Memoirist's Commitment to the Truth of Absolute Essay

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¶ … memoirist's commitment to the truth of absolute importance?

It could be called the 'that's not how I remember it' phenomenon. Anyone who has tried to rehash a childhood event with a sibling knows that controversy often erupts: who received more Christmas presents? Who had the better grades? What color was our parent's first car? All of these are facts, yet because memory is imperfect it is very easy to misremember things. The emotional intensity of life as a child causes certain things to 'stick out' in one's memory, and other aspects of the world to recede. Yet this apparent 'misremembering' is also part of the experience of painting a portrait of the past. The fact that someone remembers his or her brother constantly picking on him (even if this memory may be exaggerated) reveals something about the individual recalling the experience just as much, if not more so, than the brother.

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Memoir is not journalism: it does not purport to be a list of objective facts. It does not even purport to provide a full and complete picture of an individual's life, like an autobiography. It is a portrait of a moment of emotional time. "As its name implies, memoir depends for its accuracy on memory" (Kertes, 2006, p.39). To demand objectivity from someone who is attempting to relate their subjective memory would be to effectively stifle the development of the genre. Comparing the controversial memoir by James Frey a Million Little Pieces to Tom Wolfe's nonfiction classic the Right Stuff is comparing apples and oranges. Wolfe's book was journalism, a tale of how astronauts prepare to go into space; Frey wrote about himself as an unreliable drug addict (Zinsser 2005).

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Frey was decried in the media because many of the hard, factual aspects of his narrative were not supported by documented evidence. In fact, it could be joked that other than the fact that he admitted he was a liar and an addict, everything else was fiction. Frey defended himself stating that: "I believe, and I understand others strongly disagree, that memoir allows the writer to work from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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