Two Ways of Looking at Falseness: The End

Maybe this is all why I like taxidermy so much. No one would ever mistake a mounted animal for a live one, no matter how intently the taxidermist tucks his eyelids and paints his nostrils. No matter how lifelike the pose. I mean, which—to borrow a phrase—is the authentic animal?


Or this?

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Two Ways of Looking at Falseness: Part 2

I’ve been a fan of pro wrestling for a long time. Not the inspiredly named NES game pictured at right (about which I can only recall that The Amazon, part-snake, part-man, was unstoppable—at least when wielded by my friend Darrell), but the spectacle that’s now marketed as Sports Entertainment. I shouldn’t be a fan of sports entertainment. I’m so rarely entertained by sports. Fortunately, professional wrestling is to sports what the Jonas Brothers are to rock stars.
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Two Ways of Looking at Falseness: A Series of Blog Posts in Defense of a Position

There are more than two ways to look at falseness.

One of my favorite documentary films is The Cruise made in 1998 by Bennett Miller, who went on in 2005 to make Capote.

The Cruise is made perpetually watchable by its perpetually listenable subject: Timothy ‘Speed’ Levitch, who guides Grey Line Bus Tours of Manhattan with a rapidity and a nuance for detail that has to be heard (and seen, of course) to be believed.
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S. Ambrose = Plagiarist/Fraud. Who Cares?

In a “Talk of the Town” piece from this week’s New Yorker, Richard Rayner writes that beloved historian Stephen Ambrose essentially lied about the access he was given to President Eisenhower:

Is it possible that Ambrose met with Eisenhower outside office hours? [Son] John Eisenhower [said] that such meetings never happened: “Oh, God, no. Never. Never. Never.” John Eisenhower, who is now eighty-seven, liked Ambrose, and he recalled, too, Ambrose’s fondness for embellishment and his tendency to sacrifice fact to narrative panache.

Ambrose’s lifelong story, Rayner writes, was that his life was changed by the thousands of hours he spent with the president, and it seems that story was a myth. One told by a storyteller. I’m not surprised, nor am I worried about whatever troubles with authenticity I might uncover were I to read his two-volume biography of Eisenhower that Rayner says “is still regarded as the standard.” Here’s Ambrose in his own words, talking to the Times when plagiarism scandals came to light:

“I tell stories,” Mr. Ambrose said. “I don’t discuss my documents. I discuss the story. It almost gets to the point where, how much is the reader going to take? I am not writing a Ph.D. dissertation.”

Maybe it’s just that these days what readers want are dissertations and not stories.

Reality Confusion

Two things:

A couple weeks ago the Times Book Review complained that a book of nonfiction conflated two dates into one. This week, it reviews David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and has this to say, paraphrasing Shields:

After all, just because the novel is food for worms doesn’t mean that fiction has ceased. Only an artificial dualism would treat every non-novel as if it were reportage or court testimony, and only a fear of the slipperiness of life could perpetuate the cult of the back story.

So which is it, NYTBR? Is nonfiction’s liberation from fact an inevitability from the decline of the novel, or does it damage a writer’s moral authority, as Charles Bock argued in your pages two weeks ago? Maybe it’s a bad idea to demand critical consistency from a reviewing organ, but what’s such an organ’s editor’s job, exactly?

Below is a photograph I took of my friend Steven last night. More insectile than cervine. I’ll need to work on the scale in possible future pics.

Some Questions Asked to/about a Book I Need to Read Soon

John D’Agata writes books in and about nonfiction that get me very interested in and excited for the genre. After the first generation of “New Journalists” who just decided to get out and write great, engaging, personal, subjective nonfiction without dickering over the name of this genre, and then after their 2nd-gen acolytes who made their careers precisely through such careful dickering and promulgation, here’s our 3rd-gen go-to guy, whose nonfiction work seems so smartly disinterested in what (other than its author’s own assertion) makes it nonfiction. And yet his work is so journalistic. By blending and maybe even disregarding genre, D’Agata’s found a way to move the genre forward.

His new book seeks connections between two public events in Nevada: the U.S. Senate’s debate on whether to use Yucca Mountain as the dumping ground for our nation’s nuclear waste, and a 16-year-old’s suicide accomplished by jumping from the observation tower of a Vegas hotel. There is, of course, no connection between these events. The boy’s suicide was not a call against nuclear energy. And yet this is the job of the writer: to look around and make some sense by piecing elements together.
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