Why dwell on made-up stories? Why make them up in the first place? Can fiction, that pack of lies, aspire to some form of truth? These are just a few of the provocative questions posed by Pulitzer Prize finalist Hernan Diaz, who delivered this year’s Finzi-Contini lecture at the invitation of the Whitney Humanities Center.
An audience of close to two hundred tuned in via Zoom on Tuesday, March 16, to hear Diaz’s talk, “The Heart of Fiction,” introduced by Meghan O’Rourke, editor of The Yale Review, which cosponsored the event.
Diaz began with a critique of what he called the “referential fetish”—the notion that a novel could be fact-checked. For the writer, it’s reading itself that takes the place of research. Fiction, he contends, is in pursuit of its own form of truth. Rather than scientifically describing or capturing referential reality, this truth is an attempt to represent the myriad ways in which we perceive the world. At the same time, Diaz posits, fiction is itself an experience, “a marriage of form and feeling” that can conjure “artistic delight,” a sensory and semantic event that can be found only in the text. Fiction is thus “not just a collection of falsehoods” but “a certain kind of narrative that shows us the many ways we experience life …while adding an experience to that life.”
Diaz’s presentation was followed by a brief but captivating Q & A with members of the audience. The event is available for viewing here. An edited version of the text will be published by The Yale Review this summer.
The Finzi-Contini Lectureship was founded by the Honorable Guido Calabresi, Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and the late Dr. Paul Calabresi in memory of their mother, Bianca M. Finzi-Contini Calabresi, a scholar of European literature and a native of Ferrara who left fascist Italy for the United States. The series is devoted to any aspect of comparative literature and culture. Past speakers have included Tzvetan Todorov, Orhan Pamuk, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amitav Ghosh, and Masha Gessen.