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‘Facts are a corpse’

February 13, 2010

For the second time this week, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the home of an E6er. Both have been humble and warm and very easy to talk to, and I’m consistently surprised (pleasantly) at how welcoming and trusting they all are. I’m continuing with my policy of not naming names until I’ve gone on the record, but I took a couple things away from today that I feel comfortable sharing.

1) For years, probably since I even knew what Athens was, I’ve been trying to figure out just what makes it so special. What about this town is so conducive to great art? Every time I’ve interviewed anybody from here, I’ve asked, and the answers I get along the lines of “Rent is cheap” and “It’s a college town” are probably close. But those can’t be the only reasons.

The person I talked to today illuminated something else, though, which I think gets me closer to an explanation. It seems that, as late as the mid-’90s, broadcast signals didn’t reach Athens, and no one really had cable. Further, a lot of people didn’t even bother with telephones. This means two things: the town is isolated, and the people have nothing to do (there were a lot fewer bars then, too). So people had to make their own fun, which means forced imagination and ambition, which means more art.

2) The purpose of these informal, off-the-record meetings (of which I’ve had a bunch already and will have a bunch more in the coming weeks) is twofold. First, I want to get to know them. I think interviews go a lot better when a) I know about the person I’m interviewing and b) I’ve interacted with the person before. Second, I want them to get to know me. On a similar note, I think the interviews will be more fruitful if the person I’m talking to trusts me and is comfortable around me.

As part of my spiel today, I mentioned that I was aware that a lot of E6 people have had some trouble in the past with writers taking things out of context and printing things that were said off the record and that I was sympathetic to concerns people might have about accuracy and ethics. His response was, simply, “Facts are a corpse.” He explained by saying that accuracy is nice (though he was unwilling to admit to any semblance of an objective reality), but ultimately they’re just a body, a vessel, and without anything inside, they’re a dead body. So a linear chronology of facts is merely a corpse; to extend the metaphor, it needs some heart. It needs to include not just what these people have done but why they have done it.

It’s a point I’ve made in the past but never so eloquently.

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