"Every once in a while you get the truth from a movie."
—Warren Beatty, 2012 Academy Awards
The Lifespan of a Fact, the new book by essayist John D’Agata and his fact-checker Jim Fingal, has caused a lot of ruckus. The book lays out an essay by D’Agata accompanied by the annotations of Fingal and their correspondence over seven years of working on the project. Fingal is intensely scrupulous when it comes to accuracy and facts, while D’Agata bristles under the procedures of nonfiction—he’s trying to accomplish something else. There's a lot at stake concerning fidelity to the facts,journalistic integrity, the expectations we have toward different forms of art...basically, the nature of truth itself.
Black Balloon’s forthcoming book, Louise: Amended, is a memoir that includes fictional interludes. In these interludes, author Louise Krug assumes the third-person POV and imagines the thoughts and emotions of her family members. This technique bucks the expected boundaries of the memoir form, but by including these other perspectives, Krug has arguably expanded the depth and scope of the memoir’s experience to include a truth larger than the narrator’s alone.
I think the debate concerning nonfiction’s relationship to truth could benefit greatly from the inclusion of texts written about truth and photography. Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, John Berger and countless others (most recently, Errol Morris) have written about the nature of photography: its relationship to reality and time, the intricacies of what exists just beyond the frame, etc. If great artists and thinkers are still grappling with photography’s depiction of reality, isn’t it fair to assume that investigation into the nature of nonfiction’s depiction of reality is worthwhile?
One of the reasons I believe art to be so profoundly necessary is because it functions as a context in which the truth is possible. Or at least provides a context in which the truth is painstakingly sought after, if not quite achieved.
Truth is not always acquired by means of unveiling what already exists in the world. Sometimes, truth is achieved by sheer creation, brought about by something entirely new. I believe both truths—unveiled and created—to be absolutely necessary, and I would strongly oppose any restrictions or impediments to the exercise of either. If D’Agata is playing with a new context (or simply a context that has gone out of style) in which truth might be created, we might just want to pay attention.