Saturday, January 14, 2006

James Frey and JT LeRoy

Meghan O'Rourke describes the mindset behind the lying writers and the readers who love them. Considering that she has previously argued that fiction can be appropriate in literary journalism, her current take on James Frey scandal further argues on the same line. But this time the genre she is discussing is neither fiction nor literary journalism. She writes:


Ours, it seems, is a cultural landscape in which emotional "honesty" is alchemized into an artistic truth, and every reader gets to decide for himself whether the inherent artifice of the story matters to him—all while writers themselves cynically (and correctly) presume that most readers have no investment in what a purist might call "artistic merit" in the first place. We want to be surprised by the revelation of these fabrications, because if we were truly surprised, it'd mean that we care about truth in the first place.


Comparing James Frey and JT LeRoy scandals, she thinks that these writers did this simply to get attention. When people didn't notice the stories they created they presented these stories as truth.


Frey's manuscript entered the market as a document whose fate rode more on its packaging than on the artistic merits of its prose, perception, or plot. He peddled Pieces to publishers as a novel, and, when that didn't work, he was content to sell it as memoir in the hopes of capitalizing on the allure of confessional revelation. He fancies himself a Writer—and has publicly dissed Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer—yet his fabrications seem dictated less by aesthetics (à la Truman Capote) than by a desire to tug ever more brutally on our heartstrings. And like any author, he knew that as soon as you go on Oprah, you're not promoting your book simply on its artistic merits, but on its claims to be an inspirational artifact.


Related:
A Million Little Pieces Still Recommended
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

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