Missing Link Friday – True selves and other fictions

"Marian Evans was enraged by the suggestion that the scenes and characters in her early books were simply transcribed from life", writes Adair Jones. "… the assumption that the work was drawn from life was not an affirmation of her talent for realism, but a denial of her creative imagination."

Evans wrote under the name George Eliot, perhaps to distance her work from the "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" of the mid-Victorian period. Many readers assumed the author of Scenes of Clerical Life was a man. Critics praised her work for its realism.

Reality tv star Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi has released a novel. She told Jay Leno: "It’s just based on things that are in my head, like made-up stories." At Slate’s XXfactor Jessica Grose talks to ghost writer Valere Frankel about how Snooki’s ideas and details were incorporated into the book: "I don’t know to what extent I can be totally forthcoming. I have to be kind of vague", she said.

Tom McMaster was recently revealed as the author of A Gay Girl in Damascus: "an out Syrian lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on." He told the Guardian’s Esther Addley: "… to a large extent it was almost as though I were writing a novel." He says he was happy when people told him the writing was incredible: "my own vanity is that if you want to complement me, you know, tell me you like my writing."

At Book Maniac Benjamin Rosenbaum writes: "I can be enraged at Tom MacMaster and still find Amina an attractive hero." Tigtog at Larvatus Prodeo is taking it personally: "As someone who was a fully pseudonymous blogger myself for many years I’m pretty pissed off at what actions like this do for the credibility of all pseudonymous writings".

Brian Spears at Rumpus offers some advice to fellow white males: "Don’t co-opt the voice of a minority in hopes that people will take your writing more seriously, especially when you belong to the most privileged demographic group on the planet."

At Genreville, Rose Fox writes about the outrage, pain and loss of trust readers experience when a "sympathy-thief" is exposed. She suggests that: "fans of a certain variety of speculative fiction–slipstream, interstitial fiction, magical realism, and the like–are perhaps better equipped than most to weather these moments when everything abruptly turns 90 degrees from what we thought was true."

At Opinionator, philosopher Joshua Knobe wonders what part of Mark Pierpont counts as his true self. As Knobe explains: "Pierpont used to be an important figure in the evangelical Christian effort to help ‘cure’ gay people of their homosexual desires." He writes:

One person might look at his predicament and say: “Deep down, he has always wanted to be with another man, but he somehow picked up from society the idea that this desire was immoral or forbidden. If he could only escape the shackles of his religious beliefs, he would be able to fully express the person he really is.”

But then another person could look at exactly the same case and arrive at the very opposite conclusion: “Fundamentally, Pierpont is a Christian who is struggling to pursue a Christian life, but these desires he has make it difficult for him to live by his own values. If he ever gives in to them and chooses to sleep with another man, he will be betraying what was is most essential to the person he really is.”

According to Knobe, many philosophers argue that a person’s true self is revealed when a person reflects on their deepest values. But for many non-philosophers, the opposite seems more plausible. The true self is revaled in "suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect is just a hindrance that gets in the way of this true self’s expression."

At Democracy in America, Will Wilkinson responds: "The real Mark Pierpont is the gay Mark Pierpont. You go girl! But do we feel the same way about drug addicts, or pederasts?"

At Practical Ethics, Alexandre Erler says it’s time to give up "the assumption that the notion of the true self, taken on its own, can provide us with practical guidance" about how to live our lives.

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12 Responses to Missing Link Friday – True selves and other fictions

  1. Rose Fox says:

    Goodness, thank you for excerpting the sentence with three “sort of”s in it! Let me go fix that…

  2. Don Arthur says:

    Hi Rose – I’ve updated the post to reflect your edits.

  3. Rose Fox says:

    I am humbly grateful.

  4. paul walter says:

    Nope. Tig Tog says it all. These are serious issues. People are bunged up in torture cells across the world, enduring the most egregious suffering, for what we take for granted, at least in some sense maybe doing our suffering for us as well. Millions of people are fighting for even a half chance at a crack at the sort of life we take for granted.
    So, some goose purloins their voice either for self indulgence or self aggrandisement, while stories that need to be heard are excised from media and their messages ignored, shunned and obliterated.

  5. Don Arthur says:

    Yup. But is it really a good idea to allow your political views and activities to be so heavily influenced by vivid first person narratives?

    I remember when A Current Affair ran a story about the Paxtons — a family of kids who were all on the dole. It didn’t matter what evidence you came up with, people ‘knew’ dole bludging was a serious problem because they’d seen it in the flesh.

  6. Don Arthur says:

    Tigtog writes:

    “As someone who was a fully pseudonymous blogger myself for many years I’m pretty pissed off at what actions like this do for the credibility of all pseudonymous writings”

    I’m curious about this. If a pseudonymous blog relies on unverifiable first person accounts of events and experiences for its impact, why should it have any credibility?

  7. paul walter says:

    Don, she (TigTog)is obviously talking about the mindset and intentions of a person, here.
    The lining up of this current antic to the vulgar exploitation of the Paxtons as “undeserving” (before boat people turned up) as part of the broad Howardist political push in the late nineties illustrates this “motive/intent” gap, when you consider that Packer himself ducked paying tax the way a footy player ducks a coathanger, as to uptake of social responsibilities.
    The likes of Tigtog might get it wrong once in a while as to sources or conclusion (actually rare, as I find it), but these are bright people and you have to trust your judgement as to whether they are well motivated in drawing people’s attentions to the issues they raise.
    People like Tigtog might make an honest mistake, but unless I’m seriously wrong, the intent is much different from a Greg Sheridan or Nikki Savva type. That’s the difference between honest, often well researched, opinion and black propaganda for base purposes.

  8. Don Arthur says:

    Paul – I’m not sure I’m getting your point.

  9. Fyodor says:

    It’s obvious, Don. Sheridan is a peddler of black propaganda for base purposes, whereas pseudonymous Syrian lesbians speak truth to power…until they’re outed as dawgs making shit up on the internets.

    Ah, the perils of pseudonymously fictional “lived experience”.

  10. Mel says:

    Don, I love the way you’ve threaded together a collection of very different links broadly related to a common theme. Great stuff.

  11. paul walter says:

    Se, even Fyodor acknowledges that Sheridan is a” peddler of black propaganda for base purposes”.
    This is a red letter day!
    And if you think Syrian lesbians (what’s Syrian lesbian or two, between friends) are loose with the truth, try Savva, who lies more in a moment than an army corps of Syrian Lesbians combined, in a year.
    On another issue, Don, even you will ge there, in the end.

  12. Fyodor says:

    Se, even Fyodor acknowledges that Sheridan is a” peddler of black propaganda for base purposes”. This is a red letter day!

    Heh. For you, Paul, every day is a red nose day.

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