Friday, September 05, 2003
The Factional/Fictional Faction
I might not have heard about novelist Bernard-Henri Lévy, or the upcoming English translation of his book, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, had I not seen this post from Cowboy Kahlil. Probably I would've heard about it eventually, because, after all, it follows a recipe for irritating conservatives: Take a French writer; have him write anything related to terrorism (or current events, or language, or... anything); translate that text into English, et voici! total outrage. Anyway, without even clicking the link, though, I felt like I was in familiar territory: The style of this book has been brewing for a long time and is quite interesting.

The book would appear to detail the events surrounding Pearl's murder with a neither entirely factual nor appropriately fictional approach:
He has assumed a different risk by writing what he calls a "romanquête," part roman, or novel, part enquête, or investigation. He mentions Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" and Norman Mailer's "Oswald's Tale" as precedents, but he has raised eyebrows by imagining the thoughts of Mr. Pearl as he was about to have his throat cut and those of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the British-born son of Pakistani immigrants who is the convicted mastermind of the murder.
Sounds gruesome, but I'll admit that it piques my curiosity, especially pertaining to theory. One of my favorite writers, W. G. Sebald, who authored Austerlitz and The Emigrants—two of my favorite books—exposed me to a similar style. Sebald's books in the United States can be found squarely within the aisles of Fiction, but in Great Britain, his books are scandalously filed with WWII historical accounts. Remarkably, both answers are appropriate, because Sebald fictionalizes authentic stories and accounts, but with a not-fictional, in fact an historical, voice. Included in his book The Emigrants, for example, are photographs of or related to the four people whose lives are detailed by the text; but the photographs themselves are arranged throughout to present a narrative, and the photographs have a very active exchange with the text that presents a third narrative. Thus he tells his own story, with an extra-textual narrative (if you'll forgive me terms like extra-textual). At the same time, nothing presented about the four persons is incorrect, but the careful arrangement of facts within the medium is intended to have you questioning the verifiability of the facts.

Strong medicine, I think, and works like Sebald's (and perhaps Lévy's) have inherited the mantle of artistic-theoretical direction from postmodernism's hands, to put a fine point on it. I know similar trends are rife in the art world. We're going to need a better word than "romanquête," though.

Incidently, you can read more of Cowboy Kahlil and about three thousand other people over at Open Source Politics, a massive weblog, with an interesting magazine format. It's new to the roll call even though I'll never have time to read everything they put up in a day. The blogosphere is accreting into larger (and maybe better) group blogs. Crooked Timber, Matthew Yglesias disappearing into TAPped, the "guest blogger" phenomenon... the corporatization of the vanity sites is upon us. I do wonder which of the big ones evolves into a Salon-level publication first.

It won't be G.p, for sure. I'm still running the one-man band. Hey, Mattie, want to be 'guest blogger' for a day?