Creative Non-Fiction and Herodotus


I was perusing the comic strips of Kate Beaton when I came across the strip to the left concerning Herodotus.

It triggered many questions about the nature of Creative Non-Fiction, and its distinction from plain ol' vanilla Non-Fiction, Journalism, and History.

Now, more than ever, authorial intent becomes important in distinguishing between the different types of writing.

Then again, the nature of the writing and the interpretation of the text could lead to other classifications. As in the case of the comic strip, the inclusion of "giant ants" makes us suspect the text's nature. Was it journalism (Herodotus claimed that he only wrote down what people told him) given that it was relatively recent to his time period, or more of creative non-fiction (since we don't really know if he found at least two independent sources for these ants), or just history (coz it's too far in the past, man).

8 comments:

Peter Rozovsky said...

That distinction between stories and facts always comes up when Herodotus and Thucydides are compared, as in that comic strip. The subject is of interest to me these days, since I am immersing myself in the wonderful new Landmark edition of Herodotus when not reading crime fiction.

Leaving aside that Thucydides may have been a bit of a prick for what he wrote about Herodotus, it was easy for Thucydides to stick to facts; he was writing to a great extent about events in which he was involved. If every historian similarly restricted himself, there would be no history.

Thucydides is stunning in the precision of his description, but even such an admirer as M.I. Finley said Thucydides was no historian because he was reporting rather than weighing and sifting evidence. He was being a bit of a journalist, in other words. Herodotus, on the other hand, weighed, sifted, and often offers his opinion on which of several versions of an event or origin is most likely. When he is unable to decide, he says so. He has to venture into these more tentative areas because of the wide scope of his investigations. Perhaps some prejudice remains against Herodotus because he committed the sin of writing well, of being engaging -- of telling a good story, in other words.

The real liars are scumbags like James Frey, Jason Blair and Stephen Glass, who lie, lie knowingly, and expect sympathy, understanding, and lots and lots of money as rewards for their lies.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Alexander said...

Interesting that you should mention James Frey as a contrast, because a group of friends were discussing a spate of faked / plagiarized novels a couple of years back.

I must admit I didn't know who Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass were and had to wikipedia them.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Now you presumably know a bit of the unedifying stories of Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass. What is especially disturbing about them and Frey and the rest is less the initial lies than the public hearing the liars get and the sympathy and understanding they seem to think is their due after they are exposed. That the vehicle for obtaining this understanding is often a non-fiction book deal accompanied by a hefty advance is incidental, of course.

Or perhaps the fault is with the impatience of people like me, who chafe at the wait before these public liars are consigned to the oblivion they deserve.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Alexander said...

I really don't understand why Frey has managed to get another book released. Wasn't the fact that the old book was NOT non-fiction enough for the publisher?

Then again, there's that question about Creative Non-Fiction again.

I think it's terrible that the whole book is sold as being 'The Truth' or perhaps if you prefer Authentic, and then it's revealed that certain key details were exaggerated or deliberately falsified! I don't understand much about the publishing world.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I read somewhere that he had writtten his first book as a novel and that it was only later remade into a memoir. That, of course, means that claims that his new book is his first novel are lies. Here's an interesting review that takes that angle.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Peter Rozovsky said...

By odd coincidence, I was at my local public library doing some reading and writing this week, when who should turn out to be there giving a reading, but James Frey? I briefly contemplated giving someone a brief lecture about the immorality of inviting a venal liar to speak, but public libraries could use the support, and if it draws people in --
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot

Alexander said...

Crikey! Were there a lot of people in attendance?

Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know; the doors to the lecture hall were shut when I was in that part of the library. I'd be curious to know what the library's thinking was in inviting him. I can guess at least one factor: I was surprised to note that his reading was free, whereas there is often an admission charge for events with bigger-name authors. Frey would ordinarily fall into that category, I think, but perhaps being exposed as a liar has driven his price down.

==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/