What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Literature is just a fancy word for writing"

Philip Gourevitch (Photo by Andrew Brucker)
I applaud Philip Gourevitch’s recent post on in which he says “there is a kind of lingering snobbery in the literary world that wants to exclude nonfiction from the classification of literature—to suggest that somehow it lacks artistry, or imagination, or invention by comparison to fiction” ("Nonfiction Deserves A Nobel," October 9, 2014). Geoff Dyer made a similar observation in his 2001 review of Ryszard Kapuściński’s The Shadow of the Sun: “He [Kapuściński] is the victim of a received cultural prejudice that assumes fiction to be the loftiest preserve of literary and imaginative distinction” (“Ryscard Kapuściński’s African Life,” included in Dyer’s great 2011 essay collection Otherwise Known as the Human Condition).

It’s time this prejudice was scrapped. As Gourevitch rightly says, “Every mode of expression has its formal demands. For writing that’s not fictive, that means fidelity to documentable reality; yet the best of it can only be done when the writer has an imagination as free as any novelist, playwright, or poet.” He concludes, “Literature is just a fancy word for writing.” I totally agree.

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