The Problem With CNF Today

October 7, 2014 at 10:17 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Whenever I read an article  like this one , I can’t help but think that every lit person should be required to demonstrate a basic proficiency in Philosophy of Art before publishing or critiquing anything. This is yet another example of someone substituting snobbery for knowledge and well-articulated reasoning, thus obfuscating the fact that the author clearly didn’t understand the very object of their critique. You can see that, for example, in the assumptions the author makes about the audience’s motives in celebrating the impending mini-series. If you understand the ending of Twin Peaks then you understand why it makes sense to do it twenty-five years later, given the implications of the last scene, the Heather Graham scene in Fire Walk with Me and the scene with Dale in the lodge 25 years in the future.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no clarity zealot (my favorite philosophers are Heidegger and Kierkegaard, for God’s sake), but I also have a finely tuned radar for when description and metaphor are being used to conceal a lack of logic in one’s thinking rather than as a tool to engage the reader’s mind and imagination. It’s an unfortunate trend right now in Creative Non-Fiction especially. All too often I see poorly researched (and sometimes poorly written) pieces overcompensating by using a small toolbox of literary devices. It’s the sort of device that is often employed by undergraduates trying to pad out their work to meet the page minimum. And yet, it’s this sort of work that is temporarily (and I do believe it won’t stand the test of time) held up as the literary standard. I can understand the appeal: research is hard work. Fleshing out the reasons behind your thinking is hard work. Besides, the more clearly stated something is, the easier it is for others to notice the flaws in your thinking and/or your understanding. Yet, that’s precisely why we can’t throw analysis completely out the window when writing CNF.

There is, of course, a caveat to that. If you’re writing a memoir, certainly not everything needs to logically follow and if we tried to give elaborate reasons for every action we take, not only would the work be dishonest, but it would be boring. Generally, if the memoir is interesting, it relates to our mistakes, our misadventures, the things about us that are the most interesting, the things that other people might not have experienced but can learn from. That means we may not have been completely logical when doing the very things discussed in a  memoir. Nor are other people particularly logical, and we hopefully can flesh out a motive without carrying our readership along with us on a neat causal chain. That said, traditionally informative or persuasive pieces of CNF really ought to have at least a basis in accuracy.

Unfortunately, a lot of journalism has begun to resemble CNF. As journalism has increasingly migrated towards an online format, and as revenue is primarily generated through the number of clicks, journalists are playing fast and loose with the very things that made it journalism: clearly written, unbiased, factual writing. To gain a broader readership, journalists are dipping into CNF’s toolbox: a subjective point of view, emphasis on interpretation, stating of one’s personal values and a general vagueness about facts. One need look no further than The Huffington Post to see this. Of course, in the lit world, there’s no greater insult to an author than to refer to her work as “journalism.” This results in CNF writers seeking to distinguish themselves, by using more hyperbole, more value-laden language, more vagueness. If The New Yorker is a measure of the most popular styles and trends in the literary world (and I believe that it is) then the world we are presented with cannot help but leave us with the “so what” question. So what if someone that writes for The New Yorker didn’t like Twin Peaks, didn’t understand Twin Peaks, doesn’t like that the internet is full of ecstatic postings about its return? There’s no meaningful analysis and, despite the article’s title promising “some thoughts” on the series, we are not left with enough substance to really cause the reader to think about the series in a new way. Instead, all we are left with is the author’s mad rush of solipsistic sentiment.



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