'Dr Godot's Workshop'
© copyright 1993
FICTION AS THESIS / THESIS AS FICTION
Center for the Study of World Religions,
My contention is rather simple. In fact, embarrassingly literal: that at the heart of all fiction lies a thesis, and, that many a thesis may find, in fiction, a more suitable 'form'.
Fiction is not the use of the imagination to fabricate facts, which by their very definition cannot be fabricated. It is an imaginative arrangement of facts, or fragments thereof, where the occurrence of the events that constitute it, is not wholly asserted. This is duly reflected in Nelson Goodman's "five simple theses" that he himself says may seem "obvious or shocking". To writers of fiction, obvious I imagine; and shocking if only for being too obvious, perhaps. However, this is more easily granted them, even without Robert Coles', "Everything I come up with novelists have known beforehand."
Most people encounter textual fiction as readers, and not writers. Hence, the first part of my basic contention may seem more readily acceptable than the second. In any case, the arrangement of facts whose occurrence is asserted, together with those whose occurrence is not, breaks down the barriers which confine truth to a limited space. Even choosing one among an infinite number of possible worlds, points to all the others that then open their expansive skies. Ideas, with respect to their expression and meaning, reveal a profound fullness once they are freed from the constraints of empirical actuality. We normally take 'constative' propositions--statements of truth or falsity--to be inert, inanimate building blocks. But even if they were so, we would have nowhere to place those blocks fixedly because our reality itself is shifting and performative, not just literature that is pointed out by Terry Eagleton. However, literature as he says, (and even more so fiction), "restores to us this sense of linguistic performance in the most dramatic way, for whether what it asserts as existing, actually exists or not is unimportant."
The distinction between fiction and non-fiction centers, it is presumed, on the fact of occurrence. Though that may be our intention, it is, in fact, determined by either an assertion or assumption--of occurrence or non-occurrence --of 'truth' or 'falsity'. How much biography and history would, could our presumption hold, be called fiction? And how much fiction is in fact history, literally masquerading, in a literary masquerade! Everything that is not fiction is assumed to be verifiable. But like fiction itself, verifiability is hard to pin. We do not have to go so far (in time or sensibility) as the eastern religions or their schools of philosophy to question the very notion. Even with Descartes' celebrated dictum one can verify the existence only of one's own consciousness. 'I think therefore YOU exist,' cannot be upheld. And when belief and faith enter the debate, fiction, like all experience, becomes subjective--what is fiction to one, may not be to another. And so for individuals, it begins to operate in degrees, on a scale--fiction, yet not quite! Unfortunately, greater detail of this and much else is outside the purview of this brief preface. My intent here is only to blur the line between fiction and 'not'-fiction, and for that Goodman's cautious words are as good as any: "Pure fiction and pure non-fiction are rare."
© Ashok Ahuja 1993
"The "incorporation" of the mental energies and speculative forms of the sciences--the incarnation of the zest and beauty of these forms--into educated literacy, into the normal life of the imagination, is a dominant issue in what is left of our culture. That incorporation must be attempted . . . if we are to emerge from the drift and boredom of semi-literacy" [George Steiner]. It is in this spirit, that the paper titled Dr. Godot's Workshop, under its larger heading 'Fiction as Thesis / Thesis as Fiction', was presented at the Director's Seminar (Monday, February 8, 1993) with Prof. Lawrence E. Sullivan as respondent. It is a fictional narrative experiment--one among a series--to explore the possibilities of different structures. It uses an eclectic vision and a contemporary sensibility to broadly sketch a 'metaphysical model' with a variety of tools. It has been constructed in a simple unornamented style so as not to make it any more fiction than it is. In order to highlight the performative nature of its sequentially unfolding structure it was made as an oral presentation.
THE COMPLETE TEXT OF THE PREFACE 'FICTION AS THESIS / THESIS AS FICTION' WAS CIRCULATED PRIOR TO THE SEMINAR.
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DR. GODOT’S WORKSHOP forms the first of a four-part book that is currently work-in-process. This part is occupied predominantly by ‘Space’; the second, called THE CRUNCH deals with ‘Time’; CONCRETUS with Matter, and THE RAT with Organic Life.