Fiction: the facts

Enquiry into an unspoken conspiracy that literature = fiction.

  • No English teacher I’ve ever had put a single non fictional work in the reading list
  • There are exceptions: lots of poetry is sort of idealised reality (e.g. daffodils), and some English curricula extend to journalism
  • But poetry’s never been taught to me as non-fiction, and journalism’s never been taught to me as literature (although someone must be teaching Truman Capote)
  • Usual rejoinder: well, fiction is sort of real, because it feels real
  • AKA suspension of disbelief (great double negative that), voluntary ego suppression, etc.

Still, why is the work of the fictionist so important that it must dominate English literary studies, from school upwards?

Just The Facts

Possible reason 1: fiction has some intrinsic quality that makes it better for teaching than non-fiction

  • Is it easier to study literature if the student doesn’t have to factor in the text’s relationship to reality?
  • If so, why have my English teachers paid so much attention to helping us to connect the text to the author’s perception of their world?
  • Why not reverse that, and start with texts that don’t attempt to fudge anything, and analyse how the author has gone about that?

Possible reason 2: they don’t now they’re doing it

  • Uhhh ….

Possible reason 3: truth is awkward, maybe because of some weird lag from earlier times when truth was even less popular than it is now

  • Say you were deeply religious, bigoted or even just strongly opinionated: you might choose to avoid certain lessons in history, science or anything else that corrupts the programme
  • Historically, religious people (and most others) talk about “the” bible, singularly, as if there’s no other book. Likewise “the good book” as if there aren’t any others
  •  Not that any of my English teachers have been noticeably religious or bigoted, or even strongly opinionated (more open minded types)

Possible reason 4: some other reason.

Regardless, it’s hard enough keeping up with the stuff that’s happened; the stuff that is happening; the stuff that is about to happen; and the stuff that is likely, possible or even unlikely to happen.

Not that the never-happened hasn’t had its highlights. But for now, I’m going to try and tell the truth.

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