Although today I did not do half the reading I would have liked – okay, I didn’t do any because I felt lazy – I am becoming increasingly keen on the idea that fiction can hold vast quantities of data beneath it’s surface. I now feel quite certain that fiction has as much to tell us about the human condition as empirical science. The case in point is Heimat: reading up on it these last few days has given me vast insights into German culture and history; in turn, through reflection, this also gives me some insight into my own too.
With this in mind, I want to test my theory: can any piece of narrative fiction supply us, through interpretation or directly, with insight into the realm of the human condition? Let us, for the sake of argument, take several short texts previously thought remote from the ‘truth’, and subject them briefly to analysis.
Firstly, the dirty Hungarian phrase book on the surface looks frivolous, but I think it quite likely that the writers of this sketch were familiar with the work of de Sasseur. It is a play on the arbitrary nature of language itself. Given that the sketch was written at the height of the cold war, the concerns about inaccurate translations in a simple phrase book may also indicate concerns about similar problems at the UN. Given the cold war was largely fought using semantics, worries over mistranslation would seem reasonable.
Something similar could be said of the two Ronnie’s sketch ‘Four candles’. Again, this draws attention to the highly ethereal nature of language, and the arbitrary relationship between sign and signified. The growing frustration of the shop keeper, while extremely comic, reflects exactly why this is so dangerous. Moreover, philosophical points could be made when we read language as an extension of the mind.
Schizophrenia is most definitely alluded to in the parrot sketch. Here two directly opposing versions of reality are made apparent: one holds that the bird is dead, the other that it is resting. The shop keeper’s insistence that the parrot is simply pining for the fjords is interesting; it suggests the bird longs for it’s homeland, giving it an aspect of death. This brings to mind Genesis, and the banishment of man from Eden and the advent of his mortality. That we have two separate versions of reality no doubt reflects the inachievability of objective truth, and when we apply this to our biblical hypothesis may be a reflection on how scripture is open to interpretation. Thus two men arguing over the status of a parrot may become two men arguing over the meaning of scripture. The ultimately mad-cap nature of this sketch in turn reflects the absurdity of such arguments and hence all religion.
Thus I have shown how three quite absurdist texts can be read as reflections of reality. This is, by and large, a statement of the obvious: any text is open to interpretation, from eastenders to postman pat. There is, however, one exception, the intellectual equivalent of a blank screen: