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The life span of a fact
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The life span of a fact

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  • 1. The  Life  Span  of  a  Fact   By:  Brett  Henderson       Just  how  fictional  can  a  non-­‐fictional  story  be?    In  the  book,  The  Lifespan  of  a  Fact,  John  D’Agata  and  Jim  Fingal  battle  out  that  exact  question.    I  found  this  book  to  be  a  very  interesting  read;  I  liked  the  way  that  it  included  the  back  and  fourth  banter  between  John  and  Jim.    In  the  book  John  says  “It’s  called  art,  d***head.”  Jim  replies  with  “That’s  your  excuse  for  everything.”    John  rebuttals  with  “It’s  not  an  excuse,  Jim,  it’s  how  I  approach  the  genre”  (The  Life  Span  of  a  Fact,  pg.  92).    This  quote  is  an  example  of  the  knock  down  drag  out  fight  that  the  book  shows  for  its  entirety.    It  also  kind  of  sets  the  tone  of  the  book,  how  fictional  can  a  non-­‐fictional  story  be?    To  really  get  into  the  book  and  break  down  what  I  was  reading,  I  kept  in  mind  two  different  questions.    Whose  argument  is  more  compelling?  What  issues  does  the  book  raise?    Both  are  very  essential  when  processing  the  information  and  making  a  decision  on  who  you  agree  with.         Who’s  argument  is  more  compelling?    I  had  an  internal  battle  with  this  question.    I  see  both  sides,  half  of  me  wanted  to  agree  with  John  because  it  makes  sense  to  write  with  the  imagination.    For  a  writer  to  tell  a  story,  make  the  read  to  believe  that  they  are  living  in  that  story  and  emotionally  connect  with  the  surroundings.    The  other  half  of  me  likes  facts  and  statistics,  so  it  was  almost  frustrating  to  see  the  blatant  misuse  of  true  facts.    I  started  thinking  back  over  the  time  we  spent  in  class  on  credibility.    I  decided  that  I  was  on  Jim’s  side,  and  if  John  was  writing  a  “non-­‐fiction”  essay  it  should  be  factual.    I  came  to  this  conclusion  when  thinking  about  the  issues  of  credibility  we  discussed  in  class.    In  the  article  Principles  For  A  New  Media  Literacy  it  states  “In  the  traditional  news  world,  even  though  we  understood  the  prevalence  of  minor  errors  in  stories,  even  by  reputable  journalists,  we  also  understood  that,  by  and  large,  the  better  media  organizations  get  things  pretty  much  right.    The  small  mistakes  undermine  any  notion  of  absolute  trust,  but  we  accept  the  overall  value  of  the  work”  (Gillmor  D.  2008).    From  my  perspective  of  his  stance  in  this  article,  I  believe  that  he  expects  the  true  facts  most  of  the  time  to  bring  credibility  to  the  writer  or  organization.    He  understands  that  there  will  be  slip-­‐ups  that  are  going  to  happen.    If  the  organization  has  a  reputation  of  being  credible,  mistakes  can  sometimes  be  overlooked.    Jim  felt  uneasy  about  the  whole  situation  from  the  beginning.    In  a  conversation  with  the  editor  Jim  says,  “For  a  piece  that  seems  to  rest  on  the  weight  of  a  lot  of  details,  it  seems  a  little  problematic  for  John  to  be  washing  his  hands  of  their  accuracy,  no?  (The  Life  Span  of  a  Fact,  pg.  16)    I  felt  a  little  cheated  by  John  after  reading  this  book  and  finding  out  that  the  facts  from  the  story  aren’t  entirely  true.    I  had  never  heard  nor  read  the  story  before  reading  this  book,  so  I  can  only  imagine  what  the  readers  of  the  essay  felt  like  after  reading  both  the  article  and  the  book.         What  issues  does  the  book  arise?    I  think  the  main  over  lying  issue  is  the  discussion  between  the  two  authors  about  what  to  categorize  this  essay  as.    Coming  from  Jim’s  point  of  view,  fact  checking,  it  is  a  “non-­‐fiction”  essay.    He  believes  that  it  should  be  factual  and  truthful.    Jim  says,  “John,  but  don’t  you  think  that  the  gravity  of  the  situation  demands  an  accuracy  that  you’re  dismissing  as  incidental?    This  isn’t  just  about  the  name  of  one  slot  machine.    I  mean,  even  if  there  was  no  inherent  
  • 2. meaning  in  these  details,  you’re  giving  them  meaning  by  calling  attention  to  them.”    He  continues  by  saying  “You  are  writing  what  will  probably  become  the  de  facto  story  of  what  happened  to  Levi  and  so  every  detail  you  choose  to  do  that  with  will  become  significant,  because  your  account  will  be  the  one  account  anyone  is  ever  likely  to  read  about  him.    And  that’s  why  to  me  this  is  serious  business,  because  the  record  you’re  creating  now  will  be  regarded  as  the  authoritative  one,  if  only  because  there  is  no  competing  narrative  anyone  else  is  likely  to  read  or  write  about  this  kid”  (The  Life  Span  of  a  Fact,  pg.  107).    John  on  the  other  hand  see’s  his  writing  as  a  story  that  should  use  the  imagination  to  capture  the  reader.    John  states,  “It’s  not  that  I’m  claiming  there’s  no  meaning  in  this  flood  of  information,  Jim,  but  rather  that  the  more  important  thing  to  highlight  here  is  the  search  for  meaning.    An  integral  part  of  my  search  for  that  meaning  is  this  attempt  to  reconstruct  details  in  a  way  that  makes  them  feel  significant,  even  if  that  significance  is  one  that  doesn’t  naturally  occur  in  the  event  being  described.  “    He  also  states  “I  am  seeking  truth  here,  but  not  necessarily  accuracy.    I  think  its  very  misleading  for  us  to  continue  pretending  that  nonfiction  writers  have  a  mystically  different  relationship  with  “The  Truth”  than  any  other  kind  of  writer”  (The  Life  Span  of  a  Fact,  pg.  108).    In  John’s  opinion  he  is  seeking  the  truth,  he  is  find  answers,  and  then  writing  them  in  a  way  that  makes  the  readers  feel  like  they  are  apart  of  the  story.    This  is  where  the  issue  between  them  comes  in  to  play.    They  get  on  a  carousal  back  and  fourth  and  can’t  agree  to  a  clear-­‐cut  solution  to  the  issue.    They  end  the  book  in  a  disagreement  and  go  on  their  separate  ways  continuing  their  different  outlooks  on  what  a  “non-­‐fiction”  story  is.         In  conclusion  I  really  enjoyed  reading  this  book.    The  back  and  fourth  banter  between  the  two,  which  was  a  huge  part  of  the  book,  was  something  I  haven’t  ever  experienced  in  a  book  before.    It  was  interesting  to  see  each  their  point  of  views  and  how  they  stood  their  ground  through  out  the  book.    The  whole  book  circles  back  around  to  the  original  question  I  had.    Just  how  fictional  can  a  non-­‐fiction  story  be?  

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