Everything is Fiction

To begin, ‘Everything is Fiction’ is not my idea.  Rather, it’s an idea that I have adopted for pragmatic reasons.  For the purposes of an introduction, the manner with which I have made—and will make—use of it in this capacity can be traced to an origin with Vaihinger’s (1935) Die Philosophie Des Als Ob, wherein ‘consciously false’ fictional explanations are seen as accepted within the absence of evidential phenomena:

I wanted to give a complete enumeration of all the methods in which we operate intentionally with consciously false ideas, or rather judgments.  I wanted to reveal the secret life of these extraordinary methods.  I wanted to give a complete theory, an anatomy and physiology so to speak, or rather a biology of ‘As if.’  For the method of fiction which is found in a greater or lesser degree in all the sciences can best be expressed by this complex conjunction ‘As if’.[1]

Though differentiated from an ‘hypothesis,’ which can be verified as either true or false, Vaihinger’s use of ‘as-if’ depicts a special kind of fiction, something unverifiable, but that appears to be ‘as-if’ it is.  As Fine (1993) deduces: “if we knowingly retain a false but useful hypothesis, we have a fiction.”[2]

This is close to my usage, but not exact.  In fact, I might borrow even further from Kliever (1979) and Miller (1997).  The former defines this sort of fiction as such:

Given the linguisticality and historicity of human existence, all reality claims are fabrications or constructions.  ‘Facts’ are symbolic constructions which have been established as reliable representations of a world that exists independently of all human imagination and intervention.  Fictions are not simply symbolic constructs which have yet to be verified.  They are not hypotheses whose truth remains in doubt for the present.  They are symbolic constructs which cannot be verified and hence cannot be true.[3]

The latter, who actually uses the term ‘everything is fiction,’ divides the notion into four parts:

‘Everything is fiction’ may mean at least four distinct things: (1) simply that all human knowledge includes constructs; (2) that all actual, or even all possible, such forms of knowledge are nothing but constructs or fictions, and that data, if any are admitted at all, are always just projections out from that fiction; (3) that our most fundamental categories of possible experience are such constructs, so that reality itself can be nothing but fiction; and (4) that scientific fictions are ultimately no different from literary fictions. Arguments for (4) tend to merge with those for (2) or (3).”[4]

Likewise, we can look at other individuals, such as Anderson (1983) or Cusack (2010), who use ‘fiction’ in the sense of ‘imagined communities'[5] or ‘invented religions.’[6]

For my intentions I will be stealing from each of these.  From this point forward, and in this context, ‘EVERYTHING IS FICTION’ means two things:

  1. Meaning, such as ‘reality claims,’ all derive from stories.  Stories are how we communicate.  They function on dialogue and interaction, and it is through interactions with others that we begin to understand ourselves.  Stories are how we shape our lives, make sense of disorientation, and re-orientate ourselves in the face of disappointment or triumph.  Religion, history, culture, science, and philosophy: all of these are products of stories.  However, because stories function on dialogue and communication, stories are also discourse.  Therefore, stories are neither true, nor false, neither fiction, nor fact.  They are just discourse, and can only be perceived and examined as such.
  2. As discourse, stories are constructions, so that the meaning or ‘truth’ sourced from within them is dependent upon discursive contextualization.  In this way, much like how Kliever or Miller depict all claims of reality or all human knowledge as ‘fabrications’ or ‘constructions,’ translated herein, ‘fictional construction’ does not mean something ‘made-up’ or ‘false.’  Rather, it means something ‘made-from’ or manufactured as well, what Geertz refers to as ‘faction,’ a precarious portmanteau that depicts even the most objective of ethnographic texts as “imaginative writing about real people in real places at real times.”[7]

As the title of my Doctoral Thesis, ‘Everything is Fiction’ is meant as a critique, in both meanings of the term.  It represents a direct and nuanced analysis of ‘fiction,’ treating texts clearly ‘made-up’ as if they offer cultural insight in equal measure to ethnographic ones.  By doing this, the phrase also denotes a criticism of the manner with which we willingly trust or authenticate these sorts of ‘objective’ and ‘true’ accounts, regardless of the fact that they too have been constructed by an author who, like his or her equal the novelist, has designed the text out of his or her imagination.  Textualized culture is still filtered, no matter how objective we are, and it is this notion that underscores my belief that ‘everything is fiction.’

Everything is based on a story, stories are based on discourse, and discourse is always constructed.

Just as I determine in the Thesis, and just as I’ve drawn-out here, the following Posts will be stories.  They will be both fiction and non-fiction, true and false, made-from and made-up.  They will be constructions based on perception and created via interpretation.  Just like the Thesis, they will be an attempt at perceiving discourse through a particular lens, through the precarious notion that equally considers: ‘if everything is fiction, than nothing is.’

[1] Hans Vaihinger, The Philosophy of ‘As If:’ A System
of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind, C.K. Ogden, trans. Second Edition (London: KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUBNER &: CO., LTD., 1935), xli.

[2] Arthur Fine, “Fictionalism” (Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 18, 1993), 8.

[3] Lonnie D. Kliever, “Polysymbolism and Modern Religiosity” (The Journal of Religion, Vol. 59, No. 2, 1979), 189.

[4] Eric Miller, “Literary Fictions and As-If Fictions” (Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 30, No. 4, 1997), 429.

[5] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

[6] Carol M. Cusack, Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction, and Faith (Surrey: Ashgate, 2010).

[7] Clifford Geertz, Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), 141.


One thought on “Everything is Fiction

  1. Pingback: Everything is Fiction: A Discursive Year in Review | everything is fiction

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