The Line of Demarcation Between Fiction and Literary Criticism
The critic's old question about whether the novel, short story, poem or drama is based on real events seems to have been left as a minor reference, a detail for some historians –neo-positivists, neo-Marxists etc. who observe the text as a document, not as a work of art. Perhaps because most of these social scientists lack artistic sensibility, they suffer from a very low index of thought by phantasmagorias or intuitions. Not even critics who stuff their studies with philosophical, linguistic or sociological reflections, dedicate space to this comparison between reality and fiction. Maybe only the "multiculturalists" - another political demagogy - lose too many paragraphs in placing borders, whose walls are obsolete.
It is well known that since Aristotle, at least since he published his poetic art and his rhetoric in the fourth century BC, the question of whether art imitates life or if the phenomenon also occurs inversely, if it flies reality imitates fiction, under the paradox that fiction is a privileged form of reality. Each one of the aesthetic theories of realism has gone down the path of the reflex, mechanical or dialectical, denying at the same time possible imaginative autonomies, areas of poetic fantasy where the continued metaphor prevails over the distant or poor leitmotif.
From this endless dispute between the hen, the egg and some libidinous rooster, we take advantage today - to illustrate the debacle of the demarcations - the novelists who in reality are historians or vice versa or better: both at the same time. Before our texts we are inclined to catalog them within the microhistory, according to the techniques of "scale reduction" -so similar for social history as for the historical novel or based on facts and "real" characters -, which was practiced by the Italian Carlo Ginzburg in his famous The Cheese and The Worms or his so pleasant journalistic style Robert Darton, in the absorbing The Great Cat Massacre: and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. But at the same time, it is evident that our texts would also classify as historical novels.
In other words, the label does not interest because both are valid. It is very easy because literary criticism should not interrogate the text under the premise that it is a work of fiction or sociological and anthropological research, even with elements of other so-called social sciences, such as ethnology and folklore. Although yes, of course, it carefully observes whether the narrated and described is credible, and in the case of historical events-relevant or not-if the reference is true or false, without exaggerated relativisms that bring into crisis the validity of an event or an attitude, a decision or the results of a war, disaster natural, conspiracy, murder, marriage, conquest etc. There are philosophical questions which are tackled by great scholars such as Nietzsche who talk about creativity as divine possession.
Distinguishing facts from opinions is one of the first tips that Harold Bloom gives his students at Yale. He immediately recommends reading Aristotle whom he considers more modern than so many "philosophers" and "culturists" discoverers of the toothbrush. However, the best current connoisseur of Shakespeare admits the existence, on the edges, of an area where the statements of facts, events, or whatever it is called in relation to what happens - is modulated and sometimes even ballasted by a point of view, an opinion that favors a certain relativism that mortgages the transparency of the demarcation.
Territory undermined, confused area, a load of subjectivities enhances the possibilities of offering a caricature, an angle, a slant where the facts - sometimes only for the space that is dedicated to each one - already have a dose of opinions. Consider, for example, the versions of the Battle of Austerlitz, as it appears in War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy against French and Austrian authors. However, there is a core that neither a chorus of opinions can change: the overwhelming victory of the French army led by Napoleon, the historical turn that such an event meant to be.
The following "Testimony of Juliana Burgos" can exemplify the phenomenon, illustrate its dialectical complexity without having to take sides towards one extreme or the other. I wrote it as a tribute to the enchantment of a story where Jorge Luis Borges makes a tacit display of expressive devices. The possible enjoyment of my story depends - as it happens with the literary critics that exceed the journalistic reviews - of which it is read or reread "The intruder", its re-created referent. The freshness of the memory multiplies the appreciation. It is a pleasure to observe the dialogical relationship between "Testimony of Juliana Burgos" and "The Intruder" which is a form of literary criticism. It also serves, of course, as valid as the translation of Borges's tale into German or any other language.
I think I have placed in a critical eclecticism the perspective from which I am inclined to observe and reflect, to live. I write -I insist- without idle questions, that far from helping the evaluation of the text that is, what it generates is confusion, either as a historicist mania of factual verisimilitude or as a hyperbole of the imaginative.