Off to a good start at IALJS 8 with Robert Alexander using Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief to show that there is a narrative drive in literary journalism to produce a story that is satisfying as story but which also produces meaning. The narrative drive pushes towards closure but this might be so at odds with meaning that the story might not be able to achieve closure.
Alexander used the idea of desire to say that writer, source and reader (through their expectations of genre) all come to the story invested. “A chain of desires saturates the process,” he said. In Orlean’s quest to find the ghost orchid in the Florida swamps she depends on her guide John Laroche to immerse her into his obsession and lead her to it. Thigh deep in swamp they don’t find it, “the story depends on the stability of Laroche’s desire” but the actual source is unreliable and unable to sustain his passion and with it her narrative arc. “Sources cannot be reduced to types of their desires,” he said.