I posted about this earlier today, but I just wanted to say that I was initially intending to point out the LeRoy situation in contrast to the other which has been far more publicized. But, why not have an opinion about both:
I mean, I think there's an artistic impulse to exaggerate for stylistic reasons--but that is a fictional device. Frey clearly has a talent for conveying the type of story he conveys, and to the obvious enjoyment of his readers. But for those who study the specific nonfiction concentration, it's not a device they allow themselves. Every art-form/genre (or nearly any) has its self-prescribed limitations. Sort of how the OULIPO writers self-prescribed arbitrary ones to focus their intentions.
Nonfiction writers pride themselves in being able to control writing, bending facts and language for their own variable effects, working only with what they have: truth. Us poets blur the truth/not truth boundaries, yes--but we have our own peculiar boundaries, don't we? (Or do we? I'm suddenly unsure--If not, perhaps we've stumbled on yet another definition!) Though sub-genres do. Formal poetry is a good example: when we write formal work, we set constraints for ourselves. Each aesthetic prioritizes constraint, content, and effect differently: free-verse or procedural writers would disagree with what truly matters.
If you're going to call a book part of a genre, you have to obey the rules of that genre. Perhaps as poets our instinct is to enjoy the transgressions: we're alarmed, but rejoice in the alarm: the rules, being conventions, are meant to be broken (or) those who follow the rules are not, in their following of the rules, allowing for satisfying discovery. Fiction writers are freer in that they’re able, also, to blur the boundaries. In short, it’s easy to forget that, in arts (and seemingly politics) “freedom” is not everyone’s aesthetic.
This is all not even mentioning the fact that the Nonfiction Market is so much more lucrative right now. For (what nonfiction writers would deem) a fiction writer to sneak into their pool (where, frankly, sales are better) is an immediate way to get the resentment of anyone taking their role within the genre seriously: some upset that he’s “sold out” with the transgression, others alienated because if America’s book-buying minority is going to purchase one nonfiction title this year it will be his (not theirs) because it’s “better,” i.e. more exciting, because he wasn’t working with fair/appropriate/genre-prescribed conventions (something only the nonfiction writers, some of them journalists/reviewers, would criticize).
With JT LeRoy, however, I'm fascinated with the writers' choice to actualize the persona of their penname, but they crossed the line by making phony friendships with celebrities and supporters, even accepted financial support for “LeRoy” from individuals when it was revealed she was HIV+--I just hope that the money then went to charity and not the individuals behind the act. But I said that in the post.
Just notice that the boundaries are different yet again. This time it has nothing to do with the writing. It was society’s understanding of the writer that was the lie, which was the manipulation that gave the writing an unfair advantage.
But this is all the kind of thing that isn’t worth squabbling about: the book is going to do better than ever so that everyone can see what all the “buzz” is about. It’s good for “biz,” bad for the art; good for the big publishers, bad for the small ones (and those writers who set/follow their genres’ conventions). Bla bla bla.
It’s quite the cycle. I don’t think we’d know what to without it.