Saturday, April 14, 2007

"The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth"

A veteran participant in The Internet Writing Workshop recently post a link to an article on Slate about the renowned author David Sedaris.

Jack Shafer wrote in Slate, "When Alex Heard tenderly busted David Sedaris in the New Republic last month for adulterating his nonfiction with many imagined settings, scenes, and dialogue, I expected journalists and others to rebuke the best-selling humorist."

There's a list on the IWW that discusses creative nonfiction, which is Sedaris' genre. We discuss the issue of truth on a regular basis, it seems. One of the active members of the Creative Nonfiction Discussion list, Ruth Douillette, who writes about people for her local newspaper, has even presented her take on the matter here on the IWW Blog.

Personally, I don't believe in absolute factual truth, but I believe in Truth as an ideal, as a spiritual concept. That's a fancy way, I suppose, of saying find it easier to rely on a Rashomon point of view of the world than to charge ahead attempting to sort elements of this place we live into a perfect little slots of right or wrong, black or white, yes or no, true or false.

And I won't even mention quantum theory.

I write creative nonfiction. I use dialog within the essays I write and publish, but the words I place inside quotation marks are not verbatim text from recorded conversations. The words are recollections. And I think that's fair.

But, if my memoir is published, Oprah won't call me on the carpet and carve me into A Million Little Pieces as she did James Frey. I'm relying on memory, not fabrication.

Which Sedaris apparently has on occasion, although he prefers the word exaggeration to fabrication.

If you like creative nonfiction -- and find yourself musing over the seemingly never-ending controversy about truth and fiction the genre inspires -- you'll find some interesting reading in the Slate article, and in the links within the article.


Ruth D~ said...

Interesting thoughts, Gary. I share some of them. Although, I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this: Personally, I don't believe in absolute factual truth, but I believe in Truth as an ideal, as a spiritual concept. That may be fodder for another blog post. I'd like to hear the explanation.

When I read the Slate article I felt it was overly concerned about the issue of Sedaris and truth. If a humor writer must be held to just the facts, readers wouldn't be laughing as much, that's for sure.

Consider comedians and the tales they tell, full of truth, but truth that's exaggerated and pumped up larger that life. That's why we laugh. We recognize the core of truth and laugh at the ridiculousness.

Same with Sedaris. If he injects his tales with hyperbole, and tweaks the details, I'm all for it. There's nothing like a good laugh. Anyone who reads Sedaris expecting verbatim dialogue, and exact rendition of events probably doesn't have a funny bone.

An awareness of genre and what it entails is needed. If you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, don't read humor, I guess.

Dawn said...

Ruth's comment about not reading humor if you want the truth made me wonder what Sedaris writes -- is it a genre labeled humor or is it nonfiction?

Sedaris apparently sells his pieces as nonfiction, as memoir. That's where I have to agree with a comment from the Slate article:

"In one of the most sensible pieces yet published about the Sedaris affair, San Francisco Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon offered that Steve Martin and Woody Allen find a way to be funny while working under the fiction label."

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