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Truth is a slippery animal - facts vs opinions / fiction vs non-fiction / reality vs the hypothetical

In the era of ‘fake news’, a term coined appropriately by Donald Trump, a master in the art, it has become increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction. In an era where virtual reality is increasingly mirroring the sight, smell and touch of reality itself, one wonders how future generations will be able to discern between the two - whether future generations will even opt for the reality of the real world when a virtual one can offer them a less complex, more exciting, or a more pleasurable existence to inhabit.

Today many of us are choosing to live within our own worlds of opinion, our own bubbles as they’ve come to be known, reading only material or joining groups with whom we are socially, politically or economically aligned. It is increasingly difficult to listen to ‘truths’ which clamour or clash against our personally held dogma.

Truths can come to us in many forms. In politics, particularly at the moment, many untruths or opinions are presented as facts. Trump introduced and then refined this as an effective political strategy, which has been emulated in places like Britain and Australia. But not all fiction is untruth.

There was a huge stoush among some historians who took exception to Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River. Dr Inga Clendinnen, a notable Australian historian of the same period in which Grenville’s novel is set, reported that she got into a rage about some of its content and the techniques used by Grenville.

'We cannot post ourselves back in time,' she writes. 'People really did think differently then . . . How much "culture" do we really share with British people of 200 years ago? Are we seduced into an illusion of understanding through the accident of a shared language?'1

I agree with Clendinnen’s sentiments, but I also read, enjoy, and write historical fiction for the insights it provides me. I have read much academic history in my time, and I am fascinated and intrigued by it. However, there are limitations within history which literature and the arts can broach. After reading The Secret River and watching Neil Armfield’s stage production of the same, I understood our colonial history in an entirely different way. The audience at the theatre was stunned into silence at the production’s end, its impact was so great! The play gave us a new understanding, an understanding based not simply on a knowledge of the facts but a visceral and very human understanding which we couldn’t have received any other way.

History and historical fiction and drama all aim to illuminate the past. But they achieve that through the use of different lenses, through piercing and opening up different aspects of our humanity.

Fiona D'Souza

Fn 1 - 'Making a Fiction of History', Jane Sullivan. The Age. Oct. 21 2006.

Copyright: text - authors cited above; photos - Wix.


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