More on writing and memory

Back in June, I wrote some here on “Memory and fictobiography”, including a section of quotes on memory and writing. An addition to this bank of quotes, from an “Up Front” column (New York Times Book Review of September 12) interviewing novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro:

Readers [Shapiro says] … “often think that writing a memoir must be cathartic, But, if anything, I found [in writing the memoir Slow Motion] that it embeds the story more deeply in the writer. The story becomes frozen, in a way, by the crafting of it. Memory is mutable, and the relationship between writer and the story at the particular moment the story is written becomes the story.”

The story becomes frozen by the crafting of it. So in writing pieces of Reflections on a Sexual Life (which I’m beginning to think of as a set of episodes, fictobiographical short stories, rather than as a sustained novel-like narrative), I found that the act of writing fixed my memories: the way I fashioned the stories became my memory for the events and feelings of the past, even when I understood that I was shaping the telling for artistic purposes. Increasingly, I could no longer access alternative, more “immediate”, recollections.

Unsurprisingly, this freezing effect held for stories told at considerable remove from the real-world events they purport to describe (like the first three gay-baths stories linked to here). But it happened even when my first drafts came very soon after those events, as for the last two gay-baths tales. And then as I rewrote, edited, and polished, I was not so much recovering more details from the past as improving and elaborating the material using details that came from god knows where (memories of different events, stories I’d been told, things I’d read or seen in movies, dreams, fantasies, sheer invention).

It’s like a family story that improves over time, eventually to settle into a canonical version that displaces all the earlier versions — and, very often, gets retold virtually verbatim after that. (Sometimes people can’t even recall whose story it was in the first place; it’s become everybody’s story to tell.)



2 Responses to “More on writing and memory”

  1. Truth, memory, and stories « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] postings of mine on memory and writing here and here. And on narratophilia — the love of, desire for, (satisfying) stories – here and […]

  2. Comics books « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] in the borderland between fiction and (auto)biography (biofiction and fictobiography, here and here), and not only longer forms but also shorter ones, has been noted, usually with dismay, by many […]

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