Thursday, September 16, 2010

Style and "Truth" in Autobiography

I was reading today from Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson's Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives and came across two things that were relevant to topics we have covered in class.

The first is an excerpt from Gertrude Stein's Everybody's Autobiography that has a vastly different style from anything we have seen in class and would certainly be fun to edit (if it needed it).

It is funny this knowing being a genius, everything is funny. And
identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself
to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course
you do not believe yourself. That is really the trouble with an
autobiography you do not of course you do not really believe
yourself why should you, you know so well so very well that it is not
yourself, it could not be yourself because you cannot remember
right and if you do remember right it does not sound right and of
course it does not sound right because it is not right. You are of
course never yourself.

This passage, besides being hilarious, really made me think how challenging it would be to analyze and maintain the style while editing.

The second thing that I came across was the idea of Autobiographical Truth, which relates back to our discussion that we had on James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. This isn't really related to editing at all, but I found it enlightening and wanted to share. Smith and Watson refer to autobiography as "an intersubjective truth" that requires the reader to bend their version of truth while reading. Although I don't think they would necessarily agree that purposely altering truth for the purpose of selling more novels is an ethical decision, they do state that, "any utterance in an autobiographical text, even if inaccurate or distorted, characterizes its writer." Food for thought.


Pat said...

I'm pleased that you quoted Gertrude Stein, Lisa. My boss gave me one of her essays last week so that I could share it with the class. I'll bring it in on Tuesday.

Pat said...

Lisa, I was looking again at "any utterance in an autobiographical text, even if inaccurate or distorted, characterizes its writer."

In the context of our discussion of Frey, this statement seems to me misleading. It suggests that characterization can occur independently of interpretation. Of course, some characterization is possible, but will it be complete and reliable?

In order to adequately characterize the writer, the reader must interpret a good portion of the text; and if the poor reader is unaware of inaccuracies or distortions, he or she will be at the writer's mercy. This is unfair to the reader, and it does not take too vivid an imagination to figure out why readers who are thus misled become incensed at the writers who mislead them.