Handbook for the Sellout

You found a way to draw a line,
between the world and you:
Faking your identity.

-Five Iron Frenzy, Handbook for the Sellout

In her text Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion arranges a multitude of profiles, which discuss the life and times of various figures, generally in-or-around California. When Didion writes her profiles, she takes care to go in depth; she researches her topics, conducts interviews, and makes sure to record events as accurately as she can. However, due to the thoroughness of this project, some secrets must be shed.

In this way, yes, Didion is selling out her subjects. She is revealing matters that have been hidden up to now, usually without the prior knowledge of her subjects. Didion credits her ability to discover these secrets to her stature and temperament, and the ways in which these factors separate her from the connotations her occupation carries. In other words, Didion has deliberately taken advantage of her personality to “draw a line between the world and [her].” To her subjects, she is a non-entity–and it is that which makes her literary prowess so dangerous.

Of course, not all creative non-fiction writers can necessarily pull this off. To properly sell someone out requires subtlety and patience; things that Didion carries in droves. The process of selling out comes from the author and the profile format, not the creative non-fiction genre itself.

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