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Literature and Journalism: Why does man write fiction?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 15:01 UK time, Thursday, 5 May 2011

In the early Spring of 2003 I was allowed to visit several prisons in Uzbekistan to interview the most famous political prisoners including writer Mamadali Mahmudov and the religious figure Zayniddin Askarov.

I made several radio programmes about the visits in Uzbek, but I never wrote up a "straight" account of what I saw there.

Instead I wrote a novella called Googling for Soul which tells the story of my trip to the most notorious of all those prisons - Jaslyk prison, which is nicknamed Barsa-Kelmes or a Place of No Return.

What made me write a fictional piece about the trip? A more general question to consider is why does man write fiction?

When I started to deconstruct the issue, there were some pretty obvious answers, which came to my mind.

Naturally I thought about the safety of those people whom I met both in prisons and on my way there.

I couldn't disclose everything: any little hint could have compromised their well being.

On the other hand there was an element of a natural hypocrisy, too.

I couldn't tell the state or prison officials what I thought of them and the conditions of the prisoners.

There was quite a lot of a mandatory politics and diplomacy.

On reflection, it seemed to me that I need some time to make sense of that trip.

There were deeper reasons for choosing fiction to journalism too.

Before discussing them I'll demonstrate with a metaphor.

Last week I was watching the world snooker championships.

In the game of snooker - like pool - if you hit the every ball perfectly straight on you would never win a frame.

The skill is in being able to cue, to spin, to measure the strength of the strike, to take into consideration the position of other balls and also keep in mind the safety of your shots.

I think that this is a good metaphor for writing fiction versus a straightforward account of the "reality".

Above I mentioned making sense of the reality.

It seems that actual reality tries to allude us and we are always trying to make sense of a situation: why did he/she say these words, why did the crowd behave in a such manner, why does a newspaper lead with a particular story?

Why, why, why???

On the other hand, there are schools of literature, like the French "new novel", which doesn't look into the sense behind the reality, but examines the atomic facts of that reality bit by bit.

But we are doomed to believe that even the absence of sense is a sense in itself.

So literature brings meaning into this indifferent reality.

It traps that reality before it escapes.

When you look at the cue of snooker players Ronnie O'Sullivan or John Higgins it never points directly at the hole, but they strike and ultimately the ball ends up in the net.

Writers have also in their hands all kind of tricks and techniques to make the sense of the reality they describe even more real than the reality itself.

There are prisons everywhere all over the world, so to tell the story of one of them wouldn't make an impact, but when you try to show that in some situations living in "liberty" could be even worse than in the most notorious prison, it conveys something that only literature can tell.

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