In a bizarre merger of the background materials of my last two posts, Jill Walker today directs our attention to William Gibson‘s thoughts on writing, “truth,” and accountability.

When did we all become such literalists that we would suggest that someone who hasn’t actually experienced the effects of amphetamines isn’t qualified to write about them? Even in something that calls itself fiction?

Has the recent efflorescence of the memoir — so pervasive I’m not even going to bother linking to anything, because how would I narrow the field — had a hand in this demand for “truth” in writing? If so, I wonder: is the blog as a genre partially responsible for or a mere reflection of this apparent cultural predilection for the literal?


  1. I think you’re right, of course, Jill — almost as soon as this post went up, I thought “well, of course they’re just a reflection of more ingrained cultural processes, etc.,” and figured there’d be no discussion because of the obviousness of the answer.

    And yet: I wonder if the reading public (insofar as there is such a thing, and insofar as it can be characterized as being singular), attuned to the autobiographical in both memoir- and blog-form, has been encouraged in its conviction that all writers are ultimately writing about themselves (and thus that writers who “make things up” are somehow dishonest)?

  2. I wonder if some people who call for complete honesty are reacting to obvious hoaxes like the Kaycee Nicole story (where a mother and daughter pretended to be a teenager dying of leukemia, I think). Even though computers are very much material objects, there’s something rather “intangible” about blogs that seems distinct from books, magazines, or other texts. Not sure where I’m going here, but I think it’s to say that blogs still defy many readers’ interpretive faculties, which might lead to desires for mimesis.

    Now that I think about it, documentary filmmakers face many similar problems, especially people like Michael Moore, who make “argumentative documentaries.” Moore is constantly criticized for his decision to play certain scenes against each other (especially for playing fast and loose with the chronology of events).

  3. Good points, Chuck (and good post over at chutry). I think you’re right about the origins of this demand for accountability in such famous hoaxes, and I also agree that there’s a connection to rampant anxieties about the status of truth in journalism and documentary film. Like you, though, I remain curious about the bleed of this call for honesty or authenticity into fiction writing — I remember, when I was an undergrad, certain novelists being scoffed at for writing “mere autobiography.” If we’ve moved into an age in which “write what you know” has become not just suggestion but dictum, what space remains for the imaginative?

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