Friday, May 19, 2006

Pseudo-Fiction

English doesn't allow double negatives, right? A double negative is actually a positive, yes? So if I "don't never" use double negatives I actually do because I do not never use them.

Remembering this rather logical lesson from grammar has helped me classify the genre of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Currently, no one can agree if DaCode is fiction or non-fiction. Brown claims it is fiction - as do many of the book's naysayers. However, Brown also prefaces the book with a "fact" page that intends to root the fictional adventures of Robert Langdon within a factual setting. So, is DaCode fact or fiction?

I read Dan Brown's claim of fiction as a double negative. The first negative is the "fact" page which has very little basis in fact. The second negative is the claim that Dan Brown intended to write fiction. He has said on an ABC interview that if he had written the book as non-fiction he would have changed none of the details of the conspiracy and historical interpretation. This makes it hard to classify the genre of DaCode, but I propose we create a new genre for DaCode and its ilk: pseudo-fiction. A pseudo-fiction is "false-false." It is false fiction; which means, according to the rule of double negative, it is non-fiction. Note that I did not say it was true or fact. We have no such category when it comes to literature, unless you include reference materials. However, reference materials and non-fiction works are subject to scrutiny.

The point of proposing the "pseudo-fiction" genre is to get around the claim of Brown and others that DaCode is "just fiction." It isn't fair to simply claim that something is fiction when it pretends to be more. Is it really justifiable for anyone to write a slanderous tale about a public figure and then try to claim that it is "just fiction." That defense is offered by children on the playground who apologize for their malicious actions by retorting, "I'm just joking!"

DaCode is not "just fiction." It makes more claims than "just fiction" and so it is subject to the same scrutiny as non-fiction. That shouldn't bother Dan Brown though. As fiction, DaCode is a bore. As pseudo-fiction, the book has generated worthwhile conversation about non-fictional subjects of lasting importance.

6 comments:

Brandi said...

There's a genre called 'historical fiction' as well, which takes true events and novelizes them. Da Code doesn't fall into this category, as the protagonist characters don't exist, but I suppose Brown might claim it comes close.

I personally don't think this movie is going to do well. I finished the book last week and found that after the 'mystery' is revealed, the rest of the book is quite dull. He didn't make me care about the characters so I didn't care what happened to them after they told me what secret they were hiding.

But, what do you expect from the man who is a self-proclaimed hack? (For reference, see his deposition on his plaigarism suit)

Chris Benjamin said...

Well said Brandi. What you mentioned is exactly what I felt when I read the book. I also saw the revealing of the villian from a mile away and I wasn't impressed.

Like you, I had no investment in these characters and I am not intriqued enough by puzzles and codes to call this great literature.

I am curious to see if Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and the rest of their crew can create more sympathy for the characters, but then again it may be that they do not have much to work with.

Thanks for the comment.

Kerouac Jack said...

I stumbled aboard. . .read your blog. . . haven't seen the movie yet. . .but I just gotta comment. Let me get this straight: you don't like the DaVinci Code b/c it differs from the "Bible", a book that talks about people getting swallowed by big fish, angels marrying women and producing giants, talking snakes, and witches raising dead people. At this point I think I have an easier time believing that Jesus got married and had triplets than that other stuff.

Chris Benjamin said...

KJ: Three responses . . .

1. My comments above have nothing to do with whether I like the DaVinci Code or don't like it. For the record, my response as a reader of the book (haven't seen the movie) is very similar to Brandi's (see above). I didn't like the book because it was a weak story, not because it "differs from the Bible." That's my critical judgment of the book on a literary level.

2. Like many other authors and critics, I have also engaged in a critique of the historical claims made by Dan Brown in DaVinci Code. There are some claims made within the narrative of the Code that just don't wash with history. I will grant that historical fiction doesn't always get the details right (check out Braveheart for an example - I love that story but many of the historical details are off). But note this: The DaVinci Code doesn't just differ from the Bible, it differs from documented history as well as well-respected artistic tradition. The book doesn't even get the facts about Leonardo correct on many occassions. I think this creates a great opportunity to discuss the facts of these matters. Brown himself said that that was one of the benefits of his story - and in an earlier blog I expressed my appreciation for that.

3. The Bible is more than a book that talks about big fish, talking snakes, etc. It is an anthology. The genre of each book has to considered. Scholars debate whether the book of Jonah is an historical account. It certainly is different from other prophetic literature and seems to function as a parable that comments on Israel's role as witness to the nations. As for the talking snake, the first eleven chapters of Genesis seem to follow the genre expectations of prehistorical myth. And I have to point out that myth does not mean "untrue." It is story that reveals truth by describing the meaning of reality. The angels marrying women and producing giants is not actually in the Bible. The tale of the Watchers and the Nephilim is a second century Jewish interpretation of a single comment in Genesis 6. The more likely meaning of the statement that the "sons of God married the daughters of men and gave birth to the great ones (this is what Nephalim means) is simply to say that men married women and had heroic children. It is a colorful way of saying that time moved on and people had babies that grew up to shape the world. Finally you mention what I assume it the story of the witch of Endor. If witches raising dead people, or more accurately summoning their spirits, is a problem, then there's an even bigger claim to face - a Lord who is risen from the dead and still lives. Hey it's there. Believe it or not.

I really do appreciate your comment KJ. Please understand that my response is just a dialogue. I assure you that I am not a rabid fundamentalist getting defensive about anything I disagree with. I am just speaking my piece and having trying to find some humor in it all as much as possible. Maybe that's what you had in mind with your comment above too, eh?

Kerouac Jack said...

Hey CB—can I call you CB?—we’re all just speaking our piece. BTW, good comments from you. My previous comments were actually aimed at your use of a “slanderous tale about a public figure” b/c you get your info. about this public figure—Jesus--from a book that talks about a man-swallowing fish, giants, etc. I guess my point can be phrased in a question: can you slander a character from a book full of, as you later seem to call them, “myths”? That brings up the “anthology”: When you say that the Bible is an anthology and “the genre of each book has to be considered” you should remember the genre of the Da Vinci Code: novel. You wrote, “The book doesn't even get the facts about Leonardo correct on many occasions.”—again, genre: it’s a novel, not a biography.

As far as novel writing, I’m not aware of any rules for writing a novel; you seem to want to hold Brown to some. Novels are known for taking liberties with history (the Confederacy wins; the Nazis win—both are subjects of recent novels). And about his “fact” page: maybe you could just see it as a part of the novel. Otherwise produce good reasons why his “fact” page is not true, but to harangue him for not correctly writing a novel seems kind of, well, absurd. (The "produce-some-good-reasons" bit is mostly rhetorical since this is your blog and you can do what you want!)

About Jonah and the really big fish with a very large, accomadating stomach: I really don’t think that there are any real scholars who are debating whether or not the story is a parable or a historical event—southern baptists and children may debate that, but probably not real scholars.

About the Nephilim: weren’t they the giants in Canaan who seemed to have survived the flood?

Anyway, thanks for your time and have a good day.

Chris Benjamin said...

Of course you may call me CB.

My "slanderous tale about a public figure" comment is intended to be more general. I did not necessarily intend to apply it to Jesus. I am trying to make the point that saying "it's just fiction" is weak.

While there may not be "rules" for writing a novel, I do think there are standards and conventions. My critique of Brown's novel includes literary standards. He can certainly create any sort of plot or concept he can imagine, but that does not mean that his story is well written. Taking liberties with history is perfectly fine in a novel, but the good author knows how to balance historical fact with artistic license. I don't think Brown has this balance and what could have been a good novel ends up reading more like a conspiracists manifesto.

[By the way, as an aside on historical fiction I am waiting for Michael Chabon's new novel which dabbles in historical fiction. Specifically, FDR's plan to create a Jewish homeland in Alaska rather than the Middle East. Chabon is a great novelist so I expect a lot from this book].

I appreciate your point about the Jonah debate. It made me chuckle - in a good way!

The belief that the Nephilim were giants destroyed in the flood is based on the Book of Enoch which is not a canonical book of the Old Testament.

Thanks for writing back.