Ander Monson on Truth and Suspension

March 21, 2012 § 4 Comments

Ander Monson, essayist, diagrammatic virtuoso, bearded-one, weighs in on the fact-shifting debate with his customary fresh take and refusal to settle on a binary (true/not true) approach.  Well worth the read both for Monson’s views on D’Agata”s choices and possible motives, but also for Monson’s overall discussion of the essay form. Here’s an excerpt, followed by the link:

In an interview, David Foster Wallace makes the argument that “[t]he reader’s pre-suspension of disbelief gives nonfiction a particular kind of power, but it also seems to encumber the nonfiction with a kind of moral obligation fiction doesn’t have.” To me that’s part of the trouble: it seems to me that as readers we do, contra DFW, still get/have to choose to suspend our disbelief in nonfiction — these days at least; or any days, really. Art requires that suspension. That’s the thrill of it. In fact, that’s what we desire most deeply as readers, offering ourselves up, our brains up, as willing vessels for the (simulated) mind (in the case of the essay — which is the closest we can currently get to a simulated brain) of the writer, because we want to be possessed. We need it. Not completely, of course, particularly in texts that aspire to art — we want to do some work as readers, too. We’re not dumb. We tell ourselves we’re not dumb.

But that’s what makes us angry when we hear about confabulation in works of apparent nonfiction, even as the deep satisfaction we may take in the artifice of the book (until it is exposed) moves us greatly. It’s as if we are angry in proportion to how deeply we allowed ourselves to be possessed by a book or an essay. We are angry at ourselves, and we project this onto the author.

Maybe instead of ceding to the anger, let’s try not to be so utterly credulous and admit that there’s some space between these two positions — true believer and total skeptic — that we’ve been offered.

Monson’s Full Essay Can Be Read Here

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§ 4 Responses to Ander Monson on Truth and Suspension

  • Doug Bruns says:

    Thank you for this posting. It is meaty stuff and will require a bit of digestion. I am particularly interested in this business of “the suspension of disbelief,” in the phrase, “in texts that aspire to art.” There are obviously texts which do not–aspire to art–like journalism. But those that do reflect such aspirations, they are different beasts indeed and by being so, by being art-aspiring, the reader’s experience is altered–there is the magic. This requires some noodling. Thanks again.

  • Lyn Fenwick says:

    I agree with Doug. This is interesting, seeming to bridge the right vs wrong discussion. I remain troubled by my current broader social concerns summarized by the question, Whom can we trust? If I choose non-fiction with the desire for “the suspension of disbelief,” then I will be more offended when I discover the disregard for fact by the author. If I choose an essay to be entertained or inspired or intellectually stimulated, and the essay serves my purpose, I may not care so much if facts were tweaked. Since it is my nature to resent being fooled or misled, I put the emphasis on the “non” in non-fiction. However, I enjoyed Monson’s full essay and this posting.

  • a. m. f. says:

    I shall not pretend that I absorbed all of Monson’s thoughts, however, what did resonate was his conclusion about D’Agata’s defense for his approach. Is D’Agata writing in the name of Art for the reader’s enjoyment (amazement); or is it for his own amazement (enjoyment) of just how artfully he can craft an essay. Does a writer’s bravado kill or create a potential masterpiece; is that what we, the readers, are really left to navigate with a ‘suspension of disbelief’ ~

  • Nice writing. I like it very much.

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