The Liar’s Power

Raph al Guul

“You know, most writers have kind of a god complex,” Raph said, “the lying bastards they are.”

I looked up. I had thought this was gonna be a quiet lunch, some meaningless smalltalk, maybe. But apparently, he was in rant-mode again. I wondered how I could maybe stop him in his tracks.

“Well, if they are writing fiction, they have a good reason, don’t they? I mean they create worlds, and stories, and characters. They have a reason to feel slightly godish.”

I had tried to look as uninterested as possible when I was talking. Looking up, I realized that I probably shouldn’t even have responded.

“Dude, writing fiction isn’t creation. It is but the desperate and helpless scream for creative power that the author does not have.”

“What are you saying? That creativity is a myth?”

“I’m saying that novelists are not gods. They’re Frankensteins. And their so-called,” he signaled quotation marks with his fingers, “’creations’ are nothing but monsters.”

“But Frankenstein’s monster is his creation, isn’t it? I mean…”

“Frankenstein reassembled. He took small parts and shoved them together. If that is creation, then it’s creatio ex chaos, at best. We don’t need creative power to do it. And neither do we need it to write books and stories. We can’t create characters. We take arms and legs, assemble them to the best of our knowledge. We make them move, do stuff, maybe – if we are lucky – we even make them  think for a few seconds.”

“But when I read a book, I feel something! Right? Isn’t that feeling what the author created? Doesn’t that go beyond creatio ex chaos?”

“Those are two different questions. Yes, the emotional involvement that you feel when reading is something that comes ex nihilo, not ex chaos. But it is not the writer that creates it.”

Raph was circling the drain – or so it seemed. Esoteric bullshit.

“What the… who do you suppose creates it, then?”

“It’s the reader. Sure, the reassembled narrative elements are provided by the writer. But character is not something that someone has, it’s what someone is. Characters that we create do not go beyond legs and arms. But the feelings come from within the reader. When they impose characteristics onto the presented character. Sure I can make my character do particular things that are supposed to reflect what and who they are. But only the reader has the power to recognize this and utilize it to come up with the actual character. Only after this, the character will move us.”

“But what about direct characterization? Assignment of trait? You could also say ‘the character is friendly’, couldn’t you.”

Raph grinned at me, as if I had just said something really dumb.

“As if saying that would make your character so. What if I say that my character is super friendly and then I make her commit a triple homicide? We live in a time when no one believes the author anymore. And for a reason: Authors are always lying.”

He took a short break, stared at me, and stuffed some fries in his face. Then he started talking again.

“Just stating traits does not have an impact on the character. There is no power in the author’s words. Only the reader gives power to them.”

“If you think so, why do you even bother writing? If you assign all the power to the reader, is there even a point to it?”

Raph smiled at me. I hated him so much right now.

“There would be no point to it if I was writing to nurture my god-complex. But I just enjoy re-imagining the truth. You know: lying.”

He wiped his mouth, got up, picked up his tablet, and left through the crowd behind him. What a hypocrite.

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3 responses to “The Liar’s Power

  1. Someone’s been reading up on reception theory….! (You should try Pavel’s ‘Possible Worlds’, which I am attempting to wade through currently…It has a section on fictional characters and whether or not they can be said to exist – from a more philosophical than literary criticism viewpoint perhaps, though.)

    • Maybe someone has indeed been. Not me, though. I have read Frankenstein (and admittedly written a paper on it that focused on the two forms of creation that are mentioned in this “story”), but there is little theoretical background to what I wrote here. Thanks for the hint, though. Maybe I will get around to it some time.

      • well, maybe not conscious theoretical background, but certainly it resonates very nicely with reception theory – the idea that the reader is responsible for creating meaning rather than the author. 🙂

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