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Everything is non-fiction. Even Fiction itself.

leamirella's picture

I was having a conversation with a friend about "A Game of You" by Neil Gaiman and found myself having difficulty explaining the plot. Not because I hadn't read the text but rather, because it was just to bizzare. I had to preface everything with "oh God, okay, this is weird but....". (Especially when I had to talk about Thessaly cutting George's face off and nailing it to the wall.)

Although I didn't particularly find myself drawn right into Gaiman's world unlike others in the class, I do wonder how it is that Gaiman, among many other authors, construct this world that (some) readers can get fully engrossed in. Reason and logic are suspended as a reader encounters this fantasy world. While this is the nature of fiction, I can't help but wonder what the boundaries of fantasy are.

This made me think about the genres of "fiction" and "non-fiction". I looked up a definition that young children are taught which is akin to the definition that was laid out for me when I first started to read:

Fiction - The books that are made up by the author, or are not true, are fiction.

Non-Fiction - Books that are non-fiction, or true, are about real things, people, places, events.

This definition (very basic but alignes itself with many of the preconceptions that I still have about this dichotomy)  then positions fiction and non-fiction as opposites of each other. I then thought about these definitions in relation to A Game of You. The first thing that you would assume is that the graphic novel is fiction. The story/plot is "made up by the author" as you cannot (well as far as I know...) ressurect the dead by ripping their face off and nailing it to the wall. However, where this categorization gets blurry is when you start thinking of whether or not this traditionally "fictional" piece can be considered "non-fiction".

While many of the events in A Game of You cannot happen in "real" life, I would argue that it takes reference from a very "real" and "true" world. For example, the plot is set in a set of apartment blocks where a set of people (the "marginals of society") reside. This could easily be a "real" place. Additionally, we started to discuss the different characters. I'm particularly intrigued by Wanda. Her narrative (of a woman trapped in the wrong body) is a typical one that is shared by many in the trans community. Additionally, when she barred from going to the moon with the other (biological!) "women", her rejection by society as a "real woman" reflects sentiments that exist in the "real world". These particular elements within this "fiction" could be very "real" and thus, "non-fiction"? Isn't Wanda's existence AND narrative a "real thing"? I think what I'm trying to say here is that to have fiction, you must have reference to the "real" world and thus, all fiction is never purely fiction because of this referential characteristic. There is always an element of the "real" otherwise readers find themselves alienated from it. Thus, how far can we go with fiction? Must it always reference the "real" to be accessible?

I'm thinking of these ideas in relation to a couple of philosophical theorists (in particular, Putnam's "Brains in A Vat" and Plato's "Allegory of a Cave") and I really want to read into this more because I think that it will really useful when we start looking at the construction of reality in sci-fi texts. I know that as a group, we decided on not reading anymore theory, but I also want to see if anyone is interested or knows the material better than I do (admittedly, the closest thing I've ever taken to a philosophy class was TOK in high school...). dglasser perhaps?


Ayla's picture

Hand waving

I like your preface to your post, "this is weird."  Concerning your analysis of Fiction and Non-Fiction, I'm missing the leap from The Game of You having real components and being non-fiction.  I agree that the characters are very real, and Gaiman makes them even more real by giving them some depth - some despair.  We learn that Wanda is trapped in a body she does not want, Hazel cheated on her girlfriend, Foxglove used to be in an abusive relationship, and Barbie...well her life isn't as shiny perfect as we thought either.  The only character that does not have depth is Thessally, right?  I know nothing about her.  She's been alive for a long time, she practices witchcraft, and she has cheated forces of the world.  I'm not attached to Thessally, and I didn't care if she was going to die or not.  The issues that these characters are dealing with are things we can relate to, in a way.  Not fitting in, making mistakes, going through times of self disrespect.  These components are very real.


I think there is some hand waving in your post.  You say that The Game of You takes place in a very real world.  Yes, a real world with real tensions and real conflicted characters.  The things they do, though, are just not real and do not happen in a real world.  There is symbolism in their actions and in Barbie's dream, but there is no real life basis for a cuckoo that mesmorizes people to do what she wants.  There is no real life basis for talking giant dogs and weasels that wear clothes.  There is no necklace that brings you into a certain dream (that we know of).  These things are fiction.  They are made up by the author.  They are components of Gaiman's story that are not based on real things or events at all.  They don't have any reference to the real world, except our imaginations.


Maybe I'm just a stickler for definitions and lines.  I think it is interesting to think about things in new ways and analyze the depths of a piece of work, but I can't agree that The Game of You is non-fiction.