January 29, 2006

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Retracing Toucqueville
It’s a bit arrogant. It’s a bit risky. Two characteristics frequently found in the French writer/philosopher/critic Bernard-Henri Levy. In what a New York Times review calls “spatter-paint prose,” Levy traveled around America at the request of Atlantic Monthly. He wrote American Vertigo: Travel America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville. In Slate, Alan Wolfe writes a memo to Franklin Foer about Levy’s book—not once but twice.

The Frey Affair Continues
Yesterday Oprah expressed shock and dismal that James Frey lied in his memoir titled A Million Little Pieces. Finding her outrage genuine even in light of her defense of him, Frey claimed that rather than being introspective, he became trapped in some type of strong-guy image that blurred the truth. Scorned by the pretense of truth (oh my God as if the press was just reporting on the subject), Oprah tossed the strong-guy from her book club. Financially, a punishment. Literarily, a nothing. Then Jerry Stahl in LAWeekly trips along in his hyperpowered adjectival prose and defends lying as innovation: “Sure, James Frey could have stuck to the facts. It would have been easy. But an innovator doesn’t take the easy way. He innovates…we are a people grown fat on fabrication. The truth is just another artifical flavor, with JT and James just the latest in a long line of celebrity chefs.” Reading the essay, I wondered and wondered and wondered with each passing kinetic sentence if Stahl was mocking Frey or supporting him.

Frey and JT’s failings matter little in the grand scene. But to dis truth and veracity, as Stahl does—without any evident sarcasm? Borders on the mindless, trivializing the directions and strides writers—luminaries and dullards alike—have taken during the past century. Stahl then stumbles on his own shifting standards of logic and rhetoric. To support his points he feels so compelled to make, he incorporates vignettes from his sober life. Do I believe him? Why should I? He has already said that lying is a virtue if it elevates art—as if anything could elevate art. And if I don’t, his statement loses its rhetorical credibility and the logic of his presentation crumbles on the non-truth. Veracity is not a matter of virtue or morality in writing. Veracity is a matter of credibility with the reader—which is based on expectations of the reader. It’s damn simple logic.

Crap—if the memoirist can make up stuff for the pursuit of his insightful innovative approach to the narrative arch (BS), then why can’t the biographer or literary critic plagiarize, as noted by Scott McLemee in “Stolen Words” for insidehighered.com: “When you learn than most of Coleridge’s prose writings were also copied from other writers…then it seems that something very odd is going on. And the more you love his poetry, the harder it is to know what to think of his kleptomania. Shoud you be indignant? Or just perplexed?” Heck, why the hell did I bother with the twirling quotation marks? Why give credit to McLemee or the Web site? There’s a damn practical answer. With the lose of credit and possible fame, individuals would share the work less freely.

Like most moral objectives, veracity rests on more than simple right and wrong. Its righteousness stems from the benefits it provides the community in its entirety.

Grammar Freak in Denial
“The worst word. The worst noise. The screech of Flo-Jo’s fingernails down the biggest blackboard in the world…the cry of a baby when you’re hungover, is ‘beverage’,” writes Jeremy Clarkson about the universal word of the travel and hotel industries in The [London] Times.

B&N Starts New Reading Groups
Bookstore giant Barnes and Noble is starting a new series of reading groups, some lead by the books authors. For details go to this site.

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2 Responses to “”

  1. A.R.Yngve Says:

    This affair reminds me of something Thomas M. Disch wrote in his book THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF (1998):

    “What distinguishes American liars from those of earlier times and other nations is that the American liar does not feel himself to be disgraced by his lies, even when he is caught in them. Indeed, the bolder the lie and the more brazenly imposed on the public, the more admiration the liar is accorded.”

    There are worse liars than James Frey — and many of them are not even writers. And as long there are people willing to accept the lies they want to hear, the liars are going to thrive.

  2. vicctoriorus76 Says:

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