Thursday, October 23, 2008

Working Above the Abyss

My daughter, M, who these days prefers nonfiction to fiction, drew my attention to what the late much missed David Foster Wallace wrote in his introduction to The Best American Essays 2007:

Writing-wise, fiction is scarier, but nonfiction is harder — because nonfiction's based in reality, and today's felt reality is overwhelmingly, circuit-blowingly huge and complex. Whereas fiction comes out of nothing. Actually, so wait: the truth is that both genres are scary; both feel like they're executed on tightropes, over abysses — it's the abysses that are different. Fiction's abyss is silence, nada. Whereas nonfiction's abyss is Total Noise, the seething static of every particular thing and experience, and one's total freedom of infinite choice about what to choose to attend to and represent and connect, and how, and why, etc.

I’ve thought about that a lot. I think finally I agree.

To me, fiction is about tapping into a world that exists in a dimension that you can only access a slice at a time. You work with what you manage to slice off.

Nonfiction is about this world that we live in, and the really hard part is to work out in the first place which slice you want to describe and then how best to do it.

In other words I’m still finding my nonfiction book a killer.

1 comment:

  1. Sure it's scary at times - maybe even a lot of times - but even though you're 'Working Above the Abyss' you give me the impression of being in your comfort zone - more or less. I think that's a good place to be - near the edge of your comfort zone above the abyss. xx