Sexual assault essay raises questions about anonymity, invention

David L. Ulin in the Los Angeles Times:

ScreenHunter_20 Nov. 07 10.25What is the relationship of truth and invention in literary nonfiction? Over at TriQuarterly, an anonymous post called “The Facts of the Matter” frames the issue in a fascinating way. Presented as a personal essay, written by a middle-aged male author who, as an undergraduate at Yale, sexually assaulted “a girl I liked,” it is a meditation on revelation, narrative and construction, raising questions about the interplay of fact and narrative by admitting to a brutal truth.

Or is it? An editor’s note suggests that something else may be at work. “When we received this anonymous nonfiction submission,” it reads, “it caused quite a stir. One staff member insisted we call the New Haven, Ct., police immediately to report the twentieth-century crime it recounts. But first, we figured out by the mailing address that the author was someone whose work had been solicited for TriQuarterly. Other questions remained. What animal was this? A memoir? Essay? Craft essay? Fictional autobiography? Should we publish it with an introduction, a warning — and what should we say? The author later labeled it ‘meta-nonfiction.’ We thought it was worth publishing for the issues it raises.”

And what issues are those? First, I think, is anonymity, which puts a barrier between writer and reader that belies the intentions of the form. A key faith of the personal essay, after all, is its intimacy, the idea that we are in the presence of a writer, working under his or her own name and in his or her own voice, as something profound is explored.

More here.