the art of ‘truthiness’
Well, if I forked over the cover price for nonfiction, I consider it my business. While it’s great she [Vivian Gornick] owned up to her deceits, it’s hard to lend credence to any after-the-fact confession, especially one as vague or self-justifying as this one. It’s as if after lunch the deli guy quipped, ‘I put a teaspoon of catshit in your sandwich, but you didn’t notice at all.’ To my mind, a small bit of catshit equals a catshit sandwich, unless I know where the catshit is and can eat around it.
—Mary Karr (The Art of Memoir, p. 11)1
Pace Karr, it seems to me that the sort of embellishment Gornick discusses in the interview is not so much a foreign addition to the narrative process (or as Karr so colorfully puts it, ‘a teaspoon of catshit’), but an essential and useful part of it – as salt is to food: one would not like too much of it, but it generally improves the flavor of the composition when it is there. Yet one must admit that for some people, ‘facts alone are wanted in life’ – and that anything else will somehow fail in its ‘truthiness’.
This has not been my experience – I have in general found facts to be quite unsatisfactory, particularly in their relation to truth: they are merely facts and are not the more true because of it. Rather, it is the disposition, the arrangement of facts which may get at or represent truth – but will not yet be the truth because any arrangement is arbitrary and personal, an embellishment and a composition: merely a story, a – not the – truth.2
- I am sure Karr goes on to offer useful advice for the aspiring (bestselling) memoirist and all such persons would be well-advised to read it. As I admit I lost patience here, my reading is of course arbitrary and incomplete.
- As a mere note, I wonder how much this is a matter of faith – as Karr claims Catholicism (25) and I claim nothing in particular. I have no answer for (or real interest in) the question, but it does seem a relevant one.