Cars as Imperfect Metaphor, and So On

Dear Millicent,

The invisible car of your earlier post seems fitting for the case of Diamond: hours of work culminating in a skewed background, and the artist’s face foremost in the frame.  Cars…a possible symbol for the genre (drive, every day use, pre-tuned stations, and the same mess in most)?

My first thought reading your post was poor Diamond.  The humiliations saved for shoddy journalism or non-fictional untruths seem particularly horrendous.  The nightmare example for me is the recent winner of the Flannery O’Connor prize in Short Fiction having all of his published books recalled and shredded on grounds of plagiarism. Then, on the other hand, there is Doris Kearns Goodwin, who seems to be walking full stride after her plagiarism accusations.  Why is this the greatest crime in the cultural arts? So many things have the power to ruin and kill, and often do, but it is the blinky-eyed writers that get the nation’s great come-uppance when they go astray.

I am overall unfamiliar with this story.  It seems to bring the harms of misrepresentation up more fully than the usual story of bitter parent, or unrecognized scholar.  And, of course,  the blinky-eyed writers should know better–we know, we all know (unless you were in my last class) why it matters.  Writers and publishing defines a great deal of the world for a great deal of people.  Effects happen in ways the writer never imagined (which is particularly interesting if their “making up” of the facts was relatively banal).  And, ignorance created by the western world about far away places makes us all look like the chumps that Mad Men suggests we once were. And — how do we talk about this disco ball of truth and representation without writing it all off to art or injured parties?

My wonder is how the role of narrative comes to play here. Non-fiction is all about artfully arranging the chaos of pounds of information into a compelling arc.   Maybe the pieces did not fit for Diamond in any other way than this misshapen thing that has been produced as the new version.

On a note less about Diamond, and more about our own little anthropologies, I very much liked your note about the woman that sold you the tin earrings.  It could easily have been a snapshot of narrative: “this is the moment I engage with a real peasant, who does peasant things, and confirms important image necessary in completing trip.” Instead, Michigan.  It presses on the idea that any time we engage with the archetype moment, we are shaping it to fit the later presented version.  Today I found out that my neighbor is an actress starring on a famous TV show.  The immediate thought in my head was “one day this will be the story of how, when we lived in a city, we were surrounded by artists who are now famous.” But a more probable truth to relate, lacking the ego stroke of narrative, could be “one time, my neighbor drove a Mazda.”



One Response to Cars as Imperfect Metaphor, and So On

  1. Pingback: Jared Diamond’s Creative (Non)Fiction and Nostalgic Anthropology « Millicent and Carla Fran

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