotations or ideas or names that she used smoother by connecting them with her personal story, and using them to compliment her message or elaborate it further. Again, others might still not be convinced that this is a plausible argument because memory is no longer a reliable source of information, as Shields said “Memory is selective” and “When memory is called to answer, it often answers back with deception.” Even though Bechdel suggests in her memoir that her diary, for instance, lost its credibility as she grew older “But then, my diary was no longer the utterly reliable document it had been in my youth,” the totality of the techniques she used in her writing succeeded in gaining my trust. Could this suggest that maybe, not everything she said was true? Could I have been deceived by the images and the emotion that Bechdel used to narrate the story? Should I have not trusted Bechdel’s…  

 

Images:

 <-- page 220-221

 

 

 <-- page 19

 

Bibliography

1. Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home a Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

2. Shields, David. Reality Hunger: a Manifesto. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.

 

 

Comments

maht91's picture

 Where do you find the

[REVISED VERSION]

 Where do you find the truth?

When I think of the question: where do you find the truth, I don’t really know how to capture an answer. I find myself torn between two opposing forces; a force that is pulling in the direction of believing what I read and thus accepting what I find as the truth, while the other force is pulling me in the direction of doubting what I read in order to find the truth that satisfies my curiosity. So I thought to myself: what does it mean to believe in a book, in a story, in an author or doubt the book, the story, or the author? I read an article in a book called “Writing without teachers” by Peter Elbow. In his book, Elbow argues that his goal in teaching is “to only make the doubting game more over and grant a legitimacy to the believing game.” He establishes that both the doubting game and the believing game proceed by indirection. The doubting game, nevertheless, seeks truths by looking for error rather that accepting all assertions as true. Elbow suggests that we should place similar emphasis on both believing and doubting what we read from any literary work.

Elbow’s argument has set the foundations for my search for the truth. But then, I pondered a bit longer and thought about the world around me. I realized that the world around me is chaotic, disorganized, and disordered! Then I looked back at narratives, both fictional and non-fictional, and I noticed something different, something that stood out to me when I compared the narrative to the world, the chaotic world I live in. I came to the conclusion that the narratives did not represent the world as it is, but rather, it provided an alternative world. The narrative provides me with a safe place where ideas are organized and the text is ordered. The narrative thus pleases me and takes me out of the chaotic world and allows be to look at the skillfully constructed piece of narrative or rather piece of art.  But is non-fictional narrative fictitious? Artificious? Is it not “prose writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people” as Oxford dictionary suggests?

Well, I decided to look at two texts that I read this semester. "Facing the Facts: An Exploration of Non-Fictional Prose” is the title of my English class. What is the definition of real? How do you define fiction and non-fiction? To what extent do we trust the facts presented in non-fiction to tell us the truth? These are some of the ideas that we are exploring in class. We try to dig in the layers of words to find the truth, the reality and the facts in the non-fictional prose that we read. “Reality Hunger” written by David Shields, is the first book that we encountered in class. The title of the book, Reality Hunger, seemed like a great way to start our hunt for reality and feed our hunger. Well, reading the book might have opened new ways of thinking by presenting interesting ideas, frustrating at times, but it did so in a manner that set me, as a reader, away from the book. I was not able to trust what David Shields was trying to tell me in Reality Hunger. I refused to accept the invitation of ignoring the rules of copyright and citation, of abandoning the boundaries, and of acknowledging the reality that we can’t find the truth. The way Shields presented his ideas in the book were radical and extreme at some times because I felt he was forcing the reader to read the quotations he collected, which only made me grow away from accepting and trusting what he says.

But, when, the week after, we read “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” written by Alison Bechdel, I found myself trusting her narration and approach to writing and feeling sympathetic with the story she was telling. The graphic memoir that Bechdel wrote invited me, the reader, to a different reading experience compared to the invitation set forth by Shields. I felt more comfortable reading the graphic memoir written by Bechdel, perhaps because it is more of a personal story. Even though, both Bechdel and Shields made use of other people’s ideas, thoughts and quotes, Bechdel was able, in my opinion, to tell her story with a higher credibility.

 

                                            

 

I asked myself, why did I trust Bechdel? What was it about her book that allowed me to declare that I am able to find the truth? I did find Bechdel’s memoir more trustworthy compared to Shields book. Bechdel memoir gained my trust as a reader because of the structure of the narration, her use of images, and sharing her personal story with the reader.

The regular and coherent form of the narration is one way that Bechdel used to present her ideas and the reality of her life. The structure that Bechdel chose to tell her story was coherent and easy to follow. For instance, all the chapter titles describe fully the contents of each chapter. She starts off with “Old Father, Old Artificer” in which she describes her father and what he meant to her when she was young. She then smoothly moves on to chapter two, “A Happy Death,” and brings up her father’s death, suggesting that it might be a suicide attempt and so on. The series of events each complement and expand on what has been previously revealed about her life before and after her father’s death. In contrast, Shields does not reflect that same smoothness and coherence with the titles he gave to his chapters. For instance, “Reality” is one title, “Memory” is another, “Now,” “Personal,” and “Coda” are others. You could start reading any of those chapters without considering the order. You could even choose to skip some of the quotes in each chapter, and you would still not jeopardize your understanding, because after all, Shields book is a collection of quotes that he put together. This shows a deviation from normal structure and form found in most books, which frustrated me as I tried to read through the book.

Another way that the structure played a role in advancing the coherence of Bechdel’s narration is the tie between the beginning of the book and the ending. For instance, in Bechdel’s memoir, she starts off her narration with three different snapshots of her and her father showing how he is catching his daughter, trying to keep the balance so that she won’t fall. This shows how much trust she has in her father. Towards the end of the book, she again, trusts her father as she jumps towards him. She says: “He was there to catch me when I leapt.” The connection between the beginning and ending tied the whole story together and explained the ending of her narration. On the other hand, Shields’ beginning and ending did not play that much of a role in easing the reader out of the conversation that he created in his narration. This follows from the inconsistency in presenting his ideas, organizing them and telling them to the reader.

Moreover, through the equal use of well-crafted images and words, Bechdel’s narration of her graphic memoir succeeded in adding authenticity to her book. I think that Bechdel had the advantage of telling her story through the use of both images and words; she was able to elaborate and expand her ideas through the use of the images. For instance, on page 220-221, there is a series of images, all the same size, and same colors that show Alison and her father.

             In these images, you get another perspective about the relationship between Alison and her father and the unspoken truth about their homosexuality. It is clear from the images and the words the way Alison approaches the conversation and the way her father responds. You could see the disappointment on Alison’s face and the long pauses of silence. Again, on page 19 when Alison tries to show emotion to her father by kissing her father’s knuckles “Have little practice with gesture; all I managed was to grab his hand and buss the knuckles lightly…” Here, she also demonstrates the power of connecting words and image. Alison has long attempted to understand her father, and both the vividness of the images along with the words show great emotion and depth on Alison’s side and helped add another layer of credibility to her narration. 

 However, in Shields book, the narration lacks the credibility because of the inability of the words alone to give a true full account of the author’s message, and with the lack of structure, it made it hard for the reader to get an in depth message from the quotes. One could argue that Shields did not want the reader to search beyond what he gave us; he wanted us to ignore the citations and not look for the Owner, if I am allowed to use this word, of the quotes. The abruptness of the sentences, and lack of any specific pattern, nevertheless, as, for example, in quotes 324 through 330, forced me as a reader not to get to the heart of each one. Perhaps, the lack of more illustration, which Bechdel overcame by including the images, made Reality Hunger narration less trustworthy.

Finally, sharing a personal story with the reader is another way that Bechdel used to gain the reader’s trust. She shared with the reader the difficulties she went through in telling her parents about her homosexuality, and also what she went through trying to deepen her relationship with her father. The easiness with which Bechdel narrated her story through an easy flow of ideas, images and words, has created an atmosphere of trust between her and the reader. This is because she was sharing very deep secrets about her life and her father’s life.  On page 58, the Alison receives a call from her mother: “Your father has had affairs with other men.” Another instant where Bechdel shares her homosexuality secret: “Only four months earlier, I had made an announcement to my parents. I am a lesbian.” I did not see a reason to distrust what Bechdel was telling the reader because of the seriousness of her secrets. The narration of her personal story and her personal experiences since her childhood until after her father died has made her memoir more authentic.

Some might argue that both Shields and Bechdel have violated the truthfulness of narration because both of them have collected quotes from other writers and incorporated them into their books. However, while I was reading Shields’s book, I felt as though he was forcing me, as a reader, to accept his ideas, or rather the ideas he collected from different people. In contrast, Bechdel made the transition from the quotations or ideas or names that she used smoother by connecting them with her personal story, and using them to compliment her message or elaborate it further. I thought that I had formed my opinion by allowing the believing game to take over while reading Bechdel’s book. This was my first reaction to reading her book. Then, nevertheless, I went back to “Fun Home,” “Reality Hunger” and Elbow’s essay and reflected on what I have done. I completely ignored the doubting game while I was reading “Fun Home.” I seemed to have forgotten my search for the truth and that I need to consider both forces acting on me. The doubting game did not come into play while reading Bechdel’s book even when Bechdel herself suggested in her memoir that her diary has lost its credibility as she grew older: “But then, my diary was no longer the utterly reliable document it had been in my youth.” I went back to Shields and reminded myself that he clearly said memory is no longer a reliable source of information: “Memory is selective” and “When memory is called to answer, it often answers back with deception.” I am left between Bechdel and Shields. Shields refused to give me, as a reader, the comfort of a predictable pattern while Bechdel gave me all the comfort I needed. In the end, I came to realize that in order to search properly for the truth; I must allow myself to believe what I read, but most importantly, to doubt.

  

Images:

 

<--Page 220-221               <--Page 19

 

 

 

 Bibliography

1. Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home a Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

2. Shields, David. Reality Hunger: a Manifesto. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.

Anne Dalke's picture

Trust


maht91--
the structure you've used to organize your essay (describing first your own experience of not trusting Shields, but trusting Bechdel; then trying to analyze what techniques she used that earned your trust) works very well as an appropriate form for an essay that is about trusting the author (because it makes me trust you!). I'm like the guy about to fall in the image above, who trusts that the group below will catch him....

And yet...though I trusted to the truth of your experience, and to your careful elaboration of why you had the experience you did, I find myself wanting to nudge you on to a more critical stance. Let's step back to talk a little--before your reading of the graphic narrative--about how you see the world: is it coherent or chaotic, structured or random, reliable or unreliable? And what is the relationship between that world and narrative? Does literature unsettle expectations for you, or do the opposite: order the disordered? (These are all binaries, of course, and are meant--rather than to give you pairs of oppositions--to lay out a spectrum of possibilities.)

As a prod to your disclosures, I'll respond first, myself, to the questions I just asked. I experience the world as chaotic, and I love narrative because it orders that disordered world, gives me a structure and shape to what has none, makes predictive and predictable what, in the "real" world, is not. I like the inevitability of what happens in fiction, since what happens in the world is never so overdetermined, but the result always of multiple, often unknown and untraceable, causes.

Which is to say: I too like the "structure of narration," but I never ever trust it. I like it because it does not represent the world as it is, but rather an alternative. So all the things that make you trust Bechdel--that her text is smooth, coherent and easy to follow; that the ending echoes the beginning, tying the whole narrative together; that her images support her words, turning them into an "in-depth message," a "true full account"--are patterns that please me, too, but--contrary to your experiences and reflections--they also make me realize how shaped, how structured, how fictional, how artful, how "artisanal" and "artificied" this work is. I admire Bechdel's artistry tremendously, and find the story she tells a very powerful one (all reasons why I selected it as a text for this class).

But I would give much more weight to the questions she herself asks about the reliability of her writing. You highlight, @ the very end of your paper, and as a way to "open it up," Bechdel's description of her diary "losing its credibility as she grew older," functioning "no longer as the utterly reliable document it had been in her youth." For me, that's not the ending, but the starting point of an essay... why trust so absolutely someone who tells you explicitly not to trust?

I'm also quite interested in your reaction to Shields, and am struck in particular by your saying both that you felt "forced by him" and that (contrari-wise?) he really didn't want us "to search beyond what he gave us," or to "look for the Owner" of the words he was sharing. While the "abruptness of the sentences, and lack of any specific pattern," kept you from getting to the heart of each one, his intention, I think, was the opposite: by refusing you the comfort of a predictable pattern, he was inviting you to be present wholly in the sentence itself: what is it saying to you, how does it move you, irrespective of source or context? We'll talk in class later this week about the artwork of Yves Klein, who, Solnit describes as seeking to annihilate representation (which is always about what is absent), in favor of an art of immediacy and of presence. Klein wanted, in other words, to dissolve the rational mind, erase the map of reason that you are so carefully drawing here. What do you think of that project?

maht91's picture

 In reply to your comment and

 In reply to your comment and to our discussion at the writing conference, I think I am going to do some revisions to this paper. I have read the essays titled "The Doubting Game and Believing Game-An analysis of the Intellectual Enterprise" by Peter Elbow that you recommended and I found it really helpful in terms of this essay and also in leading my ideas in class discussions throughout the semester. So my plan of revision and action for this paper will first bring about the idea of the importance of participating in the doubting and believing games, since, as you mentioned, our world is full of chaos and narratives are constructed by people. Then I am going to introduce my experience in reading both stories and why I trusted Bechdel (participating in the believing game), and distrusted Shields. Then, I am going to highlight the unreliability of the narrative by Bechdel since she herself suggests that she does not know if her diary is truthful document. I will then bring back the doubting and believing game and the importance of both.

I think this is my plan! Thank you.

maht91's picture

Thank you for the response.

Thank you for the response. Getting a response on an essay through comments encourages me to work more on it and develop my ideas better compared to getting a numeric grade. 

I did not give much thought to the idea that the world is chaotic as you suggested (and I agree with that), and the structure people find in specific narration is, as I once mentioned in one of my postings, is an art, a very well crafted art. Reading the essay again and re-reading your comments have made me realize that I should doubt the art because it is not the "true" reflection of the real world. (I am trying to be very careful when using the words real and true.) 

I liked what you proposed that the ending point of my essay should rather be the beginning point of my essay. It sounds like a more enjoyable task and I think it will make a more interesting essay. I will try to re-write some parts of the essay and shift some paragraphs around to transform the essay into the new form. We will further discuss this in our meeting tomorrow and start thinking about a new project for the next paper. Thank you again for your comments.

  

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