Rethinking the Politics of Literature
Edited By Louisa Söllner and Anita Vržina
Irony and Sincerity in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
This essay examines the use of proximal irony, meta-irony, and postirony in Dave Eggers’ creative memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It seeks to position the work inside a cultural context in which a conflict between irony and sincerity emerges as an important debate.
The memoir, whether we deem it to be creative non-fiction, personal narrative, life writing, or some other genre label, occupies a liminal position between reality and fiction. It displays the full range of fiction components – dialogue, plot, setting, character, and so forth – while at the same time purporting in some way to be true, that is, non-fictional. Of course, one could argue that fiction itself has always drawn from the real world in some fashion, even as early as Robinson Crusoe (1719), a novel that, incidentally, was originally marketed as a “true” story. There was also the roman à clef, which hid the identities of its real-world protagonists behind pseudonyms. The non-fiction novel, as brought to us by Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, for example, further blurred the boundary between fact and fiction, eliminating the need to hide the identities of characters based on real people. Indeed, the seeds of the current wave of creative non-fiction were probably planted during this time, during the New and Gonzo Journalism movements of the seventies. Interestingly, the memoir has also come full circle, with the appearance of falsified autobiographies, such as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (2003) and...
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