Truth or Truthiness, Part III

I give up. The snake has swallowed its tail. I don't know where truth ends and lies begin.

NPR covered The Lifespan of a Fact today. The book is about an essay that was assigned to a fact-checker - and written by both the writer and the fact-checker, and I've posted about it before.

Harpers excerpted some of their exchanges.

But NPR reveals "the correspondence between D'Agata and Fingal, as it turns out, was largely invented for the sake of the book.".

:::head spins:::

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The next step is obviously a "pregnancy project" type book where they reveal how they developed their idea, how people responded, etc. ...

Then they can write a book on the subject, "How to get two books (now three!) out of one idea."

The thing that was most interesting about the excerpts I saw was the author's condescending tone and the fact-checker's even answers. But it all changes if you know it was made up.

Now I don't even want to read their one book.
My first comment was kind of flip, but here's something a little more thoughtful, based on the NPR piece:

"But D'Agata says getting a strong reaction is the point. 'That, I firmly believe, is the job of art. And we can't have those experiences that break us open to something new if we are cued ahead of time.'"

I guess I would argue about whether getting a strong reaction is the point. You can get a strong reaction by punching someone in the face, too, but what point does that make?

I actually think creative nonfiction has always "adjusted" facts for the sake of a readable story. Sometimes authors openly state that names and identifying details have been changed, the details of some incidents have been changed, some people have been turned into composite characters, etc. I went to a memoir-writing session in which the teacher, who had published a memoir, talked about how one scene in her book was significantly altered to have more artistic resonance (I don't remember the details--she changed it from her brother's action to hers, and moved the incident in time, something like that).

What's most interesting to me is that while this has been longstanding tradition with nonfiction writers, their audience seems to have been expecting all along that nonfiction is 100% factual. And I think the difference in those sets of assumptions is the source of the controversy (which culminated most dramatically in the Frey case).

D'Agata and many others want to argue that it's about the elegance of storytelling and the subjectivity of truth and the difference between creative writing and reportage, but to me all of that is beside the point. It's like telling someone who ordered steak that the tofu you gave him is actually better than steak, and he has no right to expect steak because tofu is more artistic. Maybe the tofu is better for you, and maybe it tastes great, but then why not list it on the menu as tofu?
"Clued in ahead of time" is another way of saying "bait and switch"

Maybe this is why I read far more fiction than non - because I like a story that doesn't have a lot of digressions, or things that don't make sense, or unresolved issues.