In a corner of the Australian bureaucracy where verification of your identity is required, there is a list of eligible people who can be trusted to tell the truth. Doctors, solicitors, tax collectors and members of parliament are among the professionals guaranteed to know the truth and to tell it. Trust me, I’m a doctor. Trust me, I’m a politician.
Writers do not make it onto this list of selected individuals. Don’t trust me, I’m a writer.
But that is exactly the wonderful, powerful stuff of writing and other art forms – you don’t have to stick to the truth. As long as you are consistent in your fabrications, you can build a world of lies. The 19th century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously said that you could imbue your writing with “a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith”. In other words, if you can make it believable enough, it can become its own truth.
It is poetic licence. It is prosaic manufacturing. It is fiction and faction and magic.
What is even better is that in building your fiction, you can somehow get right into the heart of reality. Art can tell the truth better than the truthful, the trustworthy, the reliable.
No matter how many times René Magritte claims that his painting is not a pipe (it is after all only a painting of a pipe), we know, better than any doctor, politician or accountant, that it is indeed a pipe. It is the essence of pipeness. It is true in all its magnificent fabrication.
In their wordy worlds Hamlet can be the prince of Denmark forever and James Bond a Secret Service agent. No one will doubt their existence. And if anyone asks for verification of their identity, I’ll put my hand up.
I am a writer and they are the truth. The truth, the whole truth and everything but the truth.