Daily Archives: July 5, 2009

The abomination of faked memoir

from “Fiction, Fact, and Faked Memoirs,” by Thomas Larson, author of The Memoir and the Memoirist, in New English Review

“Writing a memoir, one is tormented less by the particular truth of a character’s emotion, as in fiction, and more by the emotional truth of one’s own experience. Both ‘emotional truths’ are valid; both fictionist and nonfictionist are after a similar truth—fully fleshing out the authenticity of the emotion. But now the integrity of the memoirist figures in. He must honor the pact: the emotional truth lies only in what he has experienced and how he has remembered his experience, and not in what an audience or a plot or an imagined reality deems necessary, or targets him, to reveal.”

Larson1“The real tyranny of the faked memoir is not that one has factually lied. That’s bad enough—stupid, really—in an age of Internet searches and viral circulation when anyone can be found out and quickly shamed. No, the faked memoir is an abomination because of its intentional ‘goodness’ as literature and of its wrongfully elevating dramatic truth over experiential truth, the esthetic over the ethical.”

“Since drama and truth are both elements in fiction and nonfiction, it’s best to simplify these terms first. By drama I mean narrative; by truth I mean analysis. The showing and the telling. True, some memoirs do read like novels: enraptured scenes, revelatory dialogue, “real” characters drawn and destined like those in fiction. But in memoir one gets to show and tell. And it is by telling the truth—the struggle to find what the truth is and then to tell it honestly—that distinguishes the memoir from its narrative competitors. Put another way, the reason the memoir exists is to give the writer a vehicle for telling the truth, for unlocking the meaning of personal experience through memory, whether shaped by narrative or analysis.”

“Which, at last, brings me to the label many of us labor under. Nonfiction. As memoirists, as writers memoir-izing nonfiction, we’re ambivalent about the word (forget, for now, it’s further confusing creative tag) not only because the word is defined negatively but also because it’s an apt label: what the non-ness in nonfiction is telling us is to seize the identity of memoir and other narrative forms from fiction. That memoir is not fiction. But it’s too easy to say this. Nonfiction writers can easily succumb in a world of movie-tie-in’s to the culture’s desire for another love story or hero’s journey. It’s a tendency we must resist and reveal in our writing why we are resisting it. This struggle comes with the territory: to seize life-writing back from its fictionalizing sensibility where the culture and the media and Oprah keep steering it.”

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