When fiction triumphs over reality

  • Stories, not facts, shape, reshape and tell us who we are

Fictions unite us. Reality divides us. We escape from reality through fiction as we make sense of the former through the latter. Fiction helps us traverse through the peaks and valleys of reality. Reality, dear folks, is the enemy we need to defeat every time we are face to face. Fiction is the ammunition we use in this eternal war.

To imagine things ‘that are not’ is mankind’s superpower. Our belief in progress we are making but cannot see the end of, is the fuel that powers us. We love not the person ‘as they are’ but as we comprehend them in our heads. All these big and small fictions, when combined, make us who we are. They chart out our future course and help us understand what we were in the past.

Fiction, in all its shapes and guises, is pivotal to human experience. Our sorrows, visions, hopes, fears, plans, aspirations, knowledge, suffering, and the burden of existence gets an outlet through fiction. We tell stories when we want attention. We recite poetry when filled to the brim with emotions and ecstasy. We make sculptures to save beauty from the ravages of time. We paint pictures and draw sceneries when we are aroused by the bountiful beauty of nature in all its glory. We philosophise when truth is neither obvious nor visible. We, dear folks, make up lies to utter out truth and nothing but the truth.

The class we are born into, the social strata we belong to, the beliefs we hold dear, the aspirations we shared with others, the common good we all believe in are ultimately one or the other forms of fiction we choose from

Reality is concrete. Reality is objective. Reality is indifferent. Reality exists sans any concern for us. And what has been our civilization about? To escape from an all-pervasive reality. Traditions and customs which give us meaning and coherence aim to escape realities of modern-day life and how it endangers our beliefs. Deities and supernatural powers confer on us meaning in a universe that does not even bother to give two hoots about meaning. Ideas like nationalism, sovereignty and patriotism help us sway the mundane realities of differences that set us apart from every person we encounter. The ends and purposes fiction serves for humankind are numerous. Helping us humans escape reality is just one of the most important feats it has achieved.

We relate with the characters in novels, with the mellow imagery of poetry, with morals of fables, and with the pristine beauty of fairy tales. Our prosaic existence gets elevated in daydreaming of a future that will never arrive. Yet, it soothes us in our present. Our bruised memories live and perish in a land we only inhabit in our minds. Our collective wisdom makes progress only when we believe in things that are not ‘real’ yet serve as a binding force.

Money is a fiction. And a most-cherished, most sought-after fiction. A printed piece of paper in reality, money makes the world go round. Reason? Although it’s in reality just a piece of paper, yet it helps us fulfil our needs, satiate our desires, acquire things that we like and become the masters of our life. A little thought experiment will help. When was the last time you took out currency notes from your wallet or purse and thought of them as printed pieces of paper? You answer will enlighten you about how collectively-held fictions rule and reign over the reality.

Nationalism is a fiction. What exactly is nationalism? It is notion held by a group of people occupying a definite territory with a common belief in a shared identity separate from all others. Add to this mix, a little spice of patriotism and superiority complex and you have an exact picture. Ideas commonly held generate fictions, fictions give birth to stories, stories bestow upon meaning and it is meaning that tramples reality in all its shapes and guises. Belief that one’s nation is superior or different from another nation because of this or that, is a widely believed fiction that trounces the glaring reality that all humans are of the same species, having the same needs.

Justice is a fiction. Blind, wielding a sword in one hand and holding a set of scales in the other is how justice is personified as a Lady all over the world. Egyptians, Greeks, Europeans and other cultures revered this image of a fair damsel who weighed matters brought before her without fear or favour. Paying no heed to whether a party to a contention is a mighty ‘invincible’ individual or a penniless beggar, Justice was assumed to mete out befitting punishment to the one who transgressed while compensating the wronged one. Then how come justice is a fiction? As we’ve contended above, we are ruled, governed and make sense of the world through mutually agreed upon fictions.

The class we are born into, the social strata we belong to, the beliefs we hold dear, the aspirations we shared with others, the common good we all believe in are ultimately one or the other forms of fiction we choose from. Whether it is the place we occupy in the world and the universe, its significance and worth or our understanding of our own emotions and sensations, we invent fictions to make sense of the world, our place in it and where we are headed towards.

Fiction, dear folks, tramples reality not due to some inherent power it has but because it empowers us to see beyond the limitations imposed on us by reality.