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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

The Lifespan of a Fact (truth, fact-checking, and art)

Online you can follow a virtual debate about truth vs. facts: In the Details: "The Lifespan of a Fact" by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. Jennifer B. McDonald's review, in the NY Times Book Review (2-26-12), starts: "This book review would be so much easier to write were we to play by John D’Agata’s rules. So let’s try it. (1) This is not a book review; it’s an essay. (2) I’m not a critic; I’m an artist. (3) Nothing I say can be used against me..."

In the book The Lifespan of a Fact , John D'Agata, an essayist, claims he can play with the facts in the name of art (the essay). If nothing else, this book has inspired unorthodox reviews -- among them, Facts Are Stupid. An essayist and his fact-checker go to battle over the line between true and false (Dan Kois, Slate, 2-15-12). Slate followed up with Facts Are Stupid: The Fact-Check (listing 32 falsehoods in the review, a la D'Agata).

D'Agata's earlier book, About a Mountain, is about Yucca Mountain, north of Las Vegas, in which the U.S. government wanted to bury the waste from the country's spent nuclear fuel. He blends his reporting and storytelling about Yucca Mountain with other stories about what happened in the summer of 2002, when he helped move his mother to a Las Vegas suburb.

Charles Bock in American Wasteland (NY Times Book Review 2-26-2010), wrote that "the result is an engrossing story and an often impressive piece of reporting." Bock wrote that he would read anything D'Agata wrote, he's such a good writer, but... "Unfortunately, there’s a problem.
"At the heart of a crucial section, D’Agata writes, 'There is no explanation for the confluence that night of the Senate vote on Yucca Mountain and the death of a boy who jumped from the tower of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino.' But the accompanying endnote reads: 'I should clarify here that I am conflating the date of the Yucca debate and the suicide that occurred at the Stratosphere Hotel. In reality, these two events were separated by three days.'"

It's not the first time factual truths were changed in the name of art and good storytelling.
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