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Fictivity: To Be, Or Not To Be

We’ve probably all heard of binary code, the computer language of the two-valued ‘off and on’ through which even the most advanced machines communicate and operate. The binary world sees things in units of two, black and white, hot and cold, positive and negative. It’s a simple view and it works well for machines.

Without getting too philosophical, it’s possible to conclude that the universe itself is not binary but ‘trinary’. By that, I mean that the working principle which underlies all natural phenomena is not ‘on/off’ but a combination of three interacting elements. This applies to what we see in nature and also can be applicable to what happens in ourselves, especially as writers or artists.

In brief, it works like this: the first element of aspect of this triune universe could be said to be the Infinite and Unfathomable. Some might call it an unformed chaos or void; yet others might see it as a vast untapped potential. In Christianity, it would equate to the Father in the Holy Trinity, source of all but unknowable in Himself. It could also be termed ‘Unbeing’, not in the sense of being ‘anti-being’ or nothing, but in the sense of ‘not yet apparent being’.

The second aspect would be the Finite or Fathomable. We could call this Being — that which visibly and tangibly exists, whatever its nature. When we ponder the nature of reality, we at least know that something exists to do the pondering, even if we can determine little else. In Christianity, this would equate to the Son — personified infinity, to put it another way. Being may be many things, but its chief quality is that it IS.

The two together look very binary. It would be possible to set them up in opposition to each other, as philosophers have for centuries: the ‘good’ of Being could easily be interpreted as having as its nemesis the ‘evil’ of the Uncreated Void, which, because it's uncreated, looks like darkness. Many myths rest upon this fundamental dichotomy in things. Shakespeare took it up in Hamlet with the famous soliloquy:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them.

But the picture is not complete. If these two things exist, a third thing must also exist — something which cannot exist without them: the relationship between the two. Being and Unbeing (or ‘Not Yet Being’ or the Unreachable or however else you want to describe it) do not necessarily have an opposing relationship with each other. In Christianity, they are considered unified; and in that context, they give rise to a third element, the Holy Spirit.

We’re familiar with this principle in a much more prosaic context, that of an electrical circuit board: two terminals, one positive and the other negative, and, because they are so charged, the third thing of the flow that occurs between them. Take away either terminal and the flow vanishes too. But you can’t prise away the flow from the terminals — it must happen if the other two terminals are present and are held apart.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, it’s possibly to hypothesise that this is how the artistic mind works. The first element is the untapped imagination, wild and almost unknowable; the second is the writer’s own identity or personality. All writers — arguably all human beings — have both these elements. They are what makes them human, you might say. And it is the interaction between one and the other which gives rise to the work, the output, the tangible energy of created fiction.

One way of visualising this might be to paraphrase Shakespeare. Instead of placing ‘be’ in opposition to ‘not be’, let’s look at that soliloquy a little differently, with some modifications:

To be, AND not to be, that is the ANSWER:

‘Tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

AND to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them.

Difficult to picture a unification of things which we are so used to considering in opposition? Perhaps. But worth the mental effort.


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