Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reading Between the Lines, Chapter 3. Nonfiction: The Art of Truth-Telling.

Before we get to Chapter 3, I should mention that Chapter 3 is the first of three chapters in the First Part, chapters 1 and 2 being introductory in nature. The first part is called "The Forms of Literature", and Veith has some interesting things to say about the relationship between how we understand various literary forms, and how we understand the Bible.

Veith says that nonfiction is an art form, though this is not widely understood.

Rhetoric and Semantics

Rhetoric is something the Greeks studied, and can be applied or misapplied. That the word has a modern negative connotation is merely an example of that fact. Criteria for selecting facts to report comes from a writer's worldview.

Veith illustrates the difference between the "denotation" of a word and its "connotation." Some words have such powerful connotations that they are called "god-terms" - words that are very commanding. Rhetoric, including use of god-terms and such, is nonetheless religious.

Christians need to cultivate a taste for language, and Veith claims that reading is one of the best means to that end.

Good and Bad Nonfiction

Veith says that readers should pay attention not only to the content, but also to the language, in order fully to understand a work. From the writer's perspective, in describing a difficult subject, it should be the subject matter that is difficult, not the words per se. Instead, what often happens is the reverse: jargon obscuring the meaning.

A Christian Nonfiction Writer

This is C. S. Lewis, of course. Veith quotes from God in the Dock, and from Mere Christianity. The second quote is the famous Lewis choice: liar, lunatic, or Lord. Veith claims that Lewis does not argue people into Christianity so much as simply show them what Christianity is, and that in a very artistic manner.

Nonfiction Today

Veith explains the "new journalism", which is writing "nonfiction novels" - novels about a real life person, and real events, but using fiction techniques. He says that this nonfiction doesn't claim to be unbiased; however, the bias is usually out in the open, as opposed to most journalists who often hide their bias under clever wording.

Annie Dillard and Walter Wangerin

In the previous section, Veith was talking about the intersection of fiction and nonfiction. In this section, he's talking more about the intersection of poetry and nonfiction. He quotes Annie Dillard, from her Holy the Firm, and Walter Wangerin's Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, to show how they are pushing the bounds of language.

Next chapter: Fiction.