Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Literature and the Real World

This came to my attention through Zero Hedge (On a Long Enough Timeline, the Survival Rate for Everyone Drops to Zero) a blog I’ve mentioned before, one that has become a first source for a skeptical view of our political and economic world. When reading Zero Hedge I think of the American Revolutionary War pamphleteers; Thomas Paine would be proud of this independent, pseudonymous voice and its mission statement. No wonder traditional media are concerned about the power of the new press.

Zero Hedge pointed to a fascinating interview between Nassim Taleb, the mathematician, hedge fund manager, philosopher, and writer, author of The Black Swan, and Rolf Dobelli “a Swiss novelist and entrepreneur." I read Taleb’s book earlier this year and while I had my own skeptical view of applying his philosophy to the investment world, I was impressed by his intellect and in particular his theory of “na├»ve empiricism,” a “natural tendency to look for instances that confirm our story or our vision of the world.”

So it is not surprising that I was immediately swept into this interview with Taleb’s statement “Newspapers have officially the right facts, but their interpretations are imaginary –and their choice of facts are arbitrary. They lie with right facts; a novelist says the truth with wrong facts.” In effect, fiction is a notch above “truth.” How often have I thought that while reading the novelists I’ve mention in this blog? How often have I felt that a novel was portraying the real world, the one I know and understand? As Taleb says, “Literature belongs to the holy. You can do fiction, nonfiction, a mixture, who cares. Literature is above the distinction. It is sacred.”