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Books for Everyone!

Mid-June 2015

Fiction or Fact


It’s all very confusing to me. People read fiction as if it is fact, and they watch reality TV as if it is real. Not having seen any “reality TV,” I cannot attest to the reality of it. I nonetheless venture to say that most of it is a lot of hooey.


There was a time when a real-life event led to a book that then led to a movie. Later, the real-life event led to a movie that then led to a book. Now the movie and the book are dream-whipped together to spawn real-life imitation. Fiction, as well as fact, gets terribly muddled in some horribly muddy waters.

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, was hardly complimentary to the Poet. Plato deemed him most likely possessed by a madness and not in control of himself; thus the Poet was a danger to society (but not always to himself) and, in spite of his admiration for fine lyric poetry, Plato decided that for the good of society, the Poet ought to be banished from the Republic or, in some instances, censored, confined, controlled, and handed a productive writing assignment such as inoffensive praise of the State.


Unlike the English Romantic poet, John Keats, who wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” Plato unequivocally thought that the fundamental work of the Poet led people away from the truth. Furthermore, the Poet was limited to imitating the world of “appearances.” He makes (not even creates) mere copies of copies. The “creation” of the Poet is therefore twice removed from reality. The Poet has cleverly mastered mimicry!


I do not agree with Plato in theory but in reality, he might have been prescient in his wording way back in antiquity.


Many years ago someone told me, “Slowly all the fictions of the world are becoming fact.”


I shrugged off the statement. At the time, I’d left the world of learning how to write fiction for the world of earning a living through work, hard work that was poorly compensated for in physical reality but was richly ennobling to the spirit. That opinion did not ring true to me at that time, but I now think that it is quite possible for writers of fiction to create worlds that one day could come true. Perhaps the need for fantasy is merely the wish to indulge in a better reality. If so, then fantasy has been sorely and shabbily treated.

TV’s “Fantasy Island” has been superseded by a myriad of revolting fantasy lives that parade across the digital drama stage in various states of maladresse, or clumsiness. From the glimpses that I try to avoid while researching Google images, there’s an awful lot of maladresse out there, with or without dresses. Fact is camouflaged as fantasy, and fantasy or fiction is taken for reality. Most of it looks like lunatic farce to me.


How in the world did the world get to this state of inversion?

I will not say perversion because the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) wrote the book on it. Actually, this French aristocrat wrote many books on this topic that was consequently derived from his name. The man was in prison during the penning of most of his works. The gruesome, caged setting may have contributed to their overall tone.


I once checked one of his novels (in the French) out of the Sacramento Public Library, back in the day when the institution known as the public library contained not only such books but -- books! Many a public library still open in America (after budget cuts) is a sad place of hallways and vagrants who linger in the hallways (and bathe in the bathroom sink).

Classic books, foreign language books, research books, encyclopedias, and the card catalog have all been replaced by the latest in pop fiction, magazines (the barking chain), DVDs, wireless everything (which tends to attract the wrong crowd), and very noisy prepubescent children who form an ersatz after-school daycare center. Latchkey-kids have become Library Occupiers. My friend, The Original Thinker, states the library became “a squat.” One noun and one article say it all!


Perhaps a book or two by the morose Marquis would have quieted down the young delinquents. I used to go to the reading room of the local lending library to get away from the noise, not to be surrounded by it!


My children looked forward to accompanying me on these excursions far more than I anticipated conducting them. They would simply look at the noisy but well-dressed urchins. My son finally asked me, “What is wrong with those children?” I answered, “Their parents.”


The responsibility of any child belongs to the parents, not to the neighbor working at home, the school, the library, the local game arcade, water world, or on whomever or whatever else the child can be dumped. It’s a fact.


And I know those above-stated facts to be true because various public settings and at least half a dozen local libraries provided me with repeated and continuous doses of a disgusting physical reality. Admittedly, I benefited from the demise of the local public library: a major portion of my research library is composed of library discards. The cardboard boxes in the front hallway of my local public library were thoroughly searched for good reads by my children and by me.

I especially treasure a vintage leather-bound set of Encyclopedia Britannica ($5 for the set but I had to single-handedly haul them one night into the rear compartment of my SUV). When the card catalog was dispensed with, I was not interested in the cards but in the gorgeous oak furniture (with all those drawers!) that housed them. Alas! I know not where that antique wood went.


The assistant librarian told me that she was most upset with these wholesale changes in the name of progress. I told her that wholesale changes are not in the name of progress, just in the name of short-sighted en vogue marketing; and wholesale is usually the way things of real value go, and cheaply. The bridge to the 21st century did not have to dismantle the foundation on which it was to be built!


Those fine old public buildings could have remained largely research and reading rooms. Some research is best done through the Internet. Other research, however, can be accomplished only through books, good old books – online material is quick and convenient but not always reliable, accurate, or true. I perform a great deal of double- and even triple-checking of material and facts, especially for language and for history, in primary source materials. (A mix of both methods, digital and hard-copy, is best.)


In the race to be Modern, the public library was emptied of its valuables and filled with mystery moisture, maladjusted mites, and mayhem. The public library never became Modern. It just became a Morbid Mess.


The word, “public,” has increasingly taken on a most negative connotation. Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American industrialist and true (not fictitious) philanthropist, rolls over with a burr in his grave because of what has happened to the public library in America.

Mr. Carnegie, author of “The Gospel of Wealth,” established public libraries throughout the United States, Great Britain, and Canada, as well as several other nations. His vision of altruism was to improve society and the quality of an ordered life, not to assist in their degradation or to impose a fantastical belief system through social engineering of a new order (or disorder). Concerned with edifying the established order, Carnegie was an industrious man with not enough time on his hands and not enough money to achieve some rather lofty goals.


The public lending library was one such goal that has run amuck through the mucking up of public monies. The attempt to be trendy and look like “Borders Books” (another pop-culture bookstore that also went out of business) doomed the brainchild of Mr. Carnegie. But the free market system always works: the sunrise of the Rare-and-Used Bookstore oversaw the sunset of the Public Library. Although most bookstores are now online.


I do not recall the name of the rare and used book by Monsieur de Sade that I borrowed from Ye Olde Public Library. I don’t think the title mattered very much. I even brought the hardcover book to the workplace cafeteria and attempted to read it at the coffee-break table.


The male engineers who were seated adjacent to me said, “Stand back.”


Ten pages of Monsieur de Sade were enough for me. The primary mood was one of suffering, either with or without blood. I did not wade deep enough into the plot to witness the use of pulleys and other physical equipment and hardware. Contrary to the popular rock song, “Love Hurts,” I’d decided that if love hurts, you’re not doing it right.


I was also stymied (choked?) by the lack of perspectives in this novel. The reader was forced to choose between identifying with the torturer or identifying with the victim. I had a most difficult, almost painful time conjuring up any sympathy for anyone. After the first ten pages, my claustrophobia saved me from any further labyrinthine literary labour.


Victimology has come a long way since the wanton days of this crazy aristocrat. I find laughable (and ridiculous) the analysis given the man’s therapeutic outpourings by Freudians, feminists, radicals, poets, New Agers, Old Agers, post-modernists, post-post-modernists, pre-modernists, the avant-garde, the over-the-top guards of free speech, and whoever else is drawn to the fact-as-fiction, fantasy-as-fact fomentation by Marquis de Sade.

This French fada (crackpot) was a wealthy madman. He had far too much time and too much money on his hands. His boredom was exceeded only by his execrable taste, a sensibility that was not worthy of his social niveau. He embodied these magnificent wordings by Madame Germaine de Staël (a French woman of Swiss origin who became a Frenchwoman of letters - and - yes, the French can complicate any simple matter):


“. . . a revolting vulgarity of manners,” along with “ . . . bad taste, pushed to the point of vulgarity . . .”


This remarkably profound and prescient Frenchwoman also wrote on the subject of fiction: “ . . . it is largely the licentious and the shallow genre that has sought to take advantage of the liberty that literature was believed to have acquired.”


The genre that has so gaudily abused the liberty of literature and of public expression is one that shall remain nameless in this essay, but it has so overtaxed the public taste in terms of tastelessness that the noun, sex, has been neutered and replaced by “gender,” a vapid term that for me indicates only whether the French noun is masculine or feminine. (Even in grammar, the French are never neutral.)


If we are discussing the male or the female of the species, I dare to say “sex.” And the sickly obsessed Marquis does not come to my mind!


Surrounded by his own tacky books, the libertine Marquis de Sade lost the taste for fact, fiction, or even reality. In time, he was consumed by own past, a past that was surely of his own making and his own creating.

The Italian writer and philosopher, George Santayana, was more than accurate when he stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It logically follows that those who redact the past are certain to repeat the redacted portions. The public library was the first redaction of the past in a long line of wretched edits on the public consciousness of history, culture, and that little thing called “good taste.”


I admit that I very often struggle with understanding the tastes of others, and so I perhaps am not the best judge of good, bad, or mediocre taste. I grew up in the northeastern portion of the United States. There was “old money,” “new money,” and “no money.” I was part of the “no money” category. Furthermore, I was not raised in the middle class since my parents did not own a house; and I consider home ownership the definitive mark of the middle class.


So I never did quite comprehend “keeping up the Joneses.” During my youth it was more a matter of keeping at bay the wolves at the door.


My taste or tastes, therefore, came about from within myself far more than outside my own person. I do believe that what currently passes for good taste in the United States is nearing what will prove to be a false bottom. When the lines between reality and fantasy; and fact and fiction are so blurred that reality becomes a state of disbelief, then all caution is tossed to the wind in terms of good manners and good taste (and morality is a by-product of those two realms).

Maladresse is the result; ergo the current mania by the vanity class to create the effects of a world around them, not to inhabit a real world. If the vain must suffer, and surely they must and they do, must we suffer with them? Cannot their sad illusions and soporific delusions of life remain within their own bubbles of “reality”? Sometimes, I feel that I must erect a mental Maginot Line to guard against the preposterous and the ridiculous amongst us.


And that opinion, or series of thoughts, brings me back to the question of how in the world did the world get to this state of confusing fiction and fact? Far too much time and too much money on its hands? The idle mind and idle hands are the devil’s workshop. And by the devil, I don’t mean Marquis de Sade.


I do mean the choices we’ve made led us to where we are today; and the choices we make today will lead us to where we’ll be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Now there is a labyrinth to find our way out of, a maze that might amaze us if only we take the time to live our lives as fact and to dream our days and nights in fantasy or fiction -- good fiction, I heartily recommend!