While thinking about the purpose of fiction today, I came up with the idea of “reality fatigue”. You see, I’d been following this chain of logic about how reading books is a form of escapism — escape from reality, that is — and I started to wonder what was so dreadful about the real world.
After all, most of us who actually have time to read works of fiction mustn’t be too badly off, surely? Our housing, clothing and food needs are obviously being adequately met. So what is it we book-loving, world-denying types are seeking to escape? Boredom?
Yes, to some degree, boredom or ennui is probably partly the reason we try to lose ourselves in the pages of a book. Also, isolation or alienation from others might explain this retreat into fictitious worlds of the imagination. Unhappiness due to heartbreak or loss might similarly be a motivating factor to read.
Whatever. I suppose, my conclusion was all of these various states of being could be labelled under the blanket term of “reality fatigue”. And, as it happens, I believe I was suffering today from exactly that.
My day wasn’t particularly arduous or stressful; in fact, I had nothing pressing to do and all my needs were satisfactorily being met. Yet I was on edge somehow. Real life was making me feel claustrophobic. There was a sameness to everything: my thoughts, my social interactions with others, those nagging doubts I’m habitually plagued with etc. It was all too familiarly familiar.
And then I stumbled upon a book. It was a collection of ghost stories, of all things. A genre I would usually avoid. However, my reality fatigue ran deep, and so I began reading the tales of horror contained therein, in spite of myself.
Well, in truth, I only read one such tale. Because that was all it took to change my day. The story I speak of was neither particularly scary or suspenseful. Okay, it was sort of suspenseful. Nonetheless, I felt I had lived through something by the time I’d finished reading it.
I’m not going to get into how the writing achieved this effect on me. My only interest, here and now, is to observe that the story recharged the coping mechanism within me that helps me deal with reality. The story cured me of my reality fatigue. Which makes me think reading, for me, isn’t strictly speaking a form of escape, but rather a way of replenishing my spirit. I believe the two concepts are quite different, although you might not agree?
On the flip-side of this idea, there is something interesting to be said about the role of us writers, then, when seen in the context of my experience of reality fatigue and its literature-based cure, I would argue.
As is usually the case, though, a much earlier thinker/writer than myself has distilled this idea down into a pithy phrase. And here ’tis:
“A tale, however slight, illuminates truth.” – Jalaluddin Rumi
In light of which, by reworking this phrase into slightly different words, I would put it to you there is literally no escaping the truth through the so-called “escapism” of reading. For even a tale told by an idiot signifies something, if it should connect with another, true?