Feb. 26th, 2012

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Two Things. Meh.

Via [livejournal.com profile] black_rider: The Right To Be Forgotten: internet privacy law vs. freedom of information

Some painfully stupid reporting about the book "The Lifespan of a Fact" here and here. I was REALLY taken aback by vitriolic whinging regarding the compelling, calculated book. I had to have a long rant to Katy about it. The outrage about the destabilization of objectivity/static truth and the attempts to defend these discourses feel shockingly naive.

Essays are not necessarily journalism, and to treat them as such, especially when they are not explicitly announced and marketed as such, is limiting. Is dangerous. Fact and fictionality are not absolutes, but poles with a lot of space for negotiation in between. The assumption that anything essayistic is Journalism is recent, not necessary or necessarily valuable, and should be troubled. The assumption that Journalism is above factual distortions and tricks is laughable, especially given that D'Agata is preceded by writers like Joan Didion, famous for her unframed inditement, for showing you the truth exactly as she wanted you to know it, expertly, and delivering you to a moral conclusion via her selection and control of facts.

Which reinforces what should be obvious: this is nothing new. Post-modern criticism and gonzo journalism both have critiqued the absolutism and hidden agendas implicit in claims to Pure Truth in writing. When you approach any writing, your critical facility should be engaged, weighing the veracity of what's being said, analyzing source, view-point, methodology and content. It's probably significant that this is Americans freaking out, because that's the country where it hasn't occurred to people that news media outlets, as capitalist institutions with individual business cultures, have inherent institutional biases (and I don't mean that 'left wing bias' bullshit a la Fox). There's no American 'the Guardian is not for Torries' understanding, save for maybe a glint of dawning realization that Fox isn't 'Fair and Balanced'. As someone who's written for papers and news-magazines, even in a slender capacity, I know that there are a million gradations of true, and there's plenty to discuss regarding the role of memory and forgetting in reportage. So do these reporters, and the stench of defensiveness rises from them in thick, awful waves.

The supposedly 'true' write up of the death of a boy that excluded D'Agata's evocation of place and circumstance (socio-politics mixed with, emerging from, quotidian tidbits) is not necessarily the more true reading of these events, despite having fewer factual errors. If poetic delivery helps things resonate for us and helps us think about them, that is not valueless. The distortions are not artistic whore's paint, they are actively carving a path for the reader, through apathy and forgetfulness, to meaning.

You can disagree with D'Agata and say that the formal demands of the truth, like structure in poetry, should be observed as a matter of taste, or that the good faith effort of the writer to give truth is necessary in creating a contract with the reader. You can talk notions of trust. What you can't do is defensively and hysterically go off at the very notion that no worlds--NO WORDS AT ALL, EVER--come from a mythical truth-fountain--that artistry and points of view are always already in our perception of the world, that we live in and through narratives. Indeed, the inclusion of the Fact Checker as writer mandates this discussion.

Further I find it irritating that everyone's taken a book about the permeability of the boundary between the truth and fiction in 'nonfiction' writing at 100% face value, and both conflated the writers with the characters (everyone presented in memoir is a character, can never hope to be the individuals in question, any more than the signifier can BE the signified) and assumed the dialogue and the time-spans are absolutely face-value true.

This is the point where I go from shocked to shaking-pissed.

...really? Really? Did you just /miss/ the entire fucking project of the book? OF COURSE THIS IS PERFORMATIVE, FFS. DID THE ENTIRE NOTION OF THE GREEK PHILOSOPHICAL DIALOGUE AND THAT OF THE HEGELIAN DIALECTIC JUST GO RIGHT OVER YOU IN SCHOOL? DID THEY MAKE A SORT OF 'WHOOSH' SOUND? It never occurred to anyone that these view-points and presentations might have been--gaaaaaaaasp--dramatized?! God, the NYTimes, the NYRB, AND respected bloggers? Fucking sad. God dammit, can no one fucking do lit crit competently? Disgraceful. I am actually shocked and horrified that people are this dumb.

What's most enraging is the Scalzi blog's comments, in which SF people show up to:

a) lick the cock of BS technoscience discourses of pure truth that Derrida is somewhere loling about, as he has been for the past, idk, several decades, and
b) gatekeep standards of factuality and legitimacy which they themselves have every reason to feel suuuuper defensive about/excluded by, like they're 19th century English plebs and Disraeli has just offered them the opportunity to buy into the conservatism that will oppress the living shit out of them, and rather than question the underlying oppressive logistics in play, the genre!plebs are fucking LOVING an opportunity to get in on the ass-bottom of the greasy poll.

Sometimes I hate 'my people'. Kind of a lot.

So yeah: The 'journalistic nonfiction' vision of the essayistic is impoverished compared to D'Agata's project. There's a possibility for real interrogation of that project, but the existing criticisms fail to seriously engage the book and feel like dispatches from sickly world where gonzo journalism/post-modernism/critical theory/intelligent thought never happened.


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