Thursday, June 24, 2010

in which I talk about what I don't know about nonfiction (part 2)

First of all, thanks to those of you (there were a few, more than I had expected! [but admittedly less than I had hoped]) who commented on my previous post.  I appreciate all comments, big and small!  And, if you do come up with any impressions on the subject, I am still open for suggestions.  Just comment on the same post here, or shoot me an email if you wish.  The first draft of the piece is nearly finished (as you can see in the progress bar :-)), but it IS only the first draft, and there is still much to work on, cut, and add.

And now, back to my musings on the genre of nonfiction.

I just want to cover some definitions and my opinions of them as I contemplate the conundrum of "nonfiction" (bolded terms and phrases are my own emphasis--things I found interesting). . .


From the OED:
A.  n.  Prose writing other than fiction, such as history, biography, and reference works, esp. that which is concerned with the narrative depiction of factual events; the genre comprising this.
B.  adj.  Of, relating to, or consisting of non-fiction; non-fictional.

Webster's is much more simplistic:
:  literature or cinema that is not fictional.

1.  the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, including biography, history, and the essay (opposed to fiction and distinguished from poetry and drama).
2.  works of this class:  she had read all of his novels but none of his nonfiction.
3.  (esp. in cataloging books, as in a library or bookstore) all writing or books not fiction, poetry, or drama, including nonfictive narrative prose and reference works; the broadest category of written works.

And, of course, trusty wikipedia:
Non-fiction or nonfiction is an account, narrative, or representation of a subject which an author presents as fact.  This presentation may be accurate or not; that is, it can give either a true or a false account of the subject in question.  However, it is generally assumed that the authors of such accounts believe them to be truthful at the time of their composition.  Note that reporting the beliefs of others in a non-fiction format is not necessarily an endorsement of the ultimate veracity of those beliefs, it is simply saying that it is true that people believe that (for such topics as mythology, religion).  Non-fiction can also be written about fiction, giving information about these other works.


So.  Non-fiction is not fiction.  Okay, obvious.  Right?  But even that simple term might go somewhere deeper than we think it does (or, rather, deeper than I ever thought it did).  It is not a dichotomy of fact vs. fiction.  It is far more accurately a label:  "everything that is not fiction."

Which is not to say that nonfiction must be FACT.  According to it can offer "opinions and conjectures upon facts and reality."  Ah.  Opinions and conjectures.  Well, those aren't fictional.  But they certainly aren't always factual, either (usually aren't, in my experience).

And, of course, wikipedia introduces the concept of accuracy--whether the opinion, conjecture, or "fact" is indeed an accurate representation or not.  But then the question itself is unnecessary, at least when determining nonfiction.  Whether its accurate or not doesn't matter; it is still nonfiction.  (I'm especially drawn to the last statements from the wikipedia entry.  The current nonfiction project I'm working on regarding views on Mormonism and its folklore, is not "an endorsement of the ultimate veracity of those beliefs, it is simply saying that people believe that" [not the most eloquent way of putting it, but it does express the basic premise of my project, and its validity as nonfiction].)

I'm coming to realize that therein lies the genre's beauty.  Nonfiction doesn't have to be fact, it doesn't have to be true.  It just has to . . . be.  It has to exist, prior to its conception in words.  Whether that existence itself is a lie or inaccurate or whatever, simply doesn't matter.

I've more thoughts on nonfiction, but I'll save them for another day.  Pica pica, as they say in Sicily.

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