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Letter to the Editor

BY DI READERS | APRIL 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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A truth by any other name

In the March 30 D*, Alex Fritz defends John D'Agata and his book, The Lifespan of a Fact, against recent accusations of "tearing … [a] chaotic abyss … into the universe." I'm not here to defend those accusers but to defend truth.

Lifespan is a semi-factual portrayal of "among other things, suicide and Las Vegas" ("In the Details,"New York Times Sunday Book Review, Feb. 21). Fritz's case begins here: "The essay is not inherently concerned with the facts of daily life or a cross-cultural, statistical truth …"

In other words, D'Agata intentionally fictionalized his story, because to do otherwise would be boring; maniacs responded saying that writers are not allowed to lie on paper; and now D'Agata's supporters remind us that artists are not required "to write the truth and only the truth."

There is no reason to criticize D'Agata, therefore, for lying. George Orwell himself, Fritz's patron saint of truth-telling, once wrote a novel.

D'Agata's real sin lies in his misconception of what truth is. According to the Times, there are 31 licensed strip clubs in Las Vegas. Lifespan reports that there are 34, because D'Agata feels that number "works better in that sentence." 

But the fact that there are 31 has not thereby been changed. D'Agata's claim is simply false. It certainly does not constitute any mysterious form of capital-T "truth" in which only sentences that D'Agata likes are true.

D'Agata is an artist — not because he writes false sentences, but because he has created a false spectacle of a writer's struggle with "truth." Why else would he publish the marginalia documenting his disputes with editor Jim Fingal over which of his claims are true and which aren't? More pressingly, why did Fingal waste his time fact-checking D'Agata's fabricated details?

John Komdat
UI senior


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