Wednesday, July 29

Whose Memory Is It Anyway?

Karl Taro Greenfeld has a problem: "Had some of my earliest memories actually been implanted by reading my father's book about our family as a very young child?"

In writing his memoir about growing up with an autistic brother, Greenfeld kept comparing his own memory with that of the already published version--his father's books. He says: "Many of us have recollections that turn out to have been created or nurtured by family photos we have seen or stories we have been told. But most of us aren't writers setting down a life's story. One could argue that the more fortunate memoirist is the one who doesn't have another writer also weighing in on his childhood, who doesn't measure his own memories against those of some external, recorded source."

In a way, Greenfeld is writing his memoir with the conscious effort of not merely echoing the story that has already been told. Later on, he realizes that memory is a tricky thing: there's same game of catch and yet his father's account was similar and in other ways different. Then incident about a graduate student who spanked the very young Greenfeld when he threw a tantrum over dinner. This he remembers with clarity, but his parents cannot recall it ever happening. In the end, he resolves that "The memoirist's ultimate responsibility is to himself, his own version of his life, his truth and reality. If he does not stay faithful to that story, then why is he bothering to write it at all?"

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