Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Put the Cobwebs Back in Place

Over at his new blog the Fiction Advocate, my friend Brian has a post about his distaste for instant memoirs.

I'm a bit hesitant to rebut Brian here. After all, despite having written and published one, I do find instant memoirs a bit gimmicky. Still, I think they're good exercises that teach writers to distill what's essential about their narrative, and in any case, I think Brian's argument needs some unpacking.

We dislike these instant memoirs because they are not long enough to be confessional or revelatory; because nobody is more than pruriently interested in the confessions of an unremarkable stranger, and because the internet makes these writers too self-conscious to be both honest and objective. The amount of contrivance that goes into an instant memoir brings it more in line with fiction than autobiography, and yet it’s a terrible kind of fiction, designed to make the writer sound witty, and to make a cynical reader chuckle, briefly. Instant memoirs do not set the record straight.

Earlier, Brian argues that instant memoirs "have more in common with the 'About me' paragraph on a MySpace page than with the literary form of the memoir," but instant memoirs bear a closer resemblance to the submissions at PostSecret, and at their best, they are inherently confessional.

According to Brian, instant memoirs are too short to be "revelatory," which is true to an extent. Some instant memoirs, however, can evoke recognition of shared experience. Instant memoirs may not be able to deliver the insight of longer narratives, but empathy itself is a kind of revelation.

As for contrivance, memoir has always been a dirty form of autobiography, and it pays to be skeptical of all narratives. What makes instant memoirs different?

It's unfortunate, that most instant memoirs are just plain awful, but the same can be said of any genre of writing. And yes, they are a bit too of-the-moment. Still annoying or not, they shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

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