When E. W. Johnson first came to me with the idea of putting together an anthology of New Journalism, the fantasy was that we were simply going to assemble twenty or so examples of the genre and write a five- or six-page introduction, and that would be it. We assumed it might be useful as a textbook. So I sat down one night to write the five or six pages - but I soon ran into a question that I could tell was going to take me on a much longer trip.
Namely, what is it precisely- in terms of technique - that has made the New Journalism as "absorbing" and "gripping' as the novel and the short story, and often more so? This led, eventually to two discoveries that I think are crucial for anyone interested in writing. One: there are four specific devices, all of them realistic, that underlie the emotionally involving quality of the most powerful prose, whether fiction or non-fiction. Two: Realism is not merely another literary approach of attitude. The introduction of detailed realism into English literature in the eighteenth century was like the introduction of electricity into machine technology. It raised the state of the art to an entirely new magnitude. And for anyone, in fiction or nonfiction. to try to improve literary technique by abandoning social realism would be like an engineer trying to improve upon machine technology by abandoning electricity. The analogy happens to work because each gets down to an elemental principle in its field.
I don't really expect any of the current set of fiction writers to take serious note of what I've said. In a way, I suppose. I'm even banking on their obtuseness. Fiction writers. currently, are busy running backward, skipping and screaming, into a begonia patch that 1 call Neo- Fabulism. I analyze it in some detail in an appendix. I must confess that the retrograde state of contemporary fiction has made it far easier to make the main point of this book: that the most important literature being written in America today is in nonfiction, in the form that has been tagged, however ungracefully, the New Journalism.