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Fraud and Fiction

Just a few little notes before bed.

Text: Inferno, Cantos 16 and 20

Dante is leading us through Malebolge, the realm of fraud in Inferno.  The worst, in his opinion.

At times self-consciously and at other times critically of others, Dante keeps talking about the inherent fraud in any work of fiction.  Fiction isn't true.  It's all made up.  And yet humans have always been compelled to create it.

How interesting that this thing which is objectively not true is one of our best ways to communicate truth.  Dante seems concerned that he is using an untrue account of hell to illuminate the evils of fraud, but he persists because he draws a line between fraud and fiction.  He's convinced he's not a hypocrite.

Fraud moves toward deceit.  Fiction is capable of truth-bearing.  I am sure every self-critical storyteller has wondered where the line is because, in order to accomplish its task, fiction must deceive the reader in some sense by creating a textual world that, because it is completely removed from reality, can never be verified.  The reader is willing to be deceived, but it places the author in a precarious position.

A common term used to discuss this issue is the "suspension of disbelief."  Where ordinarily we would disbelieve, we tell ourselves that it will be worth it to let ourselves be taken in for a minute to investigate a fictional landscape.  Once we are here, in the world of imagination, belief is often able to grasp its strongest footholds.

Is this the short sight of evil at play?  Does evil delight when the door opens just a crack, and fiction - fraud - shines into the room?  Does evil gleefully observe as we loosen our grasp on reason - only to be spurned when this, too, reveals itself to be another gracious gift of the Author of Creation, the one True Fiction.


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