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The Selection of Truth: Where Everything is Possible

Keith Maillard and I recently were discussing the process of editing and somehow we arrived at a point in the conversation where we talked about the notion of truth, and just how much is too much or two little to say. In the middle of that tributary he said, “If the truth I told in a manuscript included “everything”, you wouldn’t want to read it”. I quite liked that statement, and later we exchanged the following emails.

I began by saying, “It says something about the notion of too much truth being too much to absorb, bear, or to be of interest. Maybe we instinctively know ‘everything’ is no longer the truth, or rather is a truth that has no meaning or relevance in our lives. In a sense a truth that has become ‘everything’ is no longer the kind of truth we’re looking for or that satisfies us. It seems the whole truth isn’t whole at all, but is made up of a selection of parts from the whole where together their sum has become greater than the whole. The truth we humans are interested in is always the one that has been focussed and interpreted, which brings me to the act of selecting/editing from ‘everything’.

“I don’t think the notion of making selections (the absolute tyranny of choice) makes something less true; what it does change is the perspective we have of the truth. Selection doesn’t diminish truth, but gives it a stronger face and focus. It doesn’t take us further from the truth, but closer. Think of it like the sculptor’s block of granite that gradually is chiselled into the truth of its particular being. In this sense, the silence of saying/writing nothing is an extreme at the opposite end of ‘everything’, both of which convey nothing of themselves, or of truth, being too little or too much of a truth we struggle so hard to apprehend.”

In response, Keith wrote, “If I told you ‘everything’, you wouldn’t want to read that story because it would be thousands of pages long and you would be drowned in the details of mundane life. In order to tell you something you might want to read, I have to select a smaller amount of what to tell you. Each time I make a selection, it becomes more readable and less true–although it’s still all ‘the truth’. By the time I have it boiled down to something that resembles a publishable book, it’s far far from the original ‘truth’ – even though it is all still true. I don’t see any way to avoid this. It just seem to be a simple fact of the writing process.

“The selection is exactly that–a selection. The selection process has to try for a kind of truth too, but all the untold stories hang around afterward, like ghostly presences in the background, saying, ‘Hey, buddy, don’t forget us. We’re just as true as the stuff you told’. Making the selection is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. That shorter pattern has to make its own truth, and it has to feel true enough that you’re willing to live with it. We do this all the time whether we write it down or not. We all continually narrate the stories of our own lives. The truth is the pattern that we make on any given day just to stay alive.”

Edward Carson & Keith Maillard

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