Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for VERISIMILITUDE (and its limits)

This is the impression one gets that what one is reading is (note the quote marks) "real." Perhaps a better word than "real" would be "authentic."

Veri (from the Latin for "truth") + Similitude (from the Latin for "resemblance")

Realism is a technique, a trick, involving the use of details that are likely to strike the reader as plausible or consistent with past experience. Realism is one road -- though certainly not the only road -- toward the willing suspension of disbelief. 

Personally, I find most exercises in realism a little boring.

Great writers are not slaves to realism. Some of them are masters of it, by which I mean that they tell it what to do and what not to do. 

Nabokov and his dead mentor Shakespeare, for instance, each blend authentic-sounding details with the habit of twisting and bending and distorting the familiar ... until a distinctive "reality" emerges that is consistent only with the world the writer is creating. 

So: In LOLITA, the dead-on descriptions of cheap roadside hotels circa 1947 feel like "realism" ... while the protagonist's name ("Humbert Humbert") feels like anything but. 

The scene in MACBETH immediately after Duncan's murder, in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth interrupt each other, feels like "realism" ... but the Porter's speech, which follows that scene, feels more like what we would now call a vaudeville act. 

These juxtapositions pull us into the work, somehow, rather than pushing us away from it. 

I'm not sure what you call this fusing of realism with more versatile, flexible, and evocative literary tools, but I know it can deliver a heightened experience that transcends "realism." This painting, A PERFECT VACUUM by Jeremy Geddes, evokes the writing style I'm talking about:

Whatever you call this style, it's what I went for in JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, an Amazon excerpt of which you can find (and review) here.