Monday, March 31, 2014

Truth in Lies

Fiction is, by definition, not entirely true. Novels are in many cases based off of true events and almost always seek to uncover some kind of truth, but they are still fiction. Many critics of art and literature, however, assert that art and literature, to be considered worthy of such titles, must offer up some sort of truth. In “ The Black Person in Art,” both Lloyd Richards and Eugenia Collier insist that the artist is obligated to display the truth as he or she sees it. Collier writes, “An artist must tell the truth about he world as he/she sees it, must be absolutely and mercilessly truthful (and this is not easy, is often painful but purifying), must filter out wishful thinking, personal conflicts that are unresolved, ego trips.” Is something lost, however, if the artist is limited by the truth that they see? Are artists not given license to raise questions without giving answers as they may see them? In limiting the artist’s function to one of obligated truthful recitation, I believe that the reader is in some cases deprived of his or her own opportunity to draw conclusions and learn from the artist’s creation.
In Trudier Harris’s criticism of The Color Purple, she voices concern that people will take the presentation of the characters as the truth of all black people, therefore perpetuating negative stereotypes of black men and women alike. This mentality is why many books are banned in the first place. There is distrust in the reader, which develops into a fear of what can be learned from the novel in the wrong hands. To Harris, there is a danger in not explicitly reporting the truth of the society between black men and women. Harris fears that what Walker displays as true for Celie and those in her community will be taken as true for the black community at large.

Similarly, in “Phallus(ies) of interpretation,” Ann duCille expresses the concern about which story is the “true story” about the relations between black men and black women in contrast with white men and white women. For Lerone Bennett Jr., the “true story” is one where “Black men and women—despite slavery, despite segregation, despite everything—created a modern love song in life and art that is the loveliest thing dreamed or sung this side of the seas.” This story is in direct conflict with the world we see in The Color Purple. Does this make one less true than the other or one false altogether? The answer must lie in the interpretation of the audience because even when a story is full of lies and fantasy, there is still a chance for an audience to see a truth never even conceived by the artist.

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