John D’Agata: A Literary Artist and Outcast

It is no secret that a lot of the facts presented in D’Agata’s About A Mountain are inaccurate.  Contrary to Lauren Slater, John D’Agata is not lying in order to manipulate the truth.  He isn’t lying about things he “believes to be true”, nor is he lying in an attempt to provide us with an accurate account of his feelings.  In fact, he rarely even addresses his own feelings.  So why?

Rejected by a magazine for his factual inaccuracies, D’Agata defends himself with artistic license.  He changes important facts in order to paint a picture.  If it sounds more poetic to say four people die of a heart attack on a particular day rather than eight, D’Agata doesn’t really give a damn.  It is important to note though, that he does this not only with small facts, but with major characters and personas as well, which is why we hesitate to accept it as nonfiction.  At the same time, calling it a work of fiction would definitely be a hard case to make.  About A Mountain is such a contemporary piece of literature, that I think it would be wrong to call it anything but a work of literary art.

John D’Agata clearly (and without concern) broke all of the rules when writing About A Mountain.  His reason for this lies entirely in his authorial intent.  An intent which was not to provide the reader with a list of statistics about Las Vegas, suicides, or even about a mountain.  It was not to be a professional journalist and make Levi’s parents uncomfortable by showing up to interview them with a notepad or tape recorder.  It was to present information about a specific variety of subjects in an artistic way, a way that would have the reader connect different ideas and interpret the literature as a work of art.

I imagine an artist going to a park and deciding to paint its picture. Except, there is this one tree in the park that throws the picture off balance and makes it look ugly, and so the artist simply does not paint the ugly looking tree.  Because painting the ugly out of place tree would take away from the painting’s general appeal.  I don’t think what D’Agata does is much different.

There is a reason that About A Mountain, in its entirety, still manages to paint an extremely realistic representation of Las Vegas despite D’Agata’s considerable use of faulty information.  That is because, as larger picture, it is mostly accurate.  For some reason, the things that D’Agata chose to change didn’t make me feel that I was being misled while forming my own opinion about Las Vegas culture.

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