Monday, July 5, 2010

Telling Lies All Day Long

"A writer falsifies himself both intentionally and unintentionally. Intentionally, because the accidental qualities of words constantly tempt and frighten him away from his true meaning. He gets an idea, begins trying to express it, and then, in the frightful mess of words that generally results, a pattern begins to form itself more or less accidentally. It is not by any means the pattern he wants, but it is at any rate not vulgar or disagreeable; it is "good art". He takes it, because "good art" is a more or less mysterious gift from heaven, and it seems a pity to waste it when it presents itself. Is not anyone with any degree of mental honesty conscious of telling lies all day long, both in talking and in writing, simply because lies will fall into artistic shape when truth will not?"

- George Orwell (1940, "New Words")

Something resonates in this idea. Over the years I've become better at picking out the embellishments in stories. Little things, not exactly lies, but not exactly the truth either. When a guy says he waited half an hour instead of the actual fifteen minutes. When people recount stories to demonstrate how witty they were in some situation. When a woman tells you that was the best orgasm she ever had.

(Actually, they always mean that last one when they tell me)

(...I wish)

Little lies make for a better story.

But beyond that, the quote resonates because I know I am guilty of this kind of lying. Writing something out, finding my words take a certain shape that isn't quite what I wanted to say. But what the heck, it sounds pretty good to me -- I'll just go with this idea. It may be more interesting or incisive this way.

Which isn't at all to say that I never feel I've successfully expressed myself, or that I agree 100% with Orwell's opinion (which doesn't seem fully serious). It's just that there are certain topics and certain moments that language isn't equipped to handle -- or else my mastery of it isn't complete enough to achieve what I originally intend. I find the quote very stimulating. It calls for self-examination.