Daily Archives: February 18, 2009

David Foster Wallace on nonfiction

The late novelist and journalist was interviewed by Becky Bradway for Creating Nonfiction: A Guide and Anthology by Bradway and Doug Hesse:

“The 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. If a piece of fiction is markedly implausible or ‘untrue’ in some way, the reader feels a certain bored distaste, or maybe disappointment. If a piece of nonfiction, though, turns out to be ‘untrue,’ the reader feels pissed, betrayed, lied to in some personal way.”

“[W]e all know . . . any embellishment is dangerous, that a writer’s justifying embellishment via claiming that it actually enhances the overall ‘truth’ is exceedingly dangerous, since the claim is structurally identical to all Ends Justify the Means rationalizations. Some part of nonfiction’s special contract with the reader specifically concerns means, not just ends, and also concerns the writer’s motives . . . and maybe the ultimate honesty that good nonfiction entails, and promises, is the writer’s honesty with herself.”

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