What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
neilgodfrey
Posts: 2932
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Tue Jun 20, 2017 12:55 am

Paul the Uncertain wrote:
There is no "pure projection" in the clear literary devices Iamblichus uses, surely. They are as clear as the words on the page. "They say..." is a clear expression of a certain position between a narrator, the content of his message and his audience.
"They say..." could scarcely be less clear, and unclarity is projection's playground.
I think we are addressing different things.

Yes, "they say" is in content vague. Granted, but my point was something else -- the relationship between narrator, message and audience. -- I could do one of those diagrams of boxes and arrows.

My point is the narrator is telling his readers that his information is coming from some source. It makes no difference to the point whether the source he refers to is some internationally recognized authority, records engraved in stone tablets or some vague rumour he has heard.

That is, the narrator is presented as one who is appealing to some source for verification of his message. It may not be very good verification, it might in fact be very bad verification, but from the narrator's and readers' perspectives there is a recognized appeal to having obtained the narrative itself from some source that is in fact an appeal to accepting the "reality" of what is being written.

I am not addressing the historicity itself of the particular content; or the veracity let alone reliability of the source. What we have is an appeal to "historicity" or "reality" of what is being said. "This is not fiction," is the message.

Now authors of novels, fiction, sometimes use the very same rhetoric for the sake of verisimilitude, even outright deception. That they do confirms that such rhetorical devices are indeed recognized as appeals to "historicity/truth, etc". (Other devices are further used by the authors of fiction -- unless the authors are deliberately trying to deceive the public by writing outright forgery.)
I was as clear as I could be that there are many possible reasons why authors might deny making up their stories. Other authors wouldn't bother to deny that; not necessarily because those authors did make up their stories.
My difficulty was seeing how this point relates to my own argument. As above, we are perhaps addressing different points.
I was trying to say that the author is making it evident to readers that the subject matter is derived from sources "out there".

I got that. I don't accept that you would know, of all the seriously possible interpretations of that behavior, that the right one is "making it evident to readers that the subject matter is derived from sources 'out there.'"
Ah, okay, apologies for misunderstanding you, then. -- So what I just wrote above is addressing something you did understand about my point.

In that case, if I understand you correctly, what concerns you is how we know if the content is true or not, verifiable history or fabrication etc.

That is a different question.

What I was addressing is one detail related to how authors go about writing "history" as distinct from writing "fiction", and how that detail enables readers to recognize the different enterprises.

Challenging details of whether or not a particular reference is in fact "true" is a secondary exercise. The point at this stage is that the narrator and reader are, by means of the rhetorical clues, acknowledging that they are engaged with claim said to be "historical" or "true".
Do the readers think that Iamblichus and Pythagoras were contemporaries? That Iamblichus is the first person ever to write about Pythagoras or his followers? Assuming no to both, then what uncertainty is Iamblichus resolving by saying there are sources for what he writes? Of course there are earlier versions - even if he's repackaging outright fiction.
He is not writing or creating a story from his imagination but is relating the fruits of his inquiries into the "factual details" (or what to him he believes are the factual details, sifted from chaff, etc). His turns of phrase tell the reader that he is speaking as one who has investigated or learned about his topic from sources and is not writing a novella or fictional biography.
Pliny being "exactly the same" as Iamblichus isn't what's in evidence. Pliny says he heard about two stories, the third is within his lived experience. There is no way he can be credited with "doing research" based on what he said.
Pliny saying he heard stories is the point I have been saying is central to Iamblichus's narrative.
That is my point. Both are appealing to "the truth" of what they are about to relate on the basis of that "independent source".
Conversely, it is possible that Pliny is simply framing a "build of three" to make a climax of his own lived experience story. "One of these is not like the others" is a fine narrative device, useful for both history and fiction, but it's unavailable to Iamblichus.
There are more qualitative ways of referencing sources, but my point is the technique itself, however well or badly done with respect to assuring us of the reliability of the verification, is the difference between the "rhetoric of fiction and rhetoric of history".

neilgodfrey
Posts: 2932
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:51 am

Just for the record....

My above comments on the rhetoric of history or reports coincide with some of the arguments of Dorrit Cohn that prompted DCH to open this thread. (The arguments as I have expressed them are not unique to her, though, by any means.)

There is no suggestion, however, that a "rhetoric of history/reporting" is a guarantee of the historicity of the content, of course.

But the rhetoric of historicity/reporting/investigation etc is part and parcel of fundamental language structure, I think. It is not just a literary convention. We convey our intention to relay what we know from some source external to us by means of our turns of phrase.

If a fiction writer wants to convey a special sense of verisimilitude he or she will employ some of those rhetorical techniques. (As a rule we know the difference from real historical reporting by means of additional rhetorical cues that the author provides in cases of fiction.)

I am not suggesting that texts that do not employ the rhetoric of historicity/reporting etc are therefore worthless as sources for the historian. On the contrary, any artefact, even literary ones of a fictional nature, are useful as sources for certain historical inquiries. As mentioned earlier, Shakespeare's plays are a necessary source for a historian of the Renaissance; Aeschylus for the historian of aspects of Classical Greece.

But I know of no situation among historians of, say, using Shakespeare to study the historical Julius Caesar. Historians do not study Aeschylus to learn about the "historical" Orestes or Agamemnon. If they find interesting information about ancient thoughts on the development of the Aeropagus in Aeschylus it is because they know about developments in the Aeropagus from other sources and Aeschylus offers an insight to how certain Greeks understood these changes in a way that Shakespeare is evidence of Renaissance attitudes towards Italian political philosophy, etc.

Conversely, Thucydides constructs scenes of plague in Athens, and apparently drew from medical texts as a source. That unfortunately does not help any historian to reconstruct those medical sources. Thucydides also drew upon Homer, but if we lost all copies and other references to Homer, we would have no way of reconstructing anything in Homer from Thucydides alone. Even though we might be reading "real Homer" or "real medical entries" or "real Plutarch", the actual details that are truly "historical" are simply lost to us.

In other words, a text alone, of itself, can never verify the historicity of its own content. Always, in every case, some form and degree of verification external to the text is required.

That returns us to the "rhetoric of history". The "they said" etc phrases point to external sources for verification.

That is, there is (as Dorrit Cohn, I think, might have said) an understood "contract" between narrator and reader: one party is relaying information that can be externally verified as true. Or the contract might, rather, be one of fiction: the reader/hearer is engulfed in a world of self-contained make-believe.

Sometimes the fiction writer will tease the audience with a little appeal to verisimilitude: "to this very day" some sign or inscription exists near a mountain or on a tree to "assure" readers/listeners that they can "verify" that the Pied Piper of Hamelin really did take their children away. But other rhetorical devices assure audiences such moments are all a game.

The historian's task it to take up the cues and clues that the narrative is derived from sources and to test them.

Alternatively, the historian can study the entire narrative as a historical artefact.

Or the more energetic historian might even take the time to do both.

Paul the Uncertain
Posts: 126
Joined: Fri Apr 21, 2017 6:25 am
Contact:

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Tue Jun 20, 2017 5:58 am

Neil
That is, the narrator is presented as one who is appealing to some source for verification of his message.
There's no such pleading in Pliny's letter to Sura. "I heard" simply restates the obvious invited inference from "I and others believe," which itself isn't verification, and is further readily inferred from "I am asking you to give me your opinion about these stories," which is also not verification within the message making the request.

On aesthetic grounds alone, someone might well order the following hypothetical structures, in increaing order of fitness to create the impression of a consciously planned narration:

Acceptable: Here's one story ... Here's another .... Here's a third ...

Better: Here's one story ... Here's another .... Here's a third, that I played a role in ...

Better still: Here's one story I heard ... Here's another I heard.... Here's a third, that I played a role in ...

The structure Pliny used: Here's one story I heard ... Here's another I heard.... Playing a role is different from hearing (a tautology, but one that underlines the chosen structure). Here's a third, that I played a role in ...
In that case, if I understand you correctly, what concerns you is how we know if the content is true or not, verifiable history or fabrication etc.
No, I'm stuck back at why, when there are several possible or plausible reasons for using a type of literary device, only one of those reasons is being considered.

Regardless of how that turns out, I disbelieve there is any general method for verifyung the content of a message using only the message itself. You and I may even agree about that.

hakeem
Posts: 27
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2017 8:20 am

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by hakeem » Tue Jun 20, 2017 12:35 pm

outhouse wrote:...make no mistake Christianity is a factual historical religion, based on a specific time period. The temple stood and under its command Caiaphas and Pilate responsible to keep money flowing. Fact not up for debate.

They are pseudo historical theological accounts written in rhetorical prose to sell monotheistic "Judaism light" theology to residents of the Diaspora.


We cannot always determine which came first: a historical event or a literary creation, but we are not blind either.

EXAMPLE noahs flood is fiction and myth, yet it possibly has a historical core with the flooding of the Euphrates and a few thousand years of time for the story to evolve
It is a fact that the Christian religion is based on a myth figure called Jesus . It is a fact that Christian writings have been found where it is clearly stated that their Jesus was born without a human father.
The Christian religion is no different to the historical Jewish/Roman/Greek religions which were based on myth characters.

The father of Jesus is the myth God of the Jews.

hakeem
Posts: 27
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2017 8:20 am

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by hakeem » Tue Jun 20, 2017 12:55 pm

outhouse wrote:
hakeem wrote:The stories of Jesus were invented [not history]--written by liars.

.
You are factually wrong.

The NT for the most part was written by people that believed many of these events were real, and you are not accepting the "form" they wrote in.

They were not liars nor writing fiction.
It is a fact that Christian writings admit there were stories of Jesus which were lies.

Look at "Against Heresies"
1. Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, "minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith," and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations.]

These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation...
Jesus stories have been found and they are all implausible and non-historical--essentially a pack of lies .

The authors of Jesus stories must have known that they were making stuff up.

Those authors of Jesus stories falsified existing Hebrew Scripture.

neilgodfrey
Posts: 2932
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:35 pm

Paul the Uncertain wrote: No, I'm stuck back at why, when there are several possible or plausible reasons for using a type of literary device, only one of those reasons is being considered.
Agreed the device is found in many different contexts. It is used in novels,
‘Goodness me!’ said my aunt, peering through the dusk, ‘who’s this you’re bringing home?’
--
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
It is used to have fun (or used to seriously try) to spook people with "true stories" of haunted houses,
What she told me gave me goose bumps.
--
Bryanne Salazar, True Haunted House Story


It's used in love songs,
You think you lost your love
Well, I saw her yesterday
It's you she's thinking of
And she told me what to say
She says she loves you. . .
--
Beatles, She Loves You.
In every case, even fictional and fanciful narratives, it is the rhetoric of history or reporting from a third party. That meaning or message is a constant in all of the above.

The technique introduces an element of verisimilitude. It opens the door for the audience to enter vicariously into the "real world" of the narrator.

It is the very essence and fundamental necessity of historical writing, ever since Herodotus, and even authors of fiction or tales they sincerely believe to be true intuitively understand this and so use it to convey the "truth" or appearance of truth to what they are saying.

The historian further identifies himself to the reader of his work, as a rule; and of course he or she steers clear of the other literary conventions that novelists, haunted house story-tellers and songwriters use.

hakeem
Posts: 27
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2017 8:20 am

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by hakeem » Tue Jun 20, 2017 6:32 pm

outhouse wrote: The NT for the most part was written by people that believed many of these events were real, and you are not accepting the "form" they wrote in.

They were not liars nor writing fiction.
You don't know who wrote the Jesus stories or when they were originally written.

It is a fact that the Jesus stories in the NT are fiction from conception to ascension.

andrewcriddle
Posts: 1328
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:36 am

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by andrewcriddle » Tue Jun 20, 2017 9:17 pm

Paul the Uncertain wrote:
Do the readers think that Iamblichus and Pythagoras were contemporaries? That Iamblichus is the first person ever to write about Pythagoras or his followers? Assuming no to both, then what uncertainty is Iamblichus resolving by saying there are sources for what he writes? Of course there are earlier versions - even if he's repackaging outright fiction.
Iamblichus on Pythagoras is largely based on several earlier written sources. Comparison with Porphyry on Pythagoras and other evidence allows some reconstruction of these sources. These sources however seem to have been sometimes silently rewritten by Iamblichus so as to produce a consistent account.

Andrew Criddle

neilgodfrey
Posts: 2932
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Tue Jun 20, 2017 10:42 pm

Paul the Uncertain wrote: Of course there are earlier versions - even if he's repackaging outright fiction.
He "could" be writing "outright fiction". We need data external to his text to help us resolve that question.

But the author makes his presence known to the reader. He does not write without any indication of his presence as, say, the author of Genesis does. He lets his presence be known to his readers and he tells his readers that he is relying upon sources for his information about Pythagoras in order to give them an authentic biographical account. The function of his rhetorical techniques are to establish some sort of trust between him and his audience about the fact that his information is coming from independent (i.e. he is not making it up, his readers infer that he is relying upon something that he at least thinks is authentic and that he wants them to think are authentic, too) sources.

Now the whole piece could indeed be a charade, a con, designed to deceive readers into thinking there really was a historical Pythagoras and that Iamblichus knew about him from research when in fact he was just making up a tall story. Maybe the author isn't really Iamblichus -- maybe the whole piece is a forgery. Only putting the work to the test against data external to the work itself will help us know if that is the case.

Or maybe Iamblichus's sources are absolute crap and the biography he writes is entirely fanciful. Again, only putting the work to the test against data external to the work itself will help us know if that's the case, too.

But either way, the point is that we are alerted to the "biographical" or "historical" function of the writing by the rhetorical techniques used -- and by the absence of other techniques that would otherwise indicate it is fiction.

Paul the Uncertain
Posts: 126
Joined: Fri Apr 21, 2017 6:25 am
Contact:

Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Wed Jun 21, 2017 3:36 am

andrew

You and I are in general agreement about Iamblichus' relationship to his material.

I am unsure what Iamblichus is ultimately arguing, and the various possibilities aren't mutually exclusive. I wouldn't rule out that his position was something like "There are few secure and uncontested facts, but within what is "mainstream" about Pythagoras, both he and his ideas show traces of divine intervention; on that basis, I recommend those ideas to my reader." I would be stunned if someone with Iamblichus' command of logic and rhetoric hadn't noticed the availability of that fairly strong line of attack.


Neil

- We agree what we're discussing (the device of mentioning that the speaker learned something from one or more third parties, that is, from neither the speaker nor listener, whether or not this third party is identified by name or described by their qualifications to provide information).

- We agree that the device is available and actually used in many forms of expression, including but not limited to both history and fiction.

- We seem to agree that having additional information besides the text is often helpful and sometimes needed to understand correctly how and why the device was used in a specific work.

As I understood the original issue, from the first sentence of the OP after the title question:
Over on the "This may be interesting" thread, MichaelBG had stated that there *must* be a way to tell from characteristics in the text.
It seems to me that you and I agree on enough to publish a joint dissent from the statement attributed to MichaelBG. Characteristics in the text do not necessarily allow audience members to distinguish fact-claiming from fiction.

Can I have an amen?

If yes, then I am disinclined to argue over names, like "the rhetoric of history." If that's what you want to call the device, and it's clear in context that history's relationship to the device isn't exclusive or strongly diagnostic, then swell.

Now, I see you also believe that there is some substance in the name,
It is the very essence and fundamental necessity of historical writing, ever since Herodotus, ...
Obviously, I disagree. But, so what?

I foresee real difficulty applying this idea to gospels, a case of some interest hereabouts. Mark "discusses" the matter (that is, dramatizes the issue, with the author speaking in his own voice while alluding to third-party statements, commenting on what is formally portrayed as past action).

The initial reaction to Jesus' teaching in the synagogue is favorable, because he speaks like someone with authority. His style is specifically contrasted with that of the "scribes" (who, I understand, were fond of the "rhetoric of history").

A stylistic device alluded to in the text, and whose use is disparaged, would become the basis for classifying the text, specifically because it avoids the device which it disparages (while using that very device, of course). This line of inference is fraught:

- An author teaches that superior audience experience entails avoiding the rhetoric of history when speaking truly.

- The author avoids the rhetoric of history (mostly).

- Q: Is the author speaking untruly, or is he (mostly) taking his own advice about how to achieve superior audience experience when speaking truly?

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Ben C. Smith, Bernard Muller, Bing [Bot], Charles Wilson, Giuseppe, Google [Bot], JoeWallack, perseusomega9, Secret Alias and 22 guests