Fiction doesn't have a monopoly on magic, since reality itself is magical in so many ways. Traditional nonfiction deals in mundanities, but the best Creative Nonfiction (CNF) can jolt us out of our anaesthetised existences and reconnect us with the magic of reality. It can make us fall in love with the world again. CNF is many things to many people, but for me it's an exercise in re-enchantment.
All too often, CNF is treated as a mere synonym for literary or narrative journalism, though in the wider, more generous sense, it's not invariably narrativistic and it's much bigger than journalism.
Narrative elements are certainly important, but what about the lyric essay which proceeds associatively (or "mosaically") rather than following a storyline, or the philosophical essay which is organised more around an argument than a story, even though stories may form part of it?
Some great Creative Nonfictioneers have come from journalism (Susan Orlean and Michael Pollan are the standouts for me here), but there have also been amazing CNF writers that have crossed over from poetry (e.g. Diane Ackerman and Annie Dillard), fiction (e.g. Arundhati Roy), and academia (e.g. David Abram and Amitav Ghosh).
Then there are writers in a class of their own like Rebecca Solnit - my greatest CNF inspiration. To call her work journalism would be hugely reductive. Of her writerly practice, Solnit  writes:
As nonfiction - that leftover term apotheosizing fiction - gets defined down as only memoir and essay, I've wanted to open it back up again, to claim it as virtually everything else. Nonfiction is the whole realm from from investigative journalism to prose poems, from manifestos to love letters, from dictionaries to packing lists. This territory to which I am, officially consigned couldn't be more spacious, and I couldn't be more pleased to be free to roam its expanses.
Annie Dillard  writes similarly of the freedom that Creative Nonfiction offers:
I only want to remind my writing colleagues that a great deal can be done in nonfiction... Literary nonfiction is all over the map and has been for three hundred years. There's nothing you can't do with it. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is proscribed. You get to make up your own form every time. When I gave up writing poetry I was very sad, for I had devoted 15 years to the study of how the structures of poems carry meaning. But I was delighted to find that nonfiction prose can also carry meaning in its structures, can tolerate all sorts of figurative language, as well as alliteration and even rhyme. The range of rhythms in prose is larger and grander than it is in poetry, and it can handle discursive ideas and plain information as well as character and story. It can do everything. I felt as though I had switched from a single reed instrument to a full orchestra.
I find the lyric essay particularly liberating, and feel that this is the direction I'd like to head in with my work. I get a thrill out of making wild and unlikely connections - in my last blog-post, for instance, I managed to relate ecophilosophy to ballet, among other things - and the lyric essay is the one form in which these kinds of playful associative leaps are permitted and even encouraged. Although I need to get better at telling stories, painting scenes, and developing characters within my lyric essays, I do know my play instincts and knack for association are strong.
The lyric essayist is additionally free to code-switch between different registers. I often find myself code-switching between the personal and the universal; the sciences and the humanities; the scholarly and the vernacular; the magical and the mundane. In this, I find an ally in scholar and lyric essayist, Gloria Anzaldua, who made of code-switching and border-crossing an art, stemming from her hybrid identity as a Xicana (Mexican American) woman operating between two languages and worlds. My own identity lends itself to such a practice too, given that I'm likewise cross-cultural (born to a Filipina mother and Anglo-Australian father); was raised in multiple countries (Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia); and speak several languages (English, Brazilian Portuguese, basic Spanish, and a smattering of Indonesian and Tagalog). It's harder to write within boxes when you don't fit in any.
As a final point, I'd like to return to Solnit's characterisation of nonfiction as a "leftover term apotheosizing fiction". Admittedly, I had to look up "apotheosize" in the dictionary, and discovered it meant "to elevate to the rank of a god". I see things a bit differently from Solnit: Perhaps it's not that fiction is exalted, but simply that it's our original way. In the beginning, there must have fiction, with nonfiction only arriving later, just as with the case of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples here in Australia.
Though being a term developed by librarians for practicality and convenience, "nonfiction" could be seen to have followed on from fiction in a more fundamental sense. As Jonathon Gotschall theorises, humans are "the storytelling animal". Very early on, stories helped us to make sense of the world around us, providing explanations for life, death and other mysteries; conferring identity on individuals and societies; and guiding behaviour in everyday life. Culture itself is, at bottom, a set of stories. I would contend that all stories are fictions: not in the pejorative sense of a falsehood, but in the sense of fiction's etymological origins. Ultimately, its lineage traces back to fingere, a Latin verb meaning "to form out of clay". In working with clay, we take raw material from the earth and shape it to suit our purposes. So too with stories - even the true ones.
On Planet Tlön, in Jorge Luis Borges's short story entitled 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius', the sciences are deemed to be "a branch of fantastic literature". The philosopher Jean-François Lyotard argues something similar in the case of Planet Earth. In his seminal work, The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard advances the view that despite science's pretensions to universal authority and a monopoly on "Truth", it is, in the end, just another form of "narrative knowledge"; that is to say, a story.
Traditional nonfiction disavows itself of its "fictional" basis; CNF, on the other hand, embraces it. Returning to my original point, today's nonfiction is putting us back in touch with magic and mystery and plural realities, and all the other things the Enlightenment was supposed to have banished. In place of the single Sun of Truth: a whole Milky Way of truths.
 Perhaps much of Creative Nonfiction (CNF) could arguably be classed as magical realism.
 Solnit, R. 2014, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, Trinity University Press, San Antonio.
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