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Unreality of Reality

As someone who writes and reads fiction, I find the sensational news items in the latest Wikileaks fallout to be an interesting narrative in itself. Here is a tightly controlled operation, which releases shocking and entertaining pieces of information, in regular instalments. It’s gripping stuff and reminds me, in a strange way, of serialised fiction, except that the real world is now providing these cliffhanger endings each day. They provoke wild emotions and debate: it’s what 24-hour news was made for. It is 24-hour entertainment.

In more reflective moments, I do consider the reasons that make me write fiction. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to use entertainment as my sole motivation (not that there’s anything wrong with that); I just get my kicks out of using other things: social commentary, for one. But the problem is, how can someone who wants to create gripping fiction compete with the quality of sensationalism provided by such a real narrative? The Wikileaks sensation contains more depth than I could dream of writing; there is a rapidly changing political landscape; we have the narrative strand of Assange, the whistleblower, and his run from capture, the rape charges, and so on.

The real world seems quite unreal in such a thrilling context. Even escapism is no longer a sound concept against such radical news items, which, through regular bombshells, numb our senses. Perhaps a more antiquated setting would offer a kind of solace – a recovery from all this constant buzzing. But in terms of writing: how can I get excited about secondary worlds when the real one has suddenly become so weird? This isn’t to say I don’t, but that it is an interesting challenge for someone in the business of creating fiction.

It was Ballard who said the future would be boring. I’d argue against that if we’re viewing it from behind a screen with regular news updates.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

8 replies on “Unreality of Reality”

Completely agree with you. However, I think reality is hard to understand on its own. Through fiction and metaphor (like a parable, a zen koan), a writer can give depth and meaning to the facts of the “real” world. Specially because the writer is trying to understand reality himself. Besides, some people seem to trust in fiction more than they trust in the news. And for good reason.

It is certainly interesting – certainly spices up the world as we know it for a while. I have yet to read properly in-depth about wikileaks (as in the info that was released) but I know the gist of things. It is occurrences such as this one that gives us plenty of fermentation within our own minds… in the creative sense.

I’m intrigued about the whole affair and hope to gain from it, which I have already if I am honest. This is a great source of influence coming from a writer’s approach. I do see your point about the real world suddenly becoming ‘weird’ and making second worlds a bit less exciting, though. It must be like tripping over and falling when something pops out of nowhere – whether that is a correct use of analogy!

At some point in the future, you’ll be discussing this with someone. they’ll say something along the lines of “But Assange is a creep!” and you’ll decry “but you’re not seeing the big picture”.

And that’s where Fantasy comes in. Fantasy (although I accept, not universally) allows us to hold a mirror to our world, to investigate the big sociological themes, the big issues, without getting caught up in the minutiae. It stops becoming about Wikileaks, and it starts becoming about accountability, freedoms, state control over the flow of information, or whatever theme or angle you want to convey.

So personally, when the world starts acting weird, and doesn’t make sense, that’s when I turn to fantasy to cut away the chaff and look at the bigger issues. This in turn will help solidify my opinions and thoughts, which I can then “bring back to the real world” in the form of comment, discussion or activism.

It seems we’re certainly living in “interesting times”! London’s buzzing these days, with barely a day seeming to pass without some new strike, protest or riot..

I’ve become increasingly aware of how I and others use a literary frame of reference to understand real-world events. I’ve heard many references to Assange as an “Emmanuel Goldstein figure” (although Orwell references have become pretty hackneyed). I agree with Jacques completely: narrative is how humans understand and come to terms with the world.

I think that in these times where we’re faced with such a bewildering array of narratives, of different versions of events portrayed by media and others, it’s even more important for writers to create their own. I’ve been thinking that politically-conscious writers of Weird fiction such as yourself and China Mieville have never been more relevant than now. Rather than being overshadowed by current events, these stories gain more resonance.

Jo: Richard’s post is awesome, but there’s a huge asshole rambling on in the comments. I love debate and I think different opinions are fundamental to building up knowledge. But man, asking Wikileaks advocates to open their private data is so fucking dumb it enrages me. The interesting thing is (as Richard sort of pointed out) if Wikileaks was some Cuban/Korean/Iranian/Venezuelan blogger leaking theses countries’ data, they’d be saying the said blogger is a human rights hero, not a threat to lives, democracy, economy, God and good customs. Bugger.

Alex: re politically-conscious writers – Totally agree.

Jo – thanks for pointing that out, I hadn’t seen it. Richard puts it well, with a good analogy, and I very much agree with his sentiments. I’ll check out the comments in more detail a little later – seems to be quite the heated discussion there… 🙂

Alex – yeah, London must be pretty lively at the moment. And thanks for the note re: politically conscious. Interestingly, the next book (three) does touch on anarchism as seen through two very different sides of the debate.

I guess when you’re creating narratives it’s not always easy to see these things, as I’m sure you and Jacques might understand with your own work. It’s more a case of looking at what’s going on in the world right now and thinking ‘How to I internalise and process that?’

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