Liz has a nice followup to my post about kinds of honesty in which she neatly collects links to the discussion – I’ve been shockingly lax about that, I just read things and was appalled and didn’t actually link to them. Jonathon Delacour’s post is particulary interesting, and look at his description of his weblog, I like that. I’m finding some excellent weblogs through this debate.

Jt’s comment to Liz’s post sums up the problem with the truth in blogs debate, in my opinion:

Presenting fiction as fact IS dishonest, no matter how you try to justify it.

See, that’s just it. I don’t think weblogs are about facts. Obviously a lot of people do, as the Kaycee Nicole scandal and others have shown. Heck, even my recent obsession with the authenticity of the Bagdad Blogger was rather embarrassingly literal, wasn’t it? As Shelley wrote,

I’m not trying to tell you about my day, but about my life. There’s a big difference.

In a more recent post, she quoted someone else talking about Annie Dillard: “Sometimes to tell the truth you have to lie a little.”

There are long traditions for this, of course. In my family, we know perfectly well that Mum tends to embroider the truth a little, though she’ll always deny it when pushed. The rest of us do too, now and then. Such embroidery usually only makes the story better and the point clearer. Even memory embroiders the truth – are you sure you remember your own stories quite the way they really happened?

I should probably set up a disclaimer on my blog. “I endeavour to be academically trustworthy and cite my sources and so on but do not promise to be factual about my personal life.”

This is a typical debate where we should probably all just agree to disagree before it gets utterly boring.

5 thoughts on “embroidery

  1. jt

    My Dad and I had a discussion, in Junior High or High School, on the f-word.

    His comment was that He’d heard ALL the cuss words, but those who used them just showed exhibited their lack of ability in using creative language. So He didn’t, and my entire family has an exposed raw nerve about the f-word in particular. Especially when I use it in anger to make a point.

    We can agree to disagree, of course, Jill. But I find similar about fact as an f-word. It’s a FACT that Shell DOES try to tell the reader about Her day… Read Her blog, happens frequently.

    Now at the same time She may be writing, not ALL that obliquely at times, about the larger subject which is Her life. That’s what story-telling is about, whether in writing, speech, actions, or sublibminal thought-feelings that are not fully worded. Embellishing one’s story, but presenting it as non-fictional non-literature..

    ..Well that just indicates a LACK. A lack of creativity, not an expanded creativity.

    So MANY people are “lost in the oneness of the all” that they’re actually starting to believe the total-BS-crap meme that there is no essential difference between fiction and non-fiction. So it’s okay-fine to mix the two, and call auto-biography non-fiction if it contains totally facocted lies.

    If You say, or imply, that You’re telling a story about an event in Your life but it didn’t happen (or the re-telling is unfaithful to the events)..

    ..that’s deception.

    Most people’s memories of the past ARE embellished quite a bit… Learned that many decades ago, and the reasons the memories get clouded is because people see no advanatage to making the effort to BE Truthful.

    Perfect objectivity being impossible, in my experience it is still worth the effort to try, and to try to relate stories (that are not presented AS literature) truthfully as I can.

    Other’s can choose otherWise, but they are (in fact…;-) primarily deceiving themselves. Which is their perogative.

    Short-sited, but that seems to be acceptable in a day-and-age when hypocracy is being raised to an art form.

  2. Maggie


    I appreciate the creativity of your statement, “I don’t think weblogs are about facts.”

    And I don’t know the word for “blog” in other languages than English.

    But in English, as far as I know, the word “blog” is a shorthand term for web-log.

    For a very long time, the verb “to log” has meant to record–and I do think factuality (as far as it can exist) has been part of that definition. (I believe that’s how someone who “logs” would be different, say, someone recording a musical performance.)

    Personally I’m undecided about the interest value of deliberately-created fuzzy places between fact and fiction. And therefore, I guess, of the value of non-truth in blogs. The energy *around* these deliberately-created fuzzy places (i.e., reactions, debates) often seems to me much more interesting than the actual objects of discussion. But I’m trying to stay open-minded. I do want to be surprised.

    You seem very smart so I assume you’re taking the etymology into account as you discuss the idea of truth in blogs. But if not, well, for what it’s worth, there it is.



  3. Jill

    You’ve got a point, Maggie, and I do insist on things like referencing your sources honestly with decent links and in academic matters I’d definitely not like seeing deliberate misrepresentations of what other people have said or forged empirical data or whatever.

    Perhaps “weblogs aren’t about facts” is a bit too absolute: what I meant was that I’m more interested in the ideas in weblogs than in the facts, and ideas aren’t really about fact or fiction at all. I mean, look at Alex Golub’s conversation with the Trotts – you know, the developers of MoveableType. It’s obviously not exactly factual, Mena’s a Jedi Warrior… well, I suppose that could be factual actually, but let’s assume it’s not. There’s still lots of ideas in here that possibly are conveyed all the more forcefully precisely because of the fictional dialogue.

    So I’m not really talking about weblogs deliberately tricking the readers into believing something that’s not true but arguing that the main point of some weblogs is not factual truth but expressing ideas.

  4. Maggie


    Yeah, I get it. I feel the same way.


  5. george.h.williams

    blogging the full monty
    I sit in awe this morning of the interwoven discussion going on regarding truth in blogging. I started with this post on Jill’s site, and then worked my way back and forth through various links. Not only is this a…

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