I could never have imagined that as an academic researcher my struggles with understanding the nature of truth and reality would someday influence how I come to view my creative pursuits of writing. It was whilst supporting a Masters student with her dissertation this week, that it made me reflect on the value and contribution of these philosophical debates in facilitating insight into the nature of writing and the intimate relationship between author and reader. I would go so far as to say that our writing is the product of joint authorship between the author and their readers.
There are many ways in which we can view the nature of truth and reality. In essence there are two polarized perspectives as to what constitutes reality. One perceives the reality of the world and the things within the world to have an independent existence to that of the observer, conforming to immutable laws. An alternative and opposite view suggests that there are many truths and realities, depending on the particular perspective of the observer and their interaction with the external world. This view holds that there is a wealth of potential and multiple interpretations as to what constitutes reality.
It is the latter view, labeled as constructionism, to which I personally subscribe and reflecting on its deeper meaning this week I was once again reminded of its emphasis on the notion of co-creation of meaning. For anyone that has dipped into philosophy during their educational journey will no doubt be familiar with postmodernism as put forward by the French philosopher François Lyotard. He devoted his writings to challenging what he perceived to be the metanarrative, or singular truths, of institutions and the control and power these metanarratives imposed on the majority. Instead, his arguments were for little narratives and the possibility of many different ways of seeing the world and the rich complexity contained therein.
The constructionist perspective perceives knowledge and meaning as the product of the relationship and interaction between these co-existing, multiple perspectives. This means that we are all partners in co-creating the world and the reality we come to experience. This belief is both powerful and emancipatory as it suggests we have the ability to create and recreate our reality through reflection, experience and shared understanding. We therefore don’t have to paint ourselves into a corner, as there are always alternative views and ways in which we can be or view a particular situation. However, we are limited by the restrictions we impose on our imaginations. So, allow your imagination to work for you and not against you! It is this co-constructive partnership that made me think deeply about the relationship between author and readers.
This relationship resides in the powerful space of dialogue in which we engage collectively with others for the purpose of creating the world we come to experience. Dialogue goes beyond mere conversation and instead embraces the many voices and disparate views that constitute reality. Dialogue also allows us to become observers of our own thinking and the incoherence within our own thoughts. Our collective dialogue is therefore a stream of meaning that flows between the various participants out of which new shared meaning will emerge. Contained in dialogue are dimensions of exploration that is fuelled by a quest for deeper insight and clarity.
As authors we release our imaginations, individual perspectives and beliefs in the form of the words that we commit to paper or the screen. In doing so we prepare the ground for a participative dialogue to be established between our readers and us. Our output is not complete until the reader engages with our words and together we co-construct meaning and understanding from the narratives and stories we put forward. As authors we do not have the ownership of meaning but instead together with our readers, we co-create alternative and emerging realities. It is within the alchemy created between authors and readers that we co-construct the many possible versions of our creative output.
Of course, in works of fiction the various characters make a further contribution to this collaborative, co-creative mix of participants. Stories only come to life when the readers through their imaginations and engagement unlocks the lives of the characters, plots and scenes. Given what I said earlier, each reader will no doubt create a different book or novel to that of the next reader as they bring to this co-creative process their own unique experiences, hopes, dreams and expectations of the book.
In essence, the creative process is incomplete without the presence of the author, characters and readers to collectively construct the meaning that unfolds from a particular piece of writing. Furthermore, as we as authors and readers change and evolve, so will the books we return to change and evolve thereby creating them anew. They are therefore in a constant state of becoming….