Monday, January 09, 2006

So here's what I think of the insanity that Gawker is calling "Fake Writer Day."

[ if you're not up to speed and/or really want a headache, read these:
"Who is the Real JT Leroy?" New York Magazine, 10/17/05
"Who's that boy/girl?" The Guardian, 1/4/06
"The Unmasking of JT Leroy: In Public, He's a She," The New York Times, 1/9/06 ]

In these latest stories in the Guardian and the Times , Laura Albert sounds pretty unhinged, and also really sloppy about covering up or being consistent with what she says. I think she wanted to be caught.

That said, I don't really understand this obsession with finding out the truth about JT Leroy. I do think it reveals more about why we like the things we like, and the prejudices we bring to our readings, than any of us would like to admit. I don't want to think that people were interested in Leroy just because of his fucked up past, or that they let themselves be blown away by his writing because of who they thought he was, but I also think it's impossible for our knowledge of writers and artists' lives not to influence how we interpret their work. And I can't say I think this is necessarily a bad thing, even if it's not totally great.

I do think it's fucked up and manipulative that Leroy got people's sympathy (and their acclaim) by using a story that was not his (though this makes me wonder what stories we can actually claim as our own...). Plenty of people do have horrible stories and experiences, and do have AIDS, but do not have a network of celebrities supporting and promoting them. It worries me that people who do manage to have some degree of success or redemption despite the odds may be understood not as the exceptions to the rule that they are, but as examples of what can happen if people are motivated enough to pull themselves together (the consequence being that people in genuinely shitty situations get neither sympathy nor help).

This whole drama touches on some of the more fucked up issues of identity at stake in publishing. There's no question that it matters who you are (and what gender you are) when it comes to trying to sell a book. And this JT Leroy thing shows that there's clearly some privileging of the "authentic experience" in the same vein. This isn't to take any blame off of sketchy Laura Albert (it sure seems like this whole crazy multiple identity thing must be a hell of a way to live, and to have relationships) but it touches on a lot of interesting issues (and sore spots) about what matters to us when we decide to read a book, and then when we decide that we like it.

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