Jan Morris on truth, imagination and Trieste

Jan Morris, in a piece drawn from the archives to mark 40 years of Granta magazine, reflects on virtual reality:

It has been a dogma of my life that truth and imagination are not simply interchangeable but are often one and the same. Something imagined is as real, to my mind, as something one can touch or eat. A fanciful fear is as alarming as a genuine one, a love conceived as glorious as a love achieved. A virtual reality may only be in one’s own mind, imperceptible to anyone else, but why is it any the less true for that? Music exists before its composer writes it down.

It is easy for writers, even writers of non-fiction, to think like this. Every sentence we create we have created from nothing, and made real, and every situation has been touched up in our memory. For years I remembered clearly how the roofs of Sydney Opera House hung like sails over the harbour when I first visited the city, until it was drawn to my attention that the Opera House hadn’t been built then. Every place I ever wrote about became more and more my own interpretation of it, more and more an aspect of myself, until in the end I determined that I was the city of Trieste, and Trieste was me, and decided it was time for me to give up.

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