Telling Lies to Tell the Truth

I just watched V for Vendetta. One of the best quotes — which is somewhat beside the point of the film — is “Writers tell lies to tell the truth.”

This idea resonates with me. When you make up stories about people who only exist in your imagination, you tell lies. But they can be honest lies, lies that ring so true that you can’t help but believe them yourself, despite the fact that you know you made them up one night sitting out on your patio, two glasses into a cheap bottle of cabernet. The characters you create rise up out of the mist to face you, eye to eye, and you can’t help but gaze deep into their souls to see what they’re made of…and you can’t help but see your own reflection and judge what you are made of.

What stares back at you is the truth. Sometimes you see a coward who is afraid of life and the danger of love. That is the truth of the present. Other times you see a hero who faces her fears and loves with abandon and trust. That also is truth. It is the truth of possibility, no less true because it is a truth that is not yet realized. As you stare down both truths, you must grapple with the fact that the journey from the present truth to the realization of possiblity is a long one, and the only way to make the pilgrimage is one step…followed by another…followed by another…followed by another, until you can look back and see the present truth as the past: still true, but true only for a bygone age.

This is the journey all people must make, true people whether real or imagined. Stories are the chronicle of people travelling from Point A to Point B to Point C and beyond, and the lines may not be straight, but the points are all connected, the points are what form the outline and the guts and the truth of the person who stands alone and shining when the Writer finally types the words “The End.”

6 thoughts on “Telling Lies to Tell the Truth

  1. Paul

    You should be aware that my favorite fundamentalist website criticizes Bob Jones University for its lack of doctrinal purity in several areas, including… (drum roll) its drama program. (They do a lot of Shakespeare, reportedly quite well if at times sanitized.) The reason? Plays and movies can’t be used by the Holy Spirit because by definition the actors are lying when they’re playing roles. I guess for these guys the same objection would apply to writing fiction, but it raises a provocative question (other than who in the world meets the spectactularly narrow standards of the aforementioned website): Aren’t some of Jesus’ parables fictional?

  2. michael lee

    Some? I think, by definition, all of them were fictional.

    Of course, the word “Lies” in those cases is used more for its dramatic effect than for accuracy. Fictional writing, drama, those are not lies.

    In order to have a lie, the context must presuppose the expectation of truth. Absent that, there is no lie. So, if we are playing a game of poker, my bluffs aren’t lies, because there’s no expectation for me to be truthful with my opponent about the strength of my hand. If I enter a theater, there’s no expectation for the actors to actually be the people they are portraying, or to be relaying factually accurate historical events.

    In a similar fashion, if I watch a report on the BP pipeline shutdown on The Daily Show, when they say that BP uses baby seals to plug holes in the pipeline, I have no expectation of that being an accurate report – they haven’t lied to me. If I watch the same report on CNN, and they tell me that BP is using baby seals to plug the holes in the pipleline, then I have been lied to, because the context predicates on the expectation of truth.

    All that to say, denouncing drama because it is lying is just lie-down-in-the-road stupid.

    (And with that, philosophy boy doffed his feathered cap, donned his leather motorcycle jacket, and rode off into the sunset, with Kant in one hand and Derrida in the other …)

  3. Sharolyn

    Aly – Great thoughts.
    This blog thing makes me miss you all.
    I must come down and hang out with all of you!!

    Mike, we rewound the Daily Show seals bit a few times because we were peeing ourselves with laughter. The laughing-too-hard-to-talk factor was right up there with David Hasselhoff crying in the audience of the American Idol finale.

  4. Paul

    Wow, good stuff from the Philosophy Department. I had to look up Derrida at Wikipedia, though.

    Needless to say, the author of the website that takes issue with drama – and with every evangelical figure, organization and denomination you can think of – has painted himself into a 1 square millimeter corner.

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