I am intrigued by Hustvedt’s tome. At first I thought it was fiction, and then when I read the Editor’s Note I thought, No, this is reality, and then the note was signed by IV Hess, and I went back to thinking it isn’t reality. I have not searched for Harriet Burden online because I do not want my idea of reality and fiction to be clarified while reading this book. I am sure it is fiction because it is labeled “a novel” in many places, but I am not sure if HB is a real person. Hustvedt’s/IV Hess’s use of footnotes further complicates the reality of the situation — I believe they are citing real books, but again I have not searched for them and they could well be fake books about real subjects with real-sounding names. Or, they could be real.
This tension between reality and fiction is what makes the book so interesting. The different voices authoring each section also unsettle/fracture both the act of reading the book and the story itself. The creation of truth depends on many factors: the people involved, the topic in question, the local and global context, the goal of the individuals. Hustvedt creates a landscape of intersubjectivity and isolation by having each individual report on their truth in silos. We cannot know the whole picture without the multiple experiences of the multiple individuals. (Frankly we can never see or know the whole.)
The reality of the exclusion of women (and historically marginalized groups) from art and the dependence of the reception of art on its creator cannot be denied. So it kind of does not matter whether this story is ‘true’ or not because it is about something that is so very true. Yet the public goes to pieces when a person’s story is revealed to be ‘fake’ — like with James Frey or Brian Williams or the health blogger in Australia who said her diet cured her cancer. This brings me back to questions I’ve been grappling with in this course since the beginning — What is the importance of truth? Who judges what is true or not? What are the politics around believing peoples’ stories? How do we assess/validate the multiple realities and multiple truths different people experience around the same event?