Friday, August 17, 2012

The turn to non-fiction

In recent years I've been reading more and more non-fiction, and, not surprisingly, less and less fiction. It seems like a lot of folks, maybe particularly guys, turn this corner as their hair turns grey.

But why, I wonder? For me, much of it seems to stem from the fading dream of and belief in the idea of the "Great Genius" as something that's desirable. The canonical fiction writers, from Balzac to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to Joyce and Proust and those who try to be their heirs really, in the end, want to create these worlds that are reflections of or spring from themselves. The heroic authorial ego. And I would include Toni Morrison and other women too, I don't think it's just a phallic thing.

The non-fiction writer is generally more humble, recognizing that the world provides stories which need only be captured.  And yes, the distinction between fiction and non-fiction is itself just a convenient fiction, as the non-fiction narrator's point of view necessarily interjects itself and mediates between what's being described and its description, which are hard to distinguish, I get that and take it under advisement as I read, yet nonetheless the non-fiction writer's "I" somehow seems to set off from a more modest point of appreciation for the experience of others. And as a reader of non-fiction, I start from a place of greater acceptance of my own place in the great chain of being.  Maybe.

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