The Lifespan of A Fact

The Lifespan of A Fact

Book - 2012
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How negotiable is a fact in nonfiction? In 2003, an essay by John D'Agata was rejected by the magazine that commissioned it due to factual inaccuracies. That essay--which eventually became the foundation of D'Agata's critically acclaimed About a Mountain--was accepted by another magazine, but not before they handed it to their own fact-checker, Jim Fingal. What resulted from that assignment was seven years of arguments, negotiations, and revisions as D'Agata and Fingal struggled to navigate the boundaries of literary nonfiction. What emerges is a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between "truth" and "accuracy" and a penetrating conversation about whether it is appropriate for a writer to substitute one for the other"--P. [4] of cover.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : W.W. Norton, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780393340730
Branch Call Number: 808.02 D'AGATA
Characteristics: 123 p. ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Fingal, Jim


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Jul 29, 2012

John D'Agata came to my Non-Fiction class in 2002, with this very essay, and we argued this very argument, more or less. (Or maybe I should say was in 1998? Which one sounds prettier? A comment is a kind of essay, right? I can say whatever I want?) Then I saw it published at long last in Believer magazine, a year or two ago. And now this, this strange quasi-performance piece. He's been publishing this essay for 10 years. Surely, we don't have to hold artist's feet the fire all the time, but I think poetic license requires at least some cognitive dissonance, fact wrestling with soul, whereas D'Agata has no quibble. Mostly the facts he fudges can be given a wide berth, but he still goes out of bounds, even when they aren't plausibly an obstacle to good story-telling, "emotional truth", or whatever, just to be provocative, I guess. Good, he provokes an argument. In my eyes, though, this is not an issue of shades of grey. Few would seriously argue against that reality doesn't deserve some flexibility, perhaps a great deal, but I'm not one to believe that all is relative. If there's one thing this book shows me, it's that there's not a sliding scale between fact and fiction. It's something quite different.

Jun 18, 2012

I've never read a book quite like this before. Really gets you thinking about what is the truth, what constitutes a fact and how much "poetic license" is acceptable when writing non-fiction. A great choice, too, for know-it-alls and the people who love them!


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