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Apart from glimmerings in early forebears — Flaubert in , and most famously Zola — the informationization of literature became most clearly visible in what we’ve called “the research novel” of the 1980s and ’90s: the fact-flaunting of writers as diverse as Sebald, Tom Wolfe, and Don De Lillo, whose brilliant but failed gave us Eric Packer, a portrait of the artist as a hedge-fund tycoon and obsessive gatherer of facts.As James Wood observed in 2001, ‘knowing about things’ has become one of the qualifications of the contemporary novelist.
It’s the Republican Party’s deliberate disinformation strategy, more than any properties inherent in so-called information technologies, that has created these two parallel Americas.
In one of them, weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, climate change is a patent hoax, and the Laffer curve is the most basic truth of economics.
Didion wrote the essay as the magazine was going to press, to fill the space left after another writer did not produce a piece on the same subject.
She wrote it not to a word count or a line count, but to an exact character count.
Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect.
Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception.I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me not only Phi Beta Kappa keys but happiness, honour, and the love of a good man (preferably a cross between Humphrey Bogart in and one of the Murchisons in a proxy fight); lost a certain touching faith in the totem power of good manners, clean hair, and proven competence on the Stanford-Binet scale.To such doubtful amulets had my self-respect been pinned, and I faced myself that day with the nonplussed wonder of someone who has come across a vampire and found no garlands of garlic at hand.The charms that work on others count for nothing in that devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions.With the desperate agility of a crooked faro dealer who spots Bat Masterson about to cut himself into the game, one shuffles flashily but in vain through one's marked cards—the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which had involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed.What can this new literature of information be saying?The nature of facts is supposed to be that they speak for themselves.Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. This failure could scarcely have been more predictable or less ambiguous (I simply did not have the grades), but I was unnerved by it; I had somehow thought myself a kind of academic Raskolnikov, curiously exempt from the cause-effect relationships that hampered others.Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. Although the situation must have had even then the approximate tragic stature of Scott Fitzgerald's failure to become president of the Princeton Triangle Club, the day that I did not make Phi Beta Kappa nevertheless marked the end of something, and innocence may well be the word for it.As for the inhabitants of the other universe — “the reality-based community” of old-fashioned skeptics and empiricists, frequenters of public and university libraries, readers of the Outside of a hedge fund or the CIA, there aren’t too many places where knowledge is power.Much of the time, intellectually and politically, knowledge is powerlessness.