Sunday, January 24, 2021

Playing a ventriloquist

Luc Sante's 1998 The Factory of Facts is an engrossing memoir in which Sante attempts, with the titular facts, to assemble some sort of coherence out of the circumstances of his life: namely, he was born in Belgium, yet raised in New Jersey. Feeling rootless in both histories, he's in a sense placeless, without a tangible heritage to call his own. It's a great read, Santeesque in its unsentimental looks back at childhood and adolescence with, paradoxically, a romantic urgency. What Sante knows about his and his extended family, and about the history of Belgian art and culture—what the facts say, or dispute—often leads him into the ether of speculation, and that movement between solidity and uncertainty, between calendar and narrative truths, drives this great book. (I spoke with Sante back in 2010 about his work.)

This passage on the vagaries of writing about childhood is exceptional, and hasn't left my head in the weeks since re-reading the book:

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