[extropy-chat] book review: The Human Touch by Michael Frayn

pjmanney pj at pj-manney.com
Fri Mar 2 05:15:38 UTC 2007

>Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
>That's no more surprising than that a magician should be less enchanted 
>by his own artifice than the audience.  Anyone who writes stories knows 
>that they are constructed to be unreal; the reader, by design, is 
>wrapped only in the enchantment.

I think that's a facile, but unsatisfactory answer, given the tone and content of Damien's review.  I was hoping to get Damien to expand on it with my baiting, but I accept that his review is his last word on the subject.  He wrote enough.  In comparing the two reviews, I suspect it comes down to a disagreement on the underlying theories of language Frayn relies upon (I did note Damien's violent dismissal of Chomsky.  I only begin to grasp Chomsky at the most superficial level, linguistics not being my thing, and Damien is more than welcome to his opinion.  It is certainly shared by others.), as well as matters of writing style and structure (Damien found it annoying; Lloyd found it seductive) and the crucial objective vs. subjective reality question and what philosophies underlie your tendency to lean to one side or the other of the debate.

In fact, I'd say your statement is backward, or at least many writers would think it so.  (Perhaps Damien does.  Or he doesn't.)  In my experience, people are wrapped in the enchantment when something at the heart of a story touches on truth, not unreality.  As Damien knows (and Frayn discovered in his 'sticky tar') the truth may be out there, but it's damned messy.  Stories often bring us closer to the feeling of truth than the analytical exploration, because stories embrace the messy, the contradictory, the obtuse nature of existence.  That is part of 'truth' they excel at.  Analysis, on the other hand, fails when too messy.

And I don't know about you, but I know quite a few magicians.  And they're pretty damned impressed by the great performances of fellow prestidigitators (Penn and Teller not withstanding...).  In this case, it seems Damien expected to be wowed -- and wasn't -- by Frayn's performance.


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