Hoover senior fellow Timothy Garton Ash sat down with author Tobias Wolff, Stanford University English professor, to talk about nonfiction writing in a moderated discussion on Wednesday, October 6, on the Stanford campus. Amir Eshel, Stanford University German professor and director of the Europe Center, the event’s sponsor, was the moderator.
In his opening remarks, Garton Ash commented on the nature of nonfiction writing. His ironic observation that the title of his most recent book, Facts Are Subversive, a quote popularly attributed to the journalist I. F. Stone, couldn’t be verified, despite his best efforts, led to a more serious discussion about the practice of nonfiction writing.
In nonfiction writing, or the “literature of fact” as he calls it, Garton Ash noted that writers are highly selective in what they include in an article and that readers must rely on the them to provide an overall truthful account. He went on to say that, for him, two things distinguish nonfiction from fiction: “facticity” and veracity. Facticity, as Garton Ash describes it, is more absolute, where things such as dates are precise. Veracity, on the other hand, is the intention of the writer to be truthful. “Every writer has a compact with the reader and each is different,” said Garton Ash. In his works of reportage, he added, “Mine is that this is what I saw and heard.”
The event was held to mark the U.S. release of Garton Ash’s book Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade without a Name by Yale University Press (the book was first published in England in 2009 by Atlantic). Described by David Blair, diplomatic editor of the London Telegraph, as “immensely refreshing to read,” Facts Are Subversive is a collection of Garton Ash’s political essays from the early years of the twenty-first century.
Garton Ash, who is also professor of European studies at Oxford University and Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford, has a well-respected international reputation for his commentary on current events. In addition to his weekly column in London’s Guardian, he has written several books, including Free World: Why a Crisis of the West Reveals the Opportunity of Our Time (2004).
Video and audio of the program are available for downloading at http://europe.stanford.edu/events/facts_are_subversive_10_6_2010/.
In addition, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is hosting a public affairs program featuring Garton Ash, including a live webcast on Thursday, October 14, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Eastern time. Visit http://www.cceia.org/calendar/data/0228.html for more information about the program and webcast.