Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Books: Verisimilitude and veracity

Two excerpts from an article on Arts Journal by Jack Miles - The Da Vinci Coda: Retrospective Reflections on a Pop Culture Phenomenon

A related phenomenon, I would suggest, is the blurring in public discourse of verisimilitude and veracity. Comedian Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, a coinage intended to mock presidential rhetoric, was recently declared “The Word of the Year” by an association of semanticists. But truthiness is a fair synonym for verisimilitude, the “truthlikeness” that novelists have long cultivated in realistic fiction. What strikes me is how large an American political constituency seems fully prepared to accept presidential verisimilitude as a fair substitute for presidential veracity. This willingness to accept plausible official fiction where verified fact would once have been required seems to me to be of a piece with the widespread inclination, in the case of The Da Vinci Code, to read undisguised but only barely plausible historical fiction as settled fact. The same gullibility seems to operate in both cases.
Obviously, The Da Vinci Code is not literally about any of that. But the dream history at its center, the history that has attracted all the attention, is a story of how “we” once had something pretty wonderful and “they” took it away from us. In fact, we never had it, and they never took it; but at a time when real peril is mounting and when the line between history and fiction is progressively disappearing, the myth of a past suppression may easily enough made to stand in for the dream of a future restoration. That dream—whether encoded by accident or by design—may be the secret ingredient that has turned this ingenious novel into so gigantic a cultural phenomenon.