Monday, December 10, 2007

Truths, Promises

In the spirit of submitting my second crack at 17 pages of blah--academic paper, we're calling it--I've reproduced below a snippet of what adviser Larry Ypil will be receiving and butchering over the next couple of days.

This is also in the spirit of getting life back on track with things worthy of my attention after my run-in with professional differences (or is it incompetence and irrationality?) last week. Two more days and I'm gone. Bitter? Absolutely.

I digress. I apologize.

Back to the stuff that matters. It's called creative nonfiction, people.

"James Frey’s autobiographical memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was met with rousing approval when it was released a few years ago; an endorsement from popular talk show host and cultural icon Oprah Winfrey only helped catapult Frey and his book. Readers and reviewers raved about Frey’s riveting story, written in the most understated, even wry or deadpan style of prose, which ironically accentuated the gripping horrors of an alcoholic crack addict trying to get his life back in order. It was later revealed that Frey had invented or embellished much of the accounts in the book, and since it was packaged as nonfiction, the literary world, Oprah, and many other readers denounced the work.

"With nonfiction comes the promise of telling the truth. And as evident by the backlash felt by Frey, it is a promise readers are unforgiving about. In fact, it was also revealed that A Million Little Pieces was rejected by publishers in the past when it was being shopped around as fiction; only when it was premised to be nonfiction was it ever accepted. The book did not change, the promises behind it did, and the judgment of publishers and eventually readers clung on to those promises—it playing a large role in their assessing the book’s merits.

"The interesting dilemma is that the promise of truth is not always verifiable. And even if some facts can be proven to be true, one’s rendering of it in words from a particular perspective cannot be controlled or reprimanded, embellishments all but a given in most if not every piece of nonfiction ever written. The attachment to the promise of truth, essentially the readers’ personal attachment to the subject matter, can often exempt the nonfictionist from blandness of his form. There is something problematic here from the writer’s standpoint. Perhaps on the level of craftsmanship, the promise of truth is an unfair element clouding one’s judgment of nonfiction. Feeling violated—or lied to—once admirers of A Million Little Pieces turned their backs on it. Never mind the creative rendering of the story regardless of its factuality. James was a lie, and so were the emotions invested in him for the readers. But it appears the only tension here is based on the simple fact that we do not like to be stooped, for we all emotionally invest in fictional characters as well.

"So is it all a matter of context? In some cases, it may very well be. Unfortunately, the “youngest” form of creative nonfiction just does not get the benefit of the doubt.

"In a bit of irony, the cover of my edition of Frey’s quasi-memoir features a comment from The Boston Globe, calling the book “The most lacerating tale of drug addiction since William S. Burroughs’s Junky.Junky is considered a work of fiction, though it is widely known that much of its content is autobiographical.

"A well-written story is a well-written story. Or at least such should be the case. It is not. The promise of truth is binding—whatever it is that truth is. There is an interesting tension here. And it is one a good creative nonfictionist would gladly grapple with in his work. This is the kind of courage within creative nonfiction that should be celebrated."

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Rumor has it, thesis class teacher Rica Bolipata-Santos won the Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award for Love, Desire, Children, Etc.

All together now, seniors: Libre! Libre! Libre!


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