Monday, November 8, 2010

A Snippet from the Non Fiction NOW Conference: Truth, that Old Chestnut Again

I just came back from the Iowa NonFiction NOW conference—a rather exhilarating experience—and found a post on the lovely blog "Sixth in Line" with a UTube video by Dinty Moore that rehashes that old contentious chestnut, truth or non-truth in non-fiction, in a hilarious mannerThat chestnut was of course one of the dominant themes at the conference, so my immediate instinct was to post this reply on Elisabeth's blog. I will post conference notes and reflections on this blog in due course.

[at the conference] Dinty Moore was "debating" David Shields exactly on these points. In my mind, they were both right and wrong. 
Writing may be a contract with the reader, but it's not a legal document where you swear you'll tell the truth, and nothing but. 
Conversely, I cannot abide Shields' dislike of anything that has a personal narrative that's not disjointed and fragmentary. 
I read many memoirs that are structured like linear narratives and still wonderful; I read others that are more lyrical, more experimental, more fragmented, and still wonderful.
The writer's contract is with his/her own conscience: it is the obligation to turn out a book that, as Kafka said (and Shields himself seems to like that quote) strives to be the "axe for the frozen sea within us"
Anything else is just idle intellectual discussion.


  1. Loved reading this. Of course: linear or fragmented, that is NOT the key. The key is something else, for me quite mysterious. And it comes through in oh so many forms.

    And is it ok if I use this quote (Kafka's) on my blog one day?

  2. Thanks, Clara!
    "Mysterious" is one word I love, but so often the mystery in writing is spoiled by editors and readers who want to "know more"... I think the impulse to explain everything, always, must be resisted. The Cherokee artist Jimmy Durham often uses Cherokee text in his collages, installations, and when questioned about it, he said that the use of a language obscure to most was another level of meaning for him—he didn't want the audience to know everything about the piece.
    As for the quote, you should ask Kafka that! I use it, David Shields uses it, and so do probably many others, so go ahead!