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All this happened, more or less February 5, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, Toulouse Street.
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This may have to join Mr. Beckett and Mr. Morrison in a box over in the sidebar:

“All this happened, more or less”.
Opening line of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

My daughter is in a class exploring “Truth, Lies and Literature”, which the syllabus describes thus: “Asking how and why literature manipulates truth to formulate a story, this course raises questions about why truth in storytelling matters. We will examine texts in which falsity is to be believed; in which biographical details invade what is claimed by the author to have no relation to himself or his text; in which the reader is also a character; and in which historical or literary fact is altered or invented.”

I’m trying to puzzle out why they assigned Cat’s Cradle as the first book instead of Slaughterhouse Five if they are interested in the intersection of truth and fiction. Given my interest in what might best be described as creative reality (also known as Creative Non-Fiction), I think with a little help from me she’s either guaranteed an A–or an F–depending on the teacher’s view of things. Truth is important; so is beauty, but in art truth is malleable just as it is in our own memories, shaped to fit our own sense of rightness. Anyone who is so convinced of a consensual, group truth will never get to Truth. Beauty is the same. Which artist’s work is more beautiful: Keat’s or Bukowski’s? I think I know the consensus view but I learned years ago at the race track not to follow the crowd. That’s not where the money is. Show me the money.

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Comments»

1. Marco - February 5, 2011

What’s in your wallet?

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mf - February 5, 2011

A tiny visigoth who will behead the person who gives away the identify of The Counting House.

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2. Paul Benton - February 7, 2011

i am reading, almost finished with, “galopagos” (sic?). i hadnt read a thing by him in over 20 years – novel length. i guess i was just in the mood.

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3. Janelle Schwartz - March 15, 2011

How delightful to read about my course on your blog! While I am confident that _Cat’s Cradle_ was the best choice w/ which to start the course, I agree that _Slaughterhouse Five_, in fact most any of Vonnegut’s novels, could have been equally effective. In fact, the opening quote of _SF_ almost directly anticipates one from O’Brien’s _The Things They Carried_:

“That’s a true story that never happened.”

But as your daughter knows, I’m writing here b/c I simply must take issue w/ one statement in particular:

“… I think with a little help from me she’s either guaranteed an A–or an F–depending on the teacher’s view of things.”

Given all that we have been discussing this semester, and all that my course hopes to suggest, and the students themselves are aiming to accomplish, I found it especially provocative that you mounted a kind of triple-tiered agency of engagement: “your interest” and “a little help” + your daughter’s needing to achieve a grade + the professor’s “view on things.” Don’t get me wrong, I completely get the humor embedded in the “A or F” scenario. But if this course does nothing else, it is to teach students to think for themselves… not for how they think their teacher thinks nor for how their parents think. And this, in turn, reorients any understanding of “truth” to an investigation of perspective–an investigation seeking to uncover methods of manipulation on a multitude of fronts. Thus just as I am manipulating the students to “think critically,” you might manipulate your daughter to “think like you.” But it is up to your daughter to choose, to find her own voice. So is it Truth that is important, or an understanding of one’s role (and the impact that his/her choices might make) w/ regard to representations of “truth” that matters?

n.b. your daughter already cleared the air, saying that “he’s not really like that” w/ regard to your engagement w/ her studies. so this comment has more to do w/ a reaction to rhetoric than to the ‘truth’ it may or may not uncover. so thank you again for taking the time to write out your thoughts here! great blog overall.

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mf - March 15, 2011

I’m glad the humorous intent was clear, as the internet is a treacherous place for such things. Actually I have stayed out of her studies out of respect for the formation of her own opinions. I’m glad she took this class as I can’t think of a better critical thinking exercise that considering the nature of fact and memory in both fiction and memoir. As a former journalist and writer of CNF I appreciate the importance of considering the malleable nature of fact particularly in our politically-charged, Internet-saturated culture where we must often serve as our own arbitors of reality and fact.

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4. The truth shall set you free « Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans - March 15, 2011

[…] posted a partially tongue-in-cheek note about a class my daughter is taking in college this semester titled “Truth, Lies and […]

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