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.