Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Truth Embedded in the Lie

And no, I don't mean Bush comparing Iraq to Vietnam. I mean in "fiction":

Poet and short story writer Grace Paley, a literary eminence and old-fashioned rebel who described herself as a "combative pacifist," has died. She was 84. [ . . . ]

"None of it happened, and yet every word of it is true," she once said of her fiction. "It's truth embedded in the lie." [ . . . ]

Born Grace Goodside in New York in 1922, she was one of three children of Russian Jews. Her family spoke English, Russian and Yiddish, but politics proved the universal language. Her parents had opposed the czar in Russia and were supporters of the New Deal. The bitterest neighborhood feuds were not among drug dealers, but between Trotskyites and Stalinists.

"I thought being Jewish meant you were a Socialist," Paley said. "Everyone on my block was a Socialist or a Communist. ... People would have serious, insane arguments, and it was nice. It makes you think the rest of the world is pretty bland."

Some of us would say that the Bible contains a lot of truth embedded in the lie. None of it ever happened, but a lot of it is true in some important way, even if it's not every word, or if it's true in some way that we wish it weren't. Because there are other kinds of truth than "factual" or "historical" truth. The Bible isn't a newspaper or a science or history textbook. But it is about order and justice, and a lot of it ain't pretty, and is even downright morally contemptible. But there's terrifying truth in a lot of that, as well.

I want to say something about her thinking that being Jewish meant being a Socialist, because I think there's a certain plausibility in that. Not that there aren't millennarian or apocalyptic strains of both Judaism and Marxism (see "Christianity," for example), but in general, both tend to be about achieving real justice in this life rather than the next. And when MLK said he had seen the promised land, he didn't mean heaven.

RIP Grace Paley. I hope I'm learning the right things from you.

No comments: