EGMT 1510: Telling the Truth


There is no such thing as “Just the facts, Ma’am.” When journalists tell stories, when filmmakers craft documentaries, even when scientists write up lab reports and judges pronounce their decisions — there’s an aesthetic dimension to their work. Telling the truth is intrinsically wrapped up in the art of the telling, just as great fiction, conversely, conveys some deeper truth about life. Documenting facts in any genre or style carries with it a sense of drama: the composer structures a narrative, selects what to say, gives the facts coherence, builds them up around an argument (sometimes implicit), and attempts to touch her audience in some way. At the same time, claiming to tell the truth bestows added authority on the drama and extra responsibility on its author. Whether the story is told in images, words, music, voice or film, the facts must always be reconciled with the art, and the art with the facts. Why is this so?And does this mean that telling the truth is hopelessly relative, subjective, manipulative? In this course, we’ll look at the interplay of truth and beauty in works of nonfiction —documentary storytelling. We’ll debate the norms and conventions of different forms of such work. And we’ll discuss the complicated role that the “art of facts” plays in helping people grasp reality. Your assignments will involve making your own miniature documentary in one or another genre, and engaging with one another’s work in the spirit of collaborative creativity. Our “storytelling cooperative” places you in artistic fellowships where you’ll experiment with a particular medium. You and your fellow artists will workshop narratives of your own, produce a draft story, and then reflect on your composition. This effort invites you to think about how a sense of narrative honesty and a knack for storytelling together can enrich your life experiences.