Manipulations of documentary accounts


Fascinating interview with Iain Sinclair in the Guardian.

James Campbell: Some of the characters in your new book are fictional creations, based on real people. Yet long sections deal with meetings with Gary Snyder and people relevant to the story lines involving Bolaño and Lowry, which are important themes in the book. One of your subtitles is “Fictions of memory”. How is the reader to tell the difference between the fictions and the facts?

Iain Sinclair: Well, a fiction of memory is when I’m describing the more remote past. This becomes more like writing fiction. The process of dealing with something at that distance inevitably creates a smoothed-out narrative, often through the retellings that have occurred over the years. Things get arranged in certain ways to make a nice shape. The awkward details are forgotten or suppressed. And when you are confronted with them – as I was in the process of writing Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire – you often find that what you have remembered is completely wrong. When you go back to it, it’s this peculiar country. But when I’m describing Snyder or Gregory Corso, that’s fairly recent, and I’ve kept to what happened.

JC: Is the Hackney book also part fiction, part documentary?

IS: There, and in American Smoke, a straightforward history was not something I wanted to do. It was more to see where I stood in relation to my own memories. Those forms are permeable. There are texts that are on this side of the line and on that side of the line, but there are lots now that are somewhere in between. Mainstream publishing, I’ve found, would be resistant to me producing a book of pure fiction. My way of getting round that was to do something that would appear to be documentary, but would in fact contain fictional elements.

JC: It’s a kind of semi-novel, then?

IS: It is, and it sits completely within the ethos of the Beats. Kerouac‘s books are treated as being fiction, but we know very well that they are manipulations of a documentary account. He makes changes as he needs to, but you could almost pitch some of them as being non-fictional accounts of what happened on this particular journey.