I’ve always lived by the motto that life is stranger than fiction and more interesting. That’s why I have personally always pursued knowledge and read books that I could learn something from rather than fiction, which I often saw as a waste of time, like watching TV something that will give you no intellectual benefit, but just hollow entertainment.
But Elif Shafak in her King’s lecture last week reminded me that fiction can indeed bring knowledge in an indirect and sometimes unintentional way.
In her talk Elif said that she saw herself as a story teller not as a teacher or someone who tells people what they should think. Her stories are purely fictional and based on her imagination.
However, I have found that despite her intentions, I have actually learnt a lot form Elif’s books. My favourite of her books is Forty Rules of Love which is based on the story of Rumi and Shams and their relationship.
Although it’s a fictional book, I learn a lot about Sufism from it, or Sufism as Elif sees it. The forty rules of love that are in the book, are not from Shams as I originally thought they were, but they are from Elif herself. The rules a very beautiful, profound and moving, and I have learnt a lot from them.
My belief is that every individual is connected to the whole universe and if they are guided by their intuition they can tap into knowledge that is universal. Being led by intuition is often easier when writing fiction, rather than factual writing. When writing about facts there is not much room to tap into that universal knowledge that can be felt by us to be true if we are open to it, but cannot always be proven methodologically. This is the benefit that fiction has over factual books for the writer and the reader.
Once about ten years ago, someone asked me ‘why do you like to read so much?’ And I thought about it, and I said ‘because I try and learn something from what I read, I want to glimpse the truth in it.’ This more significant something that brings a sudden realisation or inspiration can be heard in songs, lyrics, paintings, poems, movies or any kind of art really, and I guess that’s why it’s appreciated so much.
Writing about facts is also easier than writing fiction, because you can hide behind the facts, you are just merely giving your interpretation to someone else’s work. Writing fiction or poetry cannot help but be partly biographical, it comes from your thoughts and feelings your anxieties and fears.
Writing fiction or your own ideas makes you more vulnerable than writing about facts. I often feel like when I am writing blog posts it’s easier to write about a book, rather than coming up with my own material from scratch. After all, in that way I can hide behind the knowledge that is already out there without revealing too much of myself, but as Rumi himself said:
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”
And that is hard motto, but one to live by if we want to be true to ourselves….