The Magazine

The True Facts

A revealing look at the editorial back-and-forth.

Apr 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 31 • By ZACK MUNSON
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He then lists more than a dozen different types of cancer, in incomprehensible medical nomenclature, that, taken alone, don’t account for more deaths  than suicide in Las Vegas. To which D’Agata responds, “I really don’t think that readers would be upset if they found out that I lumped Supratentorial Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumors and Childhood Medulloblastoma together under the category of ‘a few types of cancer.’ ” Further, after (quite reasonably) questioning the veracity of an interview for which D’Agata has provided no notes, Fingal (quite unreasonably) writes a few hundred words on the flawed logic of the source’s opinion about the role of suicide in society, delving into arcane linguistic arguments and citing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (whatever that is).

All of which leaves you wondering: Why? Why is Fingal checking this stuff? Why, after seven years of fact-checking, is he popping off about issues tangential to the subject at hand? Why did he and the Believer and D’Agata spend seven years on this crap in the first place? It all seems, much like D’Agata’s article, totally contrived. And of course, it is.

Yes, that’s the kicker, the clever twist in this melodrama of the mundane. D’Agata’s piece was originally commissioned by Harper’s, which rejected it outright because it was so obviously and intentionally embellished. So the Believer grabbed it, and somebody had the great idea to turn the process of its fact-checking into a book. According to Fingal, the correspondence is mostly made up: The fact-checking, though “real” in a technical sense, was done for the express purpose of publication, of producing (in the words of the publisher) “a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between ‘truth’ and ‘accuracy.’ ”

So while The Lifespan of a Fact purports to ask and explore myriad literary and philosophical questions, it ultimately ends up settling a different type of question entirely. Yes, creative writing professors and interns do have too much time on their hands.

Zack Munson is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.