Narration, Representation, Memoir, Truth, and Lies: How We Diminish the Art of Narrative with Simple Truths
Narrative is a form of writing that can only loosely be said to be representative is the strictest sense of the word. Writers of narrative (I include both fiction and non-fiction here) must manipulate time, causation, emphasis, perspective, and events in order to craft an interesting story—one that is compelling, appealing, and makes some sort of meaningful point. But events don’t lend themselves to be directly translated into narrative, thus my resistance to allowing them to be, in the strictest sense, represented. In the last several years an ever-increasing number of memoirists have been accused of fraud in one form or another. From James Frey to Benjamin Wilkomirski, from Margaret Seltzer/Jones to Greg Mortensen, readers are more and more concerned about the simple veracity of merely what can be documented over the narrative elements of quality prose. From these examples of memoir fraud I build in order to examine the larger issues to which they point, namely what narrative provides us with that goes beyond documentation, whether the genre of memoir is something that can ever claim truth, and how the evolution of memoir as a genre is changing in potentially unhealthy ways because of our overly simplistic notions of truth. Popular notions of truth have become increasingly influential as many of these examples have been trudged through legal courts as well as the court of public opinion (not to mention Oprah’s judgment!). What I will ultimately argue in this paper is that the overly simplistic truth standards the public develops is negatively influencing the license that narrative should have to do exactly what it needs to do—narrate, describe, incite imaginings.