I have been thinking lately about truth. Specifically how it pertains to all of us who either produce, consume or are in any other way partake of the whole fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk etc. community, if community is the word I want. Well, I am sure the perspicacious reader gathers the gist of what I am attempting to convey.
Truth. The Truth, to be exact. The whole of it, and nothing without it, nothing it withstanding. I have a strange relationship with the truth. I lie a lot. Like, I lie a lot even by the standards of human beings, the most mendacious animal known to man (or so he would have you believe). Not a day goes by without me amping up an anecdote, spicing a recollection with a bit of bullshit fairy dust, or just plain inventing little things, both to myself and in my discourse with others, to make life more interesting. I could go into how I socially inherited this bad habit from my mother, but that is neither really here nor there. It's a kind of subconscious compulsion, and I do it mostly without realizing it completely until afterwards. I will be describing some historical period or person or some scientific concept or literary piece of which I am more knowledgeable than my interlocutor, and I will sort of move bits around, make up utter, whole-cloth lies, and just generally shift things up to make whatever I am telling seem more appealing, more narratively felicitous, more poignant and witty and neat and perfect.
I want the world to be a book, or a film, or a television show. I suppose, in this day and age, at the nadir of Western Civilization and all that jazz, it's a very common impulse. It's hyperrealism and postmodernism and so on and so forth and go fuck yourself you pointless, pretentious, lazy, smug relativist social constructionist bastard. That's not the important thing here. The important thing, in a good move in the age of individualism and right-wingism and general nihilism, the Anglophone Generation Y-era, is me. Or rather, the queer perspective I have on truth. I'd call it schizophrenic, except that word doesn't really mean what people think it means when they use it. I cannot allow myself to step into that groove, anal-retentive linguist that I am. My attitude towards the truth is...compartmental. It is cognitively dissonant. It's dual-natured. It's hypocritical. It's everything I despise and, on the flip side, all the things I love in life. It's a bitch, and it'd take a multi-volume novel to tackle it in earnest, but at present a mere weblog entry shall have to suffice. Bear with me; I shall try to keep the wall of text to an acceptable minimum.
I love science, but I hate science fiction. I firmly believe that there has never been a fantasy monster invented, nor a strange and alien realm conceived of, a magic spell cast or a time vortex manipulated in such a fashion as to, within a thousand miles of the target, be able to best the simple, and true, achievements and discoveries of science. Science fiction, for all its literary value, is a genre that by and large bastardizes and prostitutes and plays willy-nilly with these fine things. Yet, predictive sci-fi is better than mere fantasy-hybrid space opera stuff, but it's all horrid. The "alien" life forms in Avatar are biologically utterly improbable, yet the movie masquerades about as some sort of scientific action movie. It's set in the real world. It's a dashed damned fucking liar of a flick, and it's utterly shameless about it. The same goes for one of my most beloved movie monsters, the Alien xenomorphs. One of the coolest, most original, horrifying and simply, otherworldly beautiful monstrosities ever to parade the silver screen or elsewhere. Yet its science makes zero sense. Its corrosive blood, its DNA-theft, its whole concept is a scientific crock of shit. It angers me to ludicrous, parodic degrees, this kind of playing fast and loose with the truth. Yes, reality is complex and multi-faceted and there are degrees and continua and our knowledge of the world is pieced together from disparate perspectives and there are no complete and grand unifying metanarratives to explain it all as far as we know.
BUT! And it's a one of Sir Mixalotian proportions. This does not mean that all ideas are up for grabs. Just because it renders the truth more elusive, it doesn't mean that honourable people who sincerely wish to understand the world, including its social, cultural and humanistic aspects, have any right to cop out and start babbling on about discourse until the government cuts off the very last department in their field because, for all intents and purposes, we are dealing with an entire discipline involved in nothing but mental masturbation.
Lies are wonderful. Illusion is glorious. "Do you want the truth, or something beautiful?" Paloma Faith sings, and I do believe, and consider it a fundamental part of my life philosophy, that this is a very true and very serious question. The truth is often dull. It's often disappointing. It isn't easy or reductionist or aligned with any side of a political spectrum. But it can be colourless. It can also be beautiful, but its beauty is often stark, hard and difficult to digest. Which is why weaker individuals like me, can't, no matter how much we tell ourselves, to come to terms with that we live in a world where everywhere is already explored, where the only frontiers lie in the cold, heartless depths of interstellar space, whither it is questionable if science will ever even bequeath us the capacity to venture. Which is why sometimes, for just a few moments, we dream ourselves away into silly, atavistic dreams of knights and dragons and supernatural darkness and decay and alien tongues and worlds and notions, primitive and fantastical, crystal and brass and steam and glowing sigils upon moonlit heaths beneath turquoise skies.
Well, this is a pointless rant, isn't it? What doesn't one do to rationalize one's own tastes? But I will say this; I would rather have my fiction be so fictional as to give one a toothache as soon as one bites into it, and keep to my dreary, materialist science, the kind that works, out in the real world. That seems to me a far better trade, if, such as in mine own case, it is a necessary one, than the opposite: a science of mental constructions and houses of cards and sophistry and mental regurgitation and schmess metaphysics (look up Daniel Dennet's views on the wonderful board game of schmess), coupled with endless deconstructions of Joyce and all the rest of them. Call me old-fashioned, but I like stories. I like the telling of them, and I like the acknowledgment, unambiguous, of their utterly insincere nature. The taller the better. As tall as the topless spires of Illyon, or the summit of Mount Doom.
Charlie O. Johansson