Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Towards Day 2: "Memory and Imagination"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping

sign-up sheet: email address and Serendip user name

for conversing: getting to know one another-->
name yourself, and tell one truth
(next week we'll do lies...)

reverse direction: name your neighbor

just 5 of you got on to our course forum...
do others need a hand up?
talk about this process/experience?
(important to TAG YOUR POSTS "Non-Fictional Prose")

other questions about course requirements, Tuesday's discussion, etc?? (too much fun playing games, didn't get to all the details about exploring, not performing)

* individualized project: own your own direction (be selfish!)
* collective project: owe one another our thoughts (don't be!)
* all the on-line work is an explicit experimentation w/ the particular non-fictional genre that is the academic essay: how it is/might it evolve digitally??? how might our writing change (for the better??), if we write to "create a window" for the world, instead of performing for the professor??

for next Tuesday, read as much as you can manage of David Shields' 2010 book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto; introduced to it (negatively: "nihilistic") by Kakutani's NYTimes review; we'll continue discussion of it next Thursday (so finish it by then)

if you haven't posted yet, do so before our next classtime. Be in touch if you have problems (though my response time is likely to be slowed this weekend! could write pgrobste as a backup....)

the week after we'll devote to Alison Bechdel's 2006
graphic narrative, Fun Home: A Family Tragiccomic

Friday-a-week, Sept. 17,

you'll have your first 4-pp. paper due on-line
I won't take the paper unless we've talked about it first....


III. for today, I asked you to read (and write on-line about):

Patricia Hampl. "Memory and Imagination." I Could Tell You Stories:
Sojourns in the Land of Memory
(New York: Norton, 1999): 21-37.

Horst Zander, "Factional Discourse." Fact-Fiction-"Faction": A Study
of Black South African Literature in English
(Narr, 1999): 403-407.

Michiko Kakutani, Texts without Context, New York Times (March 17, 2008).

Given the fictional (constructed?) nature of "fact," is/how might non-fictional prose (nonetheless?) be a useful category for organizing our thinking-and-experiencing of literature?

What do these texts add to our conversation, on Tuesday, about fact and fiction? Do they clarify? complexify? the distinction?

What do they have to say to one another? How would you describe their relationship: Are they complimentary? Antagonistic? Expansive or diminishing of one another?

Let's talk first about the texts as texts (i.e.: how they are written? which one do you trust the most, and why? wherein lies the truth?)

They represent different genres: one is a memoir (by a practitioner of the genre), one a piece of literary theory, one a piece of journalistic criticism. What is the task of each? Which task seems to you (most) useful?

Not a Memoir: The dishonesty inherent in memoir, [Emily Fox Gordon] argues, is that an entire life cannot be contained in one book, and so the writer is forced to follow only one story line...“It was no sin against literature to write as if the story of my life in therapy had been the story of my life,” she writes. “But I think it may have amounted to a sin against myself, or a sin against my life, or — more accurately yet — a sin against the true story of my life, the one I can never tell and never know.”

Some of your initial thoughts....

Fact vs. Truth

some of my thoughts:

***footnote on how a "fact" becomes an "act": it's a recuperation of "fact" from the O.E.D., where (in the first four instances) it means "act" (from L. fact-um, thing done; was adopted as "feat"). It's fact as act that I want to highlight, fact as action which most interests me: fact as praxis, pusher, mover, provocateur....a fact, I'll go so far as to provocatively claim, is that which has the power to cause action. It's not just any one of an infinite number of stories, but only the story with the punch (perhaps it's the punch that fiction lacks?)....a fact is that which moves things along. Until the ball stops rolling, and is replaced by another...

go round: each of us name a fact
go round again: name a fiction

theorize/generalize the difference? the connections?
how much fact was embedded in your fiction?
how much fiction was used to express your fact?


p. 25: the myth that, "for the memoirist, the writing of the story is a matter of transcription...But no memoirist writes for long w/out experiencing an unsettling disbelief about the reliability of memory"

p. 26: "My desire was to be accurate. I wished to embody the myth...Yet...memory is not a warehouse of finished stories, not a gallery of framed pictures."

p. 27: "I don't write about what I know, but in order to find out what I know....the enormous degree of blankness, confusion, hunch, and uncertainty lurking the act of writing....The mess of my mind trying to find out what it wants to say...a writer's frantic, grabby mind."

p. 28: "intentionality is [not] running the show...writing is...more telegraphic and immediate in its choices than...logic and rational intention suppose.The heart, the guardian of intuition with its secret, often fearful intentions, is the boss. Its commands are what a writer obeys--often without knowing it."

p. 29: "we store in memory only images of value"

p 32: "each of us must possess a created version of the past...If we refuse to do the work...someone else will do it for us. That is the scary political fact. ...What is remembered is what becomes reality."

p. 35: "True memoir is written, like all literature, in an attempt not find not only a self but a world."

p. 36:"There may be no more pressing intellectual need in our culture than for people to become sophisticated about the function of memory."

p. 37: "Memoir is travel writing...."

Zander, "Factional Discourse":
p. 403: attempt to create intermediate terms and categories between the poles of fiction and fact: post-fiction, surfiction, critifiction, transfiction, fictual: "where the factual is not secure or unequivocal"

p. 404: "bi-referential," "news/novels discourse," ""factifiction" -- attempts at disclosing the fictional quality of reality; cf. political credo of  South African faction

p. 405: conscious aim @ abolishing difference between the modes
(cf. evolution of early English novel)

p. 406: "factional" a concept w/ blurred edges, overlaps with more extreme fictionalized factual and factualized fictional pieces

conscious attempt to diffuse the differentiation: to annul the Western aesthetic w/ division of labour between modes

Kakutani's review of (among others) Shield's "nihilistic" book, Reality Hunger (upcoming next week!): "Reality cannot be copyrighted."

insightful counterweights to early techno-utopian works:
the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses;
the rising tide of data and information that permeates our lives;
the emphasis that blogging and partisan political Web sites place on subjectivity .... the blurring of news and entertainment,
a growing polarization in national politics,
a deconstructionist view of literature (which emphasizes a critic’s or reader’s interpretation of a text, rather than the text’s actual content),
the prominence of postmodernism in the form of mash-ups and bricolage,
and a growing cultural relativism

not open-ended reading but swooping for information:
global water-cooler culture;
easily distracted adolescent quality;
pseudo world of Peter Pan fantasy;
cyberbalkanization and polarization of niche cultures -->

“Rashomon world” where “the very idea of objective reality is under attack:" the Web's amplification of subjectivity-->
the end of individual works--and of autonomy of authorship?
work tailored for milieu of groupiness,
rad for sense of belonging,
social over literary concerns

questions value of artistic imagination and originality, and primacy of the individual