I am guilty. I got the better of myself today. My passions overflowed. I’m not talking about having something to say about everything in every seminar––of which I am also guilty. No. I’m talking about my tone in today’s seminar. I could only chew my lip for so long.
I am saddened by the incessant fact-checking culture which dominates society today. The need for something tangible in order to validate experience. I want it, too, and I can’t stand that I do. Don’t get me wrong, I find immeasurable value in the love of family and friends; love: ever-present and yet never-present, a concept which I cannot separate from faces, I want something I can hold on to: nostalgia that I can bottle up; holy water for the loneliest of times.
In my short and wonderfully miserable and privileged life, I have found concentrated traces of this magic elixir in works of carefully crafted fiction. I keep these life-fulfilling potions arranged on bookshelves throughout my house, always at the ready.
I heard a story on NPR the other day, before The Revenant came out. It was about how the film was shot with “natural” lighting, and how the actors were “really” cold during the filming; and, knowing what I know about the mythological machine of advertising, the twenty-four-hour news cycle, and how easily a press release becomes a news story, becomes a myth, becomes a fact––that value today is nearly synonymous with the perceived factuality of an event––I wanted to throw my Bluetooth speaker, my iPhone, the ignorant news anchor, and the rest of the world somewhere far away. I didn’t, I can’t.
Later that night, watching “Air Disasters,” I saw a teaser for the film which firmly confirmed the truth of the story with a self-approving stamp of approval: “Based on a true story.” I metaphorically demolished my television by pushing the power button on the remote and picking up Barry Hannah’s short story collection, Airships––a collection of fantastic and absurd stories that contain more unadvertised truths than even a millennium of mythologizing would likely be able to impart on a blockbuster film. I haven’t seen The Revenant yet, so I don’t know. It probably has something more to it besides cinematography that “puts the viewer in the action,” or “natural” lighting, or actors who are acting like they’re cold “really” being cold. The truth is, I’ll probably never know, there’s about two lifetimes of other stuff on my to watch/read list.
Thinking about Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and the desire for a truth that can be held, and my tone that got away, a tone that probably sounded hostile: I said, “What difference does it make if the stories are true or not?” And I said it like it wasn’t a question. That’s the problem. Passion has a way of making things go wrong if it’s not reigned in tight. I meant to ask––calmly, thoughtfully, and most sincerely, “What difference does it make if the stories are true or not?”