To tell the truth, the writer must lie

The dialogue a writer establishes with the reader is one of artifice and deceit. To tell the truth, the writer must lie in a number of clever and convincing ways; the instrument for doing this is language — the unreliable, manipulated and manipulative, officially sacrosanct in that it purports to say what the dictionary says it says, but in practice subjective and circumstantial. The narrative voice is always a fiction behind which the reader assumes (or is asked to assume) a truth. The author, the leading character, appears to the reader out of nowhere, almost but not quite a creature of flesh and blood, made present by his own words, like the Beckettian voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush, saying, “I am what I am.” This is the absolute, godlike, self-defining, circular identity that every writer grants himself in the first person singular. An identity to which the readers are asked to respond: “ If we, often across miles and centuries, can hear the voice saying ‘I’ on the page, then ‘I” must exist and ‘We’ must be forced to believe in it.”

To say “I” is to place before the reader seemingly irrefutable proof of a speaker whose words can tell the truth or lie, but whose presence vouched for by his voice, must not be doubted. To say “I” is to draw a circle in which writer and reader share a common existence within the margins of the page, where reality and unreality rub off each other, where words and what the words name contaminate each other . . .

Alberto Manguel: A Reader on Reading, p132

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