I’m a bit torn (bifurcated?) on the whole J.T. LeRoy thing. On the one hand I think the imagination and writing talent on display that people responded to was definitely there (and there is a brilliant sense that it needed the input of, albeit unwitting, outside collaborators to fuel the creation of such an elaborate back story seemingly improvised on the fly), to such an extent that I’m actually more interested in what Laura Albert does as an 'actual' fiction writer now than I ever really was when there was a real figure of J.T. LeRoy just articulately drawing from his ‘real life’ incidents and putting it down in writing! What will she write now that she is not inextricably tied to the persona she created? Will that expand the horizons of her writing into other areas, or did it need that persona to bounce ideas off? I even think it was a wonderful idea to work through your issues ‘safely’ through a proxy. After all isn’t that what all writers do to some extent? (Either using proxies to work through their own issues, or deal with those of the wider society as a whole)colinr0380 wrote:The thing that immediately stuck out to me in the schedules next week was BBC4 screening Author: The JT LeRoy Story at 11 p.m. on Wednesday 1st February.
As an audience member I don’t particularly feel deceived by any of this situation (Elephant is still a magnificent piece of work, both writing and directorially however that is apportioned, and that sublimation of filmmakers watching college kids only feels heightened by the real life ‘deception’!), and as a distant observer this really all just adds an extra interesting dimension to Elephant, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, the discussion piece on Criterion’s My Own Private Idaho disc, etc. I don’t feel the ‘revelation’ damages the work, and in some ways deepens it in a fascinating way. But then I should admit that in general I don’t think that ‘based on a true story’ holds more inherent worth, or more caché, than a fictional piece (I guess if someone thinks that only a person who has lived the exact life they are describing can talk about a specific social group or situation then I can see why there might be that sense of betrayal arising, but that has always seemed a reductive approach to take to literature!). In both you should be able to discern the hand of an author guiding their narrative, and that aspect hasn’t really changed despite any re-framing going on outside of the text.
On the other hand I think the whole J.T. LeRoy persona spilling into real life was awful and really should have been stopped extremely early on before it deceived people. Gus Van Sant and Asia Argento in particular seem to get horribly badly deceived by this whole situation. Sure I can understand Laura Albert’s attempts to defend her actions by saying that they (and all the other celebrities) were latching onto this evocative ‘hustling trailer park kid’ as much as she was using them, but to have gotten to the point of building up actual friendships (and more), was far beyond the line of acceptable behaviour! Plus when you start actually dragging other people, willing or not, into your deception to playact characters in real life, that should be another warning siren that you are doing something rather problematic! (Not to mention solipsistic in trying to mould real life into your perception and interpretation of it, such that becomes rather stifling and airless. It does make me wonder what Laura Albert thought of Synecdoche, New York though! Or at least I want Criterion to call on Albert to write the liner note essay for their inevitable edition of that film!)
Albert talks about other writers using pen names, but didn’t seem to get the idea that you still retain your own persona while being liberated from all your authorial baggage on the page! It almost inverts here to being constrained on the page by the persona whilst being liberated and fêted in the celebrity, pop culture sphere. Until eventually you have to turn back to being ‘Laura Albert’ to get some respite from that and have your work on Deadwood assessed fairly.
In the end it probably is another cautionary tale piece on 'true artistic expression' and actual talent being co-opted (albeit willingly!) and eventually destroyed by celebrity culture, as well as of the dubious veracity of 'autobiographical' literature, no matter how poetically expressed! Its just in this case that 'co-option' caused reciprocal damage to all sides.