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Real Life versus Fiction

"Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful,
    nothing is so continually fresh and surprising,
    so full of sweet and perpetual ecstacy,
as the good.

No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring
as evil.

This is the truth about authentic good and evil.

With fictional good and evil it is the other way round.
Fictional good is boring and flat,              
    while fictional evil is varied and intriguing,
        attractive, profound, and full of charm."

Simone Weil
In On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God
Oxford University Press, 1968

 

And the following:

"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied;
real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.
Imaginary good is boring;
real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

Therefore 'imaginative literature' is either boring or immoral (or a mixture of both).
It only escapes from this alternative if in some way it passes over to the side of reality through the power of art
-- and only genius can do that."

Simone Weil
In Gravity and Grace, 1997, page 120.
Tr. Arthur Wills, University of Nebraska Press.

 

The truth of this goes way beyond the strict meaning of its words, and extends into all the media. Think not only of fantasy; think of every medium which purports to represent life 'as it is': think of news, think of soaps, think of plays, think of the stories we tell one another. Then think of real, everyday living that is never represented but just lived, that affords on-going comfort, satisfaction, creativity and joy. What I find beautiful and interesting there, usually seems boring when mediated to others via symbols of media.

This might be why, for example, it is Dante's Inferno that is popular rather than his Paradiso. It is perhaps why, in Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, the best lines seem always to be in the mouth of the evil one.

Hey! Weil is so right when it comes to Western society's assumptions about sex, marriage and friendship. Real marriage is full of vitality; media-mediated (!) marriage is boring. The sad thing is that, seeing media-ted life as reality, we unconsciously move our own reality towards it, so that it loses much of its "new, marvelous, intoxicating" character. We no longer look for these and no longer exercise our capacity to generate them.

In similar vein, the words of comedian Billy Connelly (spoken on BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs, 2002) stand out:

"Home is where you are allowed not to be funny."

Or some words spoken in Rabindranath Tagore's Chokher Bali

"The heroine of a play is only good on a stage, not in the home."

Facebook thrives on our fascination with evil. Facebook's algorithm to choose what goes into a person's newsfeed (their filter bubble) is designed to find material that will keep them on site longest. It is material that provokes strong reactions that keeps people using the site. "Man's anger" is a strong reaction. "The virality in Facebook is driven by engaging content, and the most engaging content is the stuff that triggers flight-or-fight reflexes. And so the algorithm was tuned in such a way that had the effect of reinforcing hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories." [BBC Radio 4, 6th September 2019, "The Political Butterfly Effect Did your holiday photos spread global chaos".] This links with Man's Anger, which discusses how what James meant when he wrote "The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God."

A Challenge

The tendency of media of all kinds to distort evil into good and good into evil is a challenge to all writers, artists and film producers - and academic researchers. Is this an inescapable characteristic of our lingual capability (on which all media work rests)? I don't believe so. I believe it is a distortion of it, an abnormality, despite being so widespread. I might be wrong (what a sad destiny if so!), but am always looking for the way of escape. If you, reader, are like me, and inclined towards those views of Weil, Connelly and Tagore, then I urge you to join me in seeking a way of escape. How can real-life good come across as intoxicating and wonderful when media-ted?

A Research Programme?: Perhaps university research departments (Media Studies, Literature) would do well to take this up, rather than focusing their attention on media technique or technology?

I have used this idea in my discussion of New View in Theology, especially to discuss problems of Creation-Fall-Redemption frameworks.


This page is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Part of his www.abxn.org pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: ?. Last updated: 7 April 2001. 27 December 2002 the bit of discussion plus words of Billy Connelly. 18 April 2007 sex, marriage, friendship link. 3 February 2008 Tagore. 23 October 2008 Dante+Milton, more on marriage+life, challenge. 20 November 2011 link to nv/cfr.problems. 12 August 2014 .nav, new .end, rid ../. 16 February 2016 found source of "Nothing so beautiful.." quote, and put that one first; rid counter. 22 February 2022 Facebook.