Monday, April 4, 2011


Chris's interesting and thoughtful comments suggest that we should spend some time talking about some aspects of the literary persona. A persona is the voice through which the author speaks (narrator, speaker, or other storyteller); it is a mask created by the real, actual author, but it is not the author him/herself. However, as Chris rightly points out, much of the actual author is evident in the persona. But how much? Some critics argue that a written text can never accurately represent a person because it is constructed and is therefore artifice; others argue that a text can never be wholly separate from the person writing it because authors ultimately draw upon life experience in order to create. (This seems in line with the O'Brien quotation that Chris mentions, from the "Spin" chapter: "You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present." But remember that O'Brien also makes the opposing argument, that nothing, not even a memoir, can ever really be factually accurate; in that sense, "happening truth" is an impossibility, at least for the writer.)

So this is where Lying gets really interesting. A memoir isn't supposed to have a persona. It is supposed to be naked and mask-less. It is supposed to be written in the author's voice. But by calling her book a "metaphorical memoir," Slater ducks that responsibility a little. She wouldn't put it that way. In fact, she would likely argue that the metaphor represents her actual self better than any literal story could. She is therefore defining memoir not as the relating of literal experience but the relating of the essential self. In other words, there is a distinction being made between events, which may or may not be factual, and identity, which is best expressed metaphorically. This calls the very nature and purpose of memoir into question. This is from a review in the New York Times:  

"Slater's hopscotch between veracity and deception concerning her supposed epilepsy is intended to convey the subjective truth about what it feels like to be her. 'My whole life has been a seizure,' she writes, and this self-diagnosis makes literary, if not literal, sense. But she also has ambitions of delivering a critique of the memoir genre. She habitually interrupts herself in order to throw what she has just written into question. One chapter consists of a memorandum to the Random House marketing department and her editor, Kate Medina, about whether the book should be marketed as fiction or nonfiction, and there Slater writes of her intention 'to ponder the blurry line between novels and memoirs. Everyone knows that a lot of memoirs have made-up scenes; it's obvious. And everyone knows that half the time at least fictions contain literal autobiographical truths. So how do we decide what's what, and does it even matter?' 

These sound like the very questions Chris is raising. It's worth talking about. I'll let you guys write about whatever you want for tomorrow, but I like that you are wrestling with these concepts. Ultimately, the answers that you come up with are important, not just to the final paper you are going to write for this class, but to the way you will read for the rest of your lives. 

No comments:

Post a Comment