truth (aesthetics) The factual, historical, social, cultural, aesthetic and individual criteria by which a story is judged to have validity: truth is a criteria for accepting or rejecting a story.
A statement or representation that claims factual truth can be measured, tested and argued in relation to actual event/s, often as these event/s have been recorded and represented in a range of narratives and as a part of social and/or individual history and knowledge. Then a story has truth because the event/s it narrates did happen or are believed to have happened. Factual truth is often discussed as the key criteria for truth, but this is just one test.
It can be agreed, believed that a particular event/s occurred, the event/s are true, they happened, but even when there is an agreement that an event or events occurred, and this is uncontested, the narrative that presents this can be rejected or denied as it relies on selection, viewpoint and construction. A story is a form of rhetoric and it presents a reality that is congruent or divergent from the audience’s beliefs. The audience will accept some narrative versions of events and reject others. Here viewpoint in storytelling becomes crucial as this articulates value in relation to events: One version of a story shows that the actions were good, another version of the story shows that the same actions were evil.
Narratives confirm or contest histories, moral values, customs and accepted norms and so both fact or fiction can be accepted as offering truth. A fictional account be more truthful in this context than a historical account: what is a true depiction of slavery, of marriage? In different societies at difference times the accepted narratives related to slavery and marriage would be completely divergent. Here, one can see that truth is socially and historically specific, and narratives that are praised for their truth in one era are false and contrived in another.
We accept, consume, deny and reject narratives based on our own truth. Truth, here relates to the concept of Grand Narratives: these are the histories, identities, conceptions of the self, of nature, of reality of lived experience that are embedded as truth within an individual, a group, a society, a culture, a Civilisation. Arguments over objective viewpoint and subjective viewpoint are carried on as if they might be resolved by empirical measurement, by rational thought, by psychological explanation, but belief systems validate truth in relation to a narrative being accepted or rejected.
The individual events in a narrative, their relationship to actuality are tested for truth, and the construction of a narrative, its plot and viewpoint is tested for truth, and the judgement of truth in a text also shifts to a judgement of taste in relation to aesthetics: what stories should or should not be told, and in what form is it acceptable for a story to be narrated? Taste acts as permission or restriction on what can be told and accepted; taste acts as a form of censorship: no matter if a story is true to the fact, this does not make it valid unless it is narrated within certain parameters of form: Should God be shown singing in a musical? What topics can be mocked and ridiculed, what topics need to be treated with sincerity and reverence? Truth is a test of acceptability and taste is part of this: they are combined in terms of audience reaction.
The question of truth has a sense of superficiality. It’s not a coherent judgement, the truth that is claimed for a story is not shared by all, but truth and taste do act as significant constraints and permissions on storytelling. Truth has a bias, in that what is judged to be true is not the congruence of narrative to actuality as the primary and decisive test, but what is acceptable: choosing the right story to tell in the right way.
A filmmaker can make a claim to their story offering truth, but this judgement passes to the audience who will make their own judgement to accept or reject the narrative. A filmmaker may understand that a story needs to have truth for it to have validity for themselves and for an audience, but acceptance or rejection will rest on the filmmaker’s congruence to that audience. A story that challenges, tests or demeans an audience is not going to acclaimed as true, so the impetus of storytelling is to confirm to social reality. Oppositional, divergent stories can be told but they will never have the immediate currency of accepted truth.
The narrative of a film can be very specific to a place and time, and so rely on this authenticity to be accepted as true, but this one story can be viewed as exceptional and specific: not generally true. Myth, fantasy, legend, stories which are often understood to have little or no factual authenticity are often valued more highly than factual truth within a culture and society: these mythic, founding stories are shared, circulated, learned, passed on and this gives them validity as truth as they are known and understood by many. There’s a frequent claim that mythic narrative offer universals, there will always be a hero myth in every society, those who fight for society, and there will always be villains, those who want to destroy and replace a society: these stories have truth as rhetoric: they carry the concept of heroes and villains that a society can use to enact power and authority, but they are not factually true, but rhetorical concepts: they are actions, events shaped into a version of events, a narrative where there are heroes and villains. Not all societies need such figures and founding myths differ across history, tribes, nations, civilisations.
Story is understood to offer shared meaning and values for societies. This is correct and truth and taste are the mechanisms that regulate and confirm those meanings and values. When stating that a story is true, one can mean factually true, or aesthetically truthful in the narrative’s representation its form and taste, but implicit in this is a call for agreement: to indicate that a narrative should be validated and offered a specific and special status.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019