Look! It’s John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. They are talking about The Lifespan of a Fact at McNally Jackson right this minute.
Probably no longer happening right this minute (I’m not going to make a joke about fact-checking), but there they were!
Luckily for you guys Tumblr doesn’t really time-stamp.
John D’Agata is speaking - being interviewed/conversed with - on campus tomorrow night.
Fifty angry nonfiction students will be in the front rows.
“Nonfiction essentially means ‘not art,’ since the word fiction is derived from the Latin fictio, which itself means ‘to form, to shape, to arrange’ — a pretty fundamental activity in art. So by calling something ‘non-fiction’ you are saddling the genre with a label that means it’s incapable of doing what art is fundamentally supposed to do.”
Go ahead, D’Agata. Try that on us.
I was at this event (I am actually in this picture!) and I have to say, as someone who came in being, let’s say, not a big fan of D’Agata’s standpoint, I left mollified. I think it helped that Heidi Julavits is great and Jim Fingal is VERY charming in a nerdy way, but I found that listening to D’Agata speak about this stuff was much more convincing than reading the book, which was so combative that I was unreceptive. I think he and I are still in disagreement about a number of things, but now I’m feeling like “huh, that’s interesting, I hadn’t considered that angle” whereas before I was like “not only are you WRONG but also you’re being such a DICK about it.”
For this reason, it was interesting to hear he and Fingal talk about how the extreme, combative nature of the book was very much an intentional decision, in part because it was more fun for them to work on the book under those conditions, also in part to mimic the general intense pitch of all conversations about truth in writing. And I suppose that combative nature is also a part of why the book’s gotten so much attention. But it also meant I ended up, while reading it, pushing back against D’Agata’s arguments a lot harder than I should have. To see him explain some of this stuff in person (he has a soft voice and talks a lot with his hands and is the very opposite of what I had imagined from the book) calmly and thoughtfully was what it took to actually hear him, which I am glad for, because it’s opened up a few new avenues of thought for me. It makes me wish the book had been more measured as well.
So anyway, I hope you enjoy the event tomorrow as much as I enjoyed the one tonight, or are at least surprised by it in some way.