PHYLLIS ODESSEY

It’s All About Me

St. Augustine Moi  Errol Flynn  Augustin Burroughs  Moi   Jean Jacques Rousseau  Cellini
The New Yorker, January 29th issue
But Enough About Me by Daniel Mendelsohn 
What does the popularity of memoirs tell us about ourselves?

A review of Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda


Daniel Mendelsohn’s review blew me away.

“…The greatest outpouring of personal narratives in the history of the planet has occurred on the Internet; as soon as there was a cheap and convenient means to do so, people enthusiastically paid to disseminate their autobiographies, commentaries, opinions, and reviews, happily assuming the roles of author and publisher.”

“…And it may well be that the answer lies not with the genre (memoir) – which has remained fairly consistent in its aims and its structure for the past millennium and a half or so – but with something that has shifted, profoundly in the way we think abut ourselves and our relation to the world around us.”

Inspired by Mendelsohn’s in-depth analysis of memoir: I had to start blogging about the act of blogging.

The blog is the world of the self, this much is obvious.  In the blogosphere, there are two distinct kinds of blogs.*  Blogs which are primarily informative and blogs which focus on narrative.  And sometimes, those of us who are like ping pong balls bounce back and forth between the two forms.

In the garden world, the informative blog, runs the gamut from info on plant cultivators, new tools, reviews of books,  postings of lectures, visits with noted plantsmen, itineraries of garden trips, etc., etc., etc., and of course, most importantly, the promotion of self.

In the narrative blog, the blogger becomes something like a writer, in the sense that he/she builds a story.  And in building that story, enhancement, embellishment and distortion become the norm.  Does it matter?  The notion is essentially the same – if afternoon becomes evening, if boyfriend becomes husband, if vacation becomes business trip, if jelly becomes preserve.  When we change these facts – we change the truth, but do we expect the truth from a blog.

“…The gist is that a seemingly inborn desire on the part of Homo sapiens for coherent narratives, for meaning, often warps the way we remember things.”

As Mendelsohn points out the evolution of talk show confession to reality TV to blog is barely a hop, skip or jump.  It’s a nano second in the world of narcissism.  When I started this blog, my mind was snowed in.  I have found that a blog builds your ego.  You begin to think better of yourself and I would argue you think better, in general, because blogging what’s on your mind, organizes your thoughts (sort of) and that brings a certain amount of clarity to an otherwise pretty big muddle.

Putting together one sentence after another is definitely an art form.  If I can learn to string two or three words together as well as Daniel Mendelsohn, I will be a happy camper, no a happy gardener.

*My notion of what blogs contain is based solely on the blogs I read:  gardening, landscape and art.
**The photos across the top are noted memoir writers, with the exception of myself.

2 comments

  1. I kept thinking about my own writing guru, Vivian Gornick, who has a lot to say about the lousy practices of many within the boundaries of a potentially good form, the memoir. It all arose in our beliefs that confession is therapeutic and therapy is redemption and that redemption equals art, she says.Gornick asks: Who is this "I" upon whom turns the significance of this story-taken-from life? This is the question the writer of the memoir has to deliver. Not with an answer — but with the depth of inquiry.She also says: Emotion is not a subject. Experience must be shaped by the intellect and the heart.Her thoughts on this subject are in her book, The Situation and the Story. (Hmm — no italics available!)It is far better to let experience ripen. Experience that is not transmogrified by art — well, it's all around us.

  2. I kept thinking about my own writing guru, Vivian Gornick, who has a lot to say about the lousy practices of many within the boundaries of a potentially good form, the memoir. It all arose in our beliefs that confession is therapeutic and therapy is redemption and that redemption equals art, she says.

    Gornick asks: Who is this “I” upon whom turns the significance of this story-taken-from life? This is the question the writer of the memoir has to deliver. Not with an answer — but with the depth of inquiry.

    She also says: Emotion is not a subject. Experience must be shaped by the intellect and the heart.

    Her thoughts on this subject are in her book, The Situation and the Story. (Hmm — no italics available!)

    It is far better to let experience ripen. Experience that is not transmogrified by art — well, it's all around us.

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