Friday, April 06, 2012

Truth v. Fact

Chalkboard from Marquette class
When I go as long as I have - almost a month - without blogging, it isn't because I have had nothing to say. It's most often because I have had TOO much to say, and also, perhaps, too much time on my hands in which to not say it.

But the thing that arises this morning, that I keep coming back to, is a conversation I had with my Marquette writing students about the difference between Truth and Fact.

This arose out of a quote - which unfortunately I have misplaced - from a card I got in Dallas. The paraphrase is that Truth is more important than Fact. This quote has haunted me for two weeks now, and as I was going to be discussing fiction with the students in class anyway, I brought up the distinction in terms of fiction and nonfiction. 

They loved it.

I have engineers, nurses and journalists, theater majors and English majors in my class. We spent at least a half hour alone talking about the different between Truth and Fact, and some of their insights, as I entered the topic with no expectations, blew me away:
- Facts are not as clean as all that. Look at witness reports that change over time and are reported as fact in trials and in articles.
- Truth is relative but more reliable, in their opinions. Natalie Goldberg says (paraphrase) if someone doesn't like your memoir and says it isn't true, tell them to write their own version of what happened.
-Memories are stories - versions we tell. They contain Truth, which goes beyond Fact and is sometimes not even changed by discovering "new Facts."
-Fiction is the best place to express Truth, memoir next. Then for Facts, if they need be treated as Facts, non-fiction is best, especially journalism. 
-Poetry is the perfect Truth machine.

What do you have to say about this?


  1. This is really interesting. My friend Natalie and I were recently talking about honesty (which seems like a related topic), and we had such different definitions. I asked her what she thought honesty was, and one of her responses was that honesty is what you allow yourself at any given moment. I thought that was a very generous definition, since I associate honesty with not lying or being intentionally deceptive.

    On the subject of truth and fact in writing, this is something I've thought a lot about. My mermaid stories, if you haven't figured this out yet, are entirely autobiographical even though I've never been a mermaid, never been pregnant, etc. So I see them as being very true, even though they are certainly not based in the facts of my life, save for a few details that seep in.

    Thank you for raising this topic.


    1. Wonderful. And see today's post for more on this kind of thinking!