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Geoff Dyer on Creative Nonfiction

Also languishing was another draft, this one featuring Geoff Dyer. I wrote it after I had read an interview with him in the Paris Review. Let's start there.

INTERVIEWER

What about creative nonfiction?

DYER

David Hare said that the two most depressing words in the English language are literary fiction. I couldn’t agree more. But we might soon have to add that the two most depressing words in the American language are creative nonfiction. If creative nonfiction means stuff like that Sheila Heti book, then give me straight-down-the-line, non-creative history books any day. I’m not interested in creative nonfiction, and I’m not interested in literary fiction. I’m interested in great books—which come in different shapes and forms now, many more than were previously admitted. My objection is to people in the novelists’ camp with their unquestioned assumption that the novel, irrespective of the quality of a given instance of it, is somehow superior.

INTERVIEWER

Do you imagine those feelings about the novel to be sort of a residual formalist snobbery, the way there are people who like jazz but then there are jazz snobs?

DYER

On the contrary. As a jazz snob myself, I think it’s just a habit of mental laziness. A parochialism.

Geoff Dyer has become my favorite essayist. I haven't read his novels yet so I have nothing to say about them. As a book snob though, I'm with Dyer all the way when it comes to his views on creative non-fiction. His responses led me to some thoughts I'd been having.

After reading Dyer's interview, I began to consider native advertising. Mainly, is creative strategy to copywriting as creative nonfiction is to the novel? If you must know, it just popped into my head. When I think about native advertising, creative content or content strategy a bad thought enters my mind: what must it be like to stand on broken glass in bare feet? If that puzzles you, let me try this: Why would anyone want to write copy that is disguised in form to be something it isn't? Here's what I mean:

From Wikipedia: Advertorial in online media demonstrate native advertising where copywriters are established as credible authorities but in fact are recommending brands they are paid to recommend and by definition are conflicted.

Conflicted indeed. As Dyer points out fiction and non-fiction are bleeding into each other all the time. The native advertising copywriter's work will never be finished as long as the fiction holds, as long as the reader is duped, as long as we keep buying products we only think we need, as long as the world keeps spinning.

Why the duplicity? Well the answer to that falls in to another suspect bucket - attempts at authenticity, one of the most inordinately overused words in branding. If one has to build one's brand authenticity perhaps there's something sorely lacking in the first place. Such as authenticity. 

Also from the Paris Review is an amazing interview with Herta Müller, the Nobel Prize winning author. 

INTERVIEWER

Do you allow the sentences to lead you once you have begun them?

MÜLLER

They know on their own what has to happen. The language knows where it has to wind up. I know what I want, but the sentence knows how I’ll get there. Even so, the language always has to be kept on a tight rein. And I work very slowly. I need a whole lot of time because I have to make many approaches. I write each book twenty times or so. At first, I need all these crutches, and I write a lot that’s superfluous. Later, when I’m far enough along—inside me, while I’m still searching—I cut out about a third of what I’ve written, because I don’t need it anymore. But then often I go back to the very first version, because evidently that’s the most authentic one and everything else proved unsatisfactory. And frequently I feel I won’t be able to pull it off. Language is so different from life. How am I supposed to fit the one into the other? How can I bring them together? There’s no such thing as one-to-one correspondence. First, I have to take everything apart. I start with a reality, but I have to completely demolish this reality. And then I use language to create something completely different. And if I’m lucky, it comes back together and the new language comes close again to the reality. But it’s a completely artificial process. [My emphasis.]

What Müller describes here is a long way from writing a line of copy while desperately attempting to create a 'voice' or 'authenticity.' Dyer says "I'm interested in great books." Is it not enough for a copywriter to simply be interested in great advertising copy? After all, it's not as if we readers don't know the difference.

Mind dump March 10 2015

The Technology of Media