Wednesday, January 11, 2006

More on James Frey

I came across this comment on another site discussing this whole James Frey, JT Leroy business. I side with the author of the site, but thought that the commenter's comment was worth considering:

"American literature -- considered an oxymoron in the rest of the world -- has gone downhill fast since New York surrendered America's storytelling standards to Hollywood, where illusion -- EVEN IN TRUE STORIES -- is exactly the point. Today, the "perfect" story is determined by its film-worthiness more than its literary quality. In the name of creating Californicated literature, New York editors have blurred the line until even they don't know what's true. "It's a good story," they'll say, "so who cares if it's an utter and ballsy lie?"I care. Capote admitted on the bookjacket that "In Cold Blood" was fictionalized in some part. Coleridge's definition of fiction was "the willing suspension of disbelief." What if it's not willing? That's the difference between making love and rape, albeit without either the exhilaration or violence. If you thought you were reading a true story, you were conned. What if we found out next week that the famous Zapruder film was, in fact, a Hollywood dramatization passed off as a hyper-realistic eyewitness home-movie and you shoulda seen the look on your face and, oh, isn't it funny how we fooled you??This is the literary equivalent of Reality TV. They tell you what you're seeing is real, but it's not real at all. It's simulated reality, edited into convenient 30-minute bytes ... and we eat it up.In America today, we live with too much fiction posing as fact. Blogs, books, politics, TV, videogaming, movies -- and some would say, even the news -- thrive on it. But it's not art to swear you're telling the truth and then fib. That's just common lying. The artful trick is to tell me you're lying and make me believe every word is true."

Well Ron, I agree, it's too bad that people have to call good autobiographical fiction a "memoir" in order to sell. But, don't blame Frey for it. In today's world of cutthroat publishing and look-alike movies (and books), the only way to publish is to serve what's being eaten--and right now, that’s memoirs. The lines between literary genres are endlessly fuzzy and eternally shifting--surely there is nary a memoir out there that doesn't skew a few "truths"--even if it unintentionally so. Does this make them no longer memoirs? Do books need “truth” disclaimers? Does the bible? Does it really matter if they are "true" or not?

I say no to all three.

Accusing memoir authors of giving bad facts is somewhat akin to the accusing John Stewart if being a “soft” journalist. Neither is exactly false, but both are horribly tangential. John Stewart is not a journalist, and David Frey is not out to provide a documented account of their lives for some vastly important legal purpose. Their artists--let them paint.


Abel said...

I disagree. Though the years (and in Frey's case drugs) may dim a memroy, that doesn't mean you should make something up just to sell it. Frey was a talented writer who probably could have sold and written a powerful memior without making scenes up. Now Frey will not be known as a talented writer, but simply a liar.

infinite jester said...

i would blame the people marketing the book, not the authors.

The Silent K said...

I think that surely Frey is a product on an environment that desires things sensationalized. As an author who wanted to sell, he felt he had to exaggarate to make things more shocking for readers. What's sad is taht he didn't think his own truthful story was powerful enough.