In 2012 author John D’Agata and ‘fact-checker’ Jim Fingal released the highly fictitious and controversial Lifespan of a Fact, a short article about Levi Presley’s suicide in Las Vegas. The article was written in a reporting manner, something similar to a feature writing piece. Lifespan of a Fact however, by the standards of the authors, is classified as CNF, creative nonfiction. Or at least under the guise of said genre. What is more surprising and more insulting is the audacious, mind you not even in a cool way, game of arguments played out by D’Agata and Fingal that is supposedly aimed at highlighting the fragility of the truth and the circulation of it. What it truly does is something entirely different.
Before we get into the logistics of why, allow me to state this: I classify it as a sophistic, pseudo-intellectual, highly chaotic, childish and illogical façade that has sullied the ideals of truth by desecrating the art of creative non-fiction.
I classify it as complete bullshit. And I will prove that. So in my disgruntled late-night manic efforts of producing coherent arguments and sensible critiques, I wish for any who read this to keep in mind these two ideas as much as possible throughout reading this response:
- Integrity: the quality of being honest; moral uprightness. Not to be confused with total uptightness of one’s ass, to have integrity is to also be fair. Fair. No matter how difficult it may be to compromise.
- Creativity: the use of originality and/or one’s imagination to produce artistic work. Not to be confused with any form of masturbatory rationale spewing from your hubris-inducing intelligence. Do keep in mind that what some find to be ‘fantastic’, others may find it to be fucking stupid.
I urge you to keep these two as your shield and sword as we embark on a journey of dissecting Lifespan of a Fact. I wish to have these two strands, integrity and creativity, as the double helix which, if not already present, should be in the artistic make-up of every sensible writer’s DNA. What makes a sensible writer? The ancient idea that makes any argumentative creature sensible: the ability to justify your means by your ends and vice versa.
Having explained the arsenal I wish to utilize in my battle with D’Agata and Fingal’s lack of ethical writing, now I will explain how I wish to engage such a battle: I want to play a game.
A game superficially similar to that of the author and his minion. Dear reader, you decide which is who, unless you disagree with my entire response which, in that case, don’t go fuck yourself and bear with me as I hope you graciously offer your attention. A game superficially similar but essentially different because my means will justify my ends and my ends my means, simply because my integrity and creativity will prove to be intact once you see that they match one another truthfully. A game where the result is to hopefully teach misters D’Agata and Fingal that truth must remain a CNF writer’s priority and obligation regardless of the natural fluidity permitted in such genre.
Levi Presley, lest we descend unto complete barbarism by forgetting this forsaken soul, must be a fundamental variable in this equation of ethical truth telling. Forsaken doubly as, I sincerely believe, suicide victims are abandoned by society at one point or another, then forsaken twofold later in the case of minimalizing Presley’s spirit and marginalizing suicide victims for the sake of spectacle and sensationalism. As the writers D’Agata and Fingal set sail on an impractical voyage that misrepresents the truth by masquerading as know-it-alls, the expenses of said voyage are abysmal causing their Bullshit to head bow first into the cliffs of untruth. Bullshit is the name of their analogous ship, in case you got confused. With deceitful ‘truthiness’, Presley and the truth in general are more than collateral damage; they are the unintended audience of the writers folly which, by the caliber of ethical recklessness achieved, is utterly inexcusable.
Verily, to praise falsehood is to oppress the truth. To claim falsehood as truth, now that’s a crime against all CNF writers if not all of humanity.
This game, for the sake of creative non-fiction, will be in letter format:
To John D’Agata and Jim Fingal,
I must admit that there is one admirable attribute to your article/book. You guys took the concept of factual representation and misconstrued it to the masses in order to highlight another concept. That concept, the idea of a fact’s fragility when reported incorrectly, is truly admirable. However, your method does not match your madness; donning the cape of artistic expression does not excuse you from your anarchistic efforts. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, is it not? Capes catch on fire and yours, being so fallacious, has caught the flames of another creative nonfiction writer.
Bet you’re glad I didn’t say “caught the flames of hellfire”, right? Don’t worry, I only judge, never condemn.
In any case, I write you two for two purposes. The first is to protect the sanctity of the truth and the second is to preserve the memory of Presley. Both in a light that you two can and will hopefully understand. I would also like to engage in a game of wits but that would be unfair. Just as you, Johnny boy, enjoy the ring to the sound of the number 9 or 3, I also enjoy that of the number 2. A game of wits between us 3 couldn’t possibly be a game of 2, nor would the collective wits surpass the amount of 1.5. I also like decimals and halves.
It wouldn’t collectively be 2 since I would bring to the table 1 full wit while you and Jimbo bring the half. Each of you holding a quarter. So it wouldn’t even be mathematically appropriate to call either of you a halfwit. Quarterwits.
One point five…has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
But I’m not just writing you for the sake of throwing linguistic jabs or jerking off to pleasant numerical phonetics. How negotiable is a fact in nonfiction? When the nonfiction mimics that of journalistic reporting, the answer is simple: It’s nonnegotiable. When the nonfiction disregards its ethical stakeholders, a suicide victim, the answer is the same: It’s nonnegotiable.
The continuous scuffling about in the case of ‘creatively’ reporting Presley’s suicide to highlight how easily distortable a fact is, or for artistic purposes, or for who the hell knows what was going on in your amoral minds, is just as believable as the police on the case taking Polaroid pictures of the crime scene. (71)
Nor is your pathetic process of poetically portraying the truth as believable as Nevada’s “black mountains”. (84)
Nor is your fabricated, falsified and fictitious flight of fancy as believable as Tae Kwon Do is “Indian” or “ancient”. (91)
But don’t let the alluding alliteration alter your perception, we’re not just jerking off to phonetics and poetic writing, remember? The ethical stance that should be taken by all who wish to master the ancient literary martial art of creative nonfiction is not to foolishly embezzle and overwhelm your readers with lies. The ethical stance for a creative nonfiction writer, this stronghold in which I aim to police and protect, is to tell a truth in a fascinating way. To tell a fascinating tale not a fairy tale, to tell a captivating and bold story not a cock-and-bull story, to be audacious not mendacious.
To draw a parallel, a creative one if I may, please join me, sirs D’Agata and Fingal, into the pits of my imagination. This example will include only you, John. Jimmy can crack corn in the adult-only section of my imagination for now.
John, in this imaginative scenario, you are a stand-up comedian and you are well known for your risky and provocative jokes. The joke your about to tell, one which you’ve practiced numerously and repeatedly tried on your friends, if you have any, is a dangerous one. See, because you’re this fancy intellectual comedian, telling a risky joke without a backup political statement or something provocative just won’t suffice. So you’ve decided to use this joke as a follow up to a strong statement, something like: the Balfour declaration was toxic at best as it created endless conflict between so and so. Then you proceed to follow up with a joke about the holocaust.
Tasteless. Exactly how I view your work in Lifespan of a Fact. There is a difference between being an innovative provocateur and being an insolent pest.
Jimmy, you can come out now. For you, Mr. Fingal, the issue is simpler; you are complacent, an accessory to this literary crime and a fool by proxy. Your moral compass in writing, it seems to me, was broken not by participating in D’Agata’s project but by participating in the game of cat-and-mouse that you two so abhorrently perfected towards the end. By doing so, you not only insult the sanctity of creative nonfiction writing, but by also desecrating the memory of Presley. Presley was made invisible due to you and D’Agata’s smoke and mirrors; the delusion that befell the two of you made the idea of suicide and worse so the memory of Presley evaporate into thin air. Those actions in creative nonfiction are unforgivable to me as the comedy of the writing became the tragedy of the message where suicide lost both existence in the article and meaning.
That was me, a creative nonfiction writer, being creative. Now is the part where I keep the hands of my creativity locked with the hand of my integrity, where my ends embrace my means and where my means justify my ends.
Dear Levi Presley,
I wish the situation was different. I am sorry.
I’m sorry to however you were treated in life that lead to your suicide and I’m sorry that, posthumously, you were treated as a statistic and a squabble for self-serving practice.
I hope you accept my attempt at being both vigilant to those who are careless in their creative nonfiction writing and apologetic to you in hopes that I, a member of the international writer’s community, won’t make the same mistake.