Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Memoir: Fact/Fiction Redux

It's coming on strong - as it has been for the last couple of years: What's Up With Memoir?
Is it fact?
Is it fiction?

This is becoming a theme in this blog, which is ok with me. Here's a just-found article (new-to-me) on Why Some Memoirs Are Better As Fiction. I think he clarifies a point that Le Guin makes that I wasn't getting through her dismissal of any conversation recounted=fiction, never truth. Taylor Antrim, the article's author, points out that memoir can become a short cut - a weak version of story telling, where authors are not held accountable for making solid characters. They pick and choose from the cherry tree of literary styles/methods, and leave behind the most solid storytelling.

I could give him that. Now, re-reading Le Guin's essay, I can hear where she is coming from better. He also points out there's a long and respected tradition of auto-biographical fiction (The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath being a big one). So now I am feeling out - what would be better done as fiction?

This liminal space, this mixing of style and manner, content and intent, is risky for sure, and it is only getting riskier. The more I personally work on memoir, the more I want to write in present tense, dropping the reader and myself into the moment without reservation. Some kind of truth is coming forward that would not if I kept writing in the past tense, or "about" conversations instead of the conversations themselves. Do I not entirely recall things or recall things incorrectly? It's a given.

Can we write memoir knowing that's a given?
What's the line between what is acceptable and what isn't?
Between "emotional truth" and factual lies?
I have a lot of journals, some of which contain actual interactions with others. I am curious when I encounter them what I recalled incorrectly. I know that is not just a possiblity but a likelihood.

But I don't want to write fiction. I want to write memoir and I want my story to be taken as such. I appreciate Antrim's notes on responsibility of the writer, and would like to apply them to my own work. More helpful fodder for writing strong memoir. I am, however, certainly writing memoir.

What if we *accept* that likelihood and create a new form, well, that's already been created: more memoir than fiction, more autobiographical than projection, and yet. Well.

I am fine with what Le Guin notes in her essay - as soon as we encounter actual dialogue, we know that it's not factual recall but emotional recall. However, here's where she and I diverge: what if, instead of at that moment we trust the writer less (as she says she does),  we recognize what they are doing, the style they are using, and continue with that understanding? 

We read the memoir knowing the memoir is based on emotional recall and not factual. We accept that the parameters of memoir have changed, while still holding folks accountable for outright lies and manipulations. 

We use memoir as a chance to notice how memory works, how minds work, and stay curious instead of sticking to former concepts of how personal stories should be told?

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