"Truer than True"

Ernest Hemingway:

“No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better.”

He opens two bottles of beer and continues: “I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.”

HT: Andrew Sullivan

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  • Here’s a quote from Tim O’Brien’s brilliant book, The Things They Carried, which should be required reading for just about everyone. I’ve used this quote and the book as a whole on numerous occasions, most recently in a Good Friday sermon on truth.

    “You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let’s say, and afterward you ask,’Is it true?’ and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer.

    For example, we’ve all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and saves his three buddies.

    Is it true?

    The answer matters.

    You’d feel cheated if it never happened. Without the grounding reality, it’s just a trite bit of puffery, pure Hollywood, untrue in the way all such stories are untrue. Yet even if it did happen—and maybe it did, anything’s possible—even then you know it can’t be true, because a true war story doesn’t depend upon that kind of truth. Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”

  • While I welcome a non-reductive view of reality, I find this sort of equivocation with the word “truth” somewhat tiring. Walter Kaufmann makes this point well in his Critique of Religion and Philosophy, though without reference to a Christian perspective. In my opinion, if we’re going to use “truth” as a kind of metaphysical catch-all, we should expect the sort of response Pilate gives Christ in the crucifixion narrative: a question that perhaps distracts one from seeing “Truth” personified.

    I posted recently on my blog about a similar issue in regard to the “truthiness” (to borrow a Colbertism) of the resurrection narrative.

  • I like this quote a lot…it’s so true…if you try to hard at creating symbols you end up getting a big nasty mess of blah-ness.

    although, i could go for some raisin bread right now…that sounds delicious.

  • minnowspeaks

    Very late to the party. How’s the adventure into public school? I picked your post from the sidebar and didn’t pay close attention to the date. I’m not sure you’d notice a comment from a post that is 3 years old. Anyway, I hope your children are self motivated verbal-linguistic learners. If they are public school might work. If they are not I hope your public schools are very different from the norm, you are diligently monitoring your childrens’ education, or you are not going the public school route. Truly I do.

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