Saturday, September 4, 2010

Blog 4: Elements-- Rachel Sale

Rachel Sale

Boswell's recollections of Johnson, particularly the exchanges at dinner, makes me wonder how Boswell could have remembered every statement and also to wonder how much he planted there himself.  Boswell takes the liberty of giving introspections that Johnson makes about Wilkes.  These are included but become more of a 'he said, she said' remembrance.  For example, Johnson believes that Wilkes is "acquiesced" during a particular conversation (33).  Who is Johnson to say that Wilkes is truly put at ease?  Wilkes may just have been unwilling to say any more and push the subject farther.

Daniel Defoe's writing about Jonathan Wild also causes eyebrow raising.  The lengthy, detailed conversations documented in AOF can hardly be taken at face value because of their detail.  Defoe must have taken that conversation from someone else's vantage point and written all he was told that the witness remembered.  I doubt he was standing there transcribing the entire conversation word for word.  The line of fact and fiction seems to be skewed here; this write-up of Wild doesn't seem to want to report any thing newsworthy so much as it wants to make Wild a kind of legendary figure.  More is added to his noteworthiness than to factual reporting, which makes him a sort of Robin Hood character.

Dickens' use of Pangloss is another reason for concern.  The information presented appears factual and conceivable but when taken into account that there is a composite character, I start to wonder if there is any angle that Dickens exaggerated.  Where the sailors really suffering that much?  Did Pangloss and other crew men really turn a blind eye?  The information is believable, but is it truthful?  The use of a composite character seemed to be less of a problem in Dickens' day than it is today.

What raises all these accounts to literature and brings them past the level of reporting is the way the information is reported.  Not only does the relation of 'facts' have a little bit of embellishment but also there is no inverted pyramid and the main idea/fact doesn't come out and announce itself.  The reader must run through hedges before getting to the front door.

One extra element that I would cite is the relation of 'facts' from a character to the narrator and the attention of that character.  Readers of Wuthering Heights can run into trouble if they do not question the narrator's voice.  The narrator is biased and therefore unreliable.  Being skeptical of the related information becomes pertinent to understanding a story and getting the most objective facts.  In the same way that readers must question the source of their information, readers should also look at the source for potential biases or reasons for them to skew information.

Questions for class mates on Tuesday: Could the literary content eventually outweigh the fact portion of writing?  If the audience is aware that some things may be made up, can these writings still be considered newsworthy?  Or does this make the writing more fit for novels and short stories?  How much of the information must be embellished for the story to become novel?


  1. It's my opinion that the absence of fact equals a failure to exist as literary journalism. The key word there is 'journalism,' and without an adhering to fact-based content, it just becomes literary. However, I think there is room for quasi-literary journalism by way of fiction. In other words, a fictional memoir could be written *like* literary journalism; however, at the end of the day, it is still fiction. And in response to your last question, I would argue that nothing could be embellished unless noted as such. Otherwise it runs the risk of misinforming the reader. (Note: I suppose I am of the old-school variety on this and would be curious to what the rest of the class has to say.)

  2. I since came across this interesting quote from Jon Tuttle's Vietnam piece, which supports the opposite of my previous comment:

    Stanley Fish once declared that he ‘‘would rather have an acknowl- edged and controlled subjectivity than an objectivity which is finally just an illusion’’ (49). Likewise, in a lecture he gave at the University of Maryland, O’Brien observed that ‘‘A good lie, if nobly told, for good reason, seems to me preferable to a very boring and pedestrian truth, which can lie, too.’’

  3. Re "Who is Johnson to say that Wilkes is truly put at ease?" - YES - the writer needs to be very careful with this kind of thing. This comes up in photos quite often when the cutline writer attributes some emotion to a facial expression. For example, President Bush(or even VP Cheney)smirking =
    Re Defoe - keep that thought in mind while reading In Cold Blood.
    Run through the hedges - I like - but how could we articulate that in one or two words? Same with the second.

    Good question