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Academic Writing: Memoir

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Discuss about the Academic Writing for Memoir.


The Truth in Memoir Writing

Memoir is considered a subgenre under the category of Creative nonfiction. According to Henderson, the author incorporates into the memoir a part of his life’s event. The objective of memoir is to reveal the author’s experiences. Dollins discussed that the main difference between autobiography or biography and memoir is that the former covers the complete life of the author.

Memoirs should include real facts, true stories of the author’s life. In the given passages, the Patricia Hampl and Salman Rushdie have outlined the definition of Memoir. In the passage one, Patricia Hampl has discussed that memoir and fiction are not the same and any accusation of from the critics’ part is unjustified. Singer, and Nicole discussed, Memoir, as a genre is accused with intermixing memory with imagination. Her point of argument in this essay centers on the role of memory in writing nonfiction and its difference from imagination. Hampl argued that memoir is the best tool to channelize one’s emotion while revealing real facts (Hampl, 1996). It is a fact that every person attaches some amount of emotion and imagination to his experiences. An autobiography or journalistic writing might reveal the facts; however, these are unable to project the real emotional outcome of the author. Memoir accomplishes this task effectively. Hampl argued that each person has a real past that is tangible and made with real stuffs that he has undergone. (Hampl, 1996) However, not everything is preserved in the mind. People tend to remember some facts accurately and forget some completely. Memory plays the vital role whenever one decides to share those events. She has discussed that whatever is stored accurately as a memory can be expressed in details. It does not mean that those facts are not real or imaginary. In cases where reality cannot be depicted in its complete shape, the imagination of the author reconstructs a portion of it without violating the main essence of the narrative. (Hampl, 1996) In any of those instances, the writer never moves out of reality and enters into the domain of fiction writing. Memoir is definitely not a fiction. Fiction does not include any real facts uttered by the narrator.

According to Frye, Hampl has brought the question of why a writer should select memoir as a style of writing over biography while sharing his life stories. It is a point of argument why a writer should write memoir and not an autobiography if he has decided to express his own experiences. Patricia Hampl discusses the answer in this book. She said that memoir enables the writer to incorporate his subjective self or subjective point of view into the narrative (Hampl, 1996). Every situation or every experience never adds value to our lives if it is devoid of any personal emotion. Karr also opined that the emotional outcome that is a result of the subjective point of view acts a link between the author and the narrative. Unlike the fiction, memoir is a documentation of real events with real emotions. Therefore, the readers feel mote involvement with the story. Karr said, Hampl explains that it is the gift of the narrators to transform the experience through creative imagination and adds value to that experience. Memoir does this job effectively.

The second passage, extracted from Salman Rusdie’s memoir “Imaginary Homelands”, defines memoir as an effective subgenre of Creative nonfiction. The confusion of a writer while describing the real emotions is clearly brought out by Rushdie. He uttered that when he looked through his window and found a beautiful scene of the city, he felt that it is not something that he has imaganied (Rushdie 2012). His imagination was completely different from what he has experienced. However, as a writer of nonfiction narrative, he is bound to project the real events and real emotions. He is not allowed to exercise his imagination while describing how the city of North London looks from the windowpane (Rushdie 2012). The discussion of memory, imagination and creativity in the nonfiction writing is very different here from the previous extracted piece of writing by Patricia Hampl. According to Juhl, here the focus of the narrator is to upheld the truth about utilizing memory and bring the past back without any distortion. The subjectivity of the narrator plays a major role in this instance. He wanted o present his own version of history through his experiences. As Rushdie discussed, this version should be different from all the other possible versions experienced and shared by other people. A mere nonfiction prose, however, states the fact. This fact might be same for everybody. Rushdie opined that memoir makes the difference in this case. Hidalgo discussed, Memoir explores the real fact replete with the subjective experience of the narrator. It describes the way the reality has affected or influenced the narrator, which varies from one person to another. However, Rushdie does not ignore the questions of accuracy and authenticity. He explained that he has tried to remain imaginatively true. Although, the truth of the imagination is a matter of suspicion for many people, yet that is the best possible way to explore a new and different version of the real fact. He argued that any other person might not experience “his” version of the reality; however, it does not make “his” version false. This version might also not be included into the history, yet it is not false. The way Rushdie has experienced India and especially Bombay, might never be the same again, and it might not be found in the future too. Still, it is his experience and should not be included into the genre of fiction. It is not his imagination that he has shared; rather it is the subjective point of view that he has incorporated into the narrative. To make his point clear to the readers, Rushdie has introduced a narrator named Saleem who narrates the story. Through Saleem, Rushdie has shared his real experiences. As already discussed, Rushdie has made an argument that our memory does not remember everything and therefore, it is impossible to describe everything. To project this concept, Rushdie has made Saleem having a fallible memory.

It is a matter of argument whether a novel is considered a memoir or not. An autobiography can be considered a memoir. A biography can never be a memoir because the subjective self of the narrator is not present in the novel that a memoir strongly demands. Some novels that claim to have based on any real life incidents are also not included in the genre of memoir if it is based on the experience of any other person. The narrator must share his own experience creatively through the narrative. It is clearly pointed out by Hampl as she mentioned the intersection of narration and reflection in the memoir. It is the subjectivity of the narrative that makes all the differences. A creative nonfiction writer will show the topic or the subject, place and personality through actions. Memoir is one such genre of creative nonfiction, where the writer focuses on presenting the “I” of the writer.

The inclusion of subjectivity attaches an amount of suspicion into the narrative. Both Hampl and Rushdie have introduced this point of argument in their works. On one hand, human memory is not bound to store everything that it is gone by. The question is to maintain factual accuracy by not filling the blank with the imagination of the author.

Hampl has written that a memoirist always have her story already finished and completely achieved in reality. In such a situation, the memoir is nothing but a transcription of the history. Her words justify the authenticity of her narrative. She has discussed how memory plays an important role in recollection of the real facts. As she said that she did not remember anything about her first arithmetic lessons, yet the memory of the first piano lesson is accurately preserved in her mind. Her discussion negates the allegation of falsification. The memoir that she has written is replete with minute details of experiences because she has actually remembered those things. On the other hand, Rushdie has argued that it is impossible to recall every detail. Therefore, he made his narrator having a fallible memory. It does not make the narrative a fiction; rather it is an important component of memoir as a genre.         

Defining Non Fiction

Creative non-fiction is also named literary nonfiction and narrative nonfiction. The style is marked by producing narratives that are factually accurate. As a genre, it is contrasted with other types of nonfiction including academic or technical writing and even journalistic style of writing because all these technique focus on presenting fact based narratives. However, creative nonfiction is gaining acceptance with time.  One thing that comes to mind is that in what ways other nonfiction is different to creative nonfiction. In addition, how can nonfiction be creative?  It can be understood by analyzing creative nonfiction as a separate genre.   

The main objective of the nonfiction writer is to provide accurate information about any real incident. However, his presentation should be in a way that appears as a fiction. Various narrative forms belonging to this genre include biography, memoir, autobiography, literary journalism, food related writing, diary, travelogue, chronicles, and personal essays.  There are other hybridized essays that are part of this genre.  According to Williams, the genre of creative writing can be divided into two sub-categories namely Personal essay and journalistic essay. Apart from this opinion, another critic Kerr has outlined four distinctive characteristics of this genre.  He emphasized on the inclusion of documentable subject matter taken from the real world and not something invented in the mind of the writer. It tries to establish the fact that creative nonfiction should include real facts of the real world. The second characteristic of this genre is “exhaustive research”.  It allows the writer to channelize novel perspective through the narratives. Exhaustive Research also permits the writers to include verifiable references in the text that enhance the credibility of their narratives. The third characteristic of Creative nonfiction is “the scene”. It means that the writers should describe and portray a scene in a contrast to the journalistic style of writing. The forth characteristic of it is named as “fine writing: a literary prose style”. It refers to the polished and organized writing style of the narrator that makes the narrative attractive to the readers.

Apart from all the characteristics discussed in the above, the creative nonfiction can also have a style of traditional style of fiction writing (Girard, 2015). As Starkey has discussed, in many of the well-known creative nonfiction essays, the author is found using the style of fiction writing while providing real facts about a real event. Fenton Johnson’s “Story of love and loss”, and Geography of the heart”, and “Patty Hearst” by Virginia Holman are found to follow this trend. It is a fact that the genre has undergone many experiments and is still going through it.  The main question is in what ways and to what extent the creative nonfiction can be creative. The level and limitation of creativity have been discussed by the authors. In his book “Silvertown”, Melanie McGrath has mentioned that the real facts in the stories act as the canvas on which he has embroidered and those facts that are absent are replaced by the reimagined scenes or events to match the real essence of the scene (McGrath, 2012). He believed that such reconstruction does not alter the truth but enhanced it. Not all critics have agreed on inclusion of reconstructed events. One important aspect has been discussed by Himmelheber et al, they discussed that memory, which is the storehouse of all the real facts, reconstruct real facts unconsciously. It is not always possible to write exactly the same actions that took place. Human memory keeps the main essence intact based on which it provide facts. Therefore, human memory is termed as the ultimate mythmaker.  According to Beaumont, even if one writes a journalistic price of writing based on a interview, the writer is unable to provide exact words of the interviewee. The main points included in the published writing should retain the real facts; however, it is impossible to avoid imagination at all. Use of creative imagination is profound in such instances. Often the journalists are accused with presenting falsifying stories. It can be said that they have failed to channelize their creative thinking. Creative imagination of the author should not exaggerate or overshadow the real facts. It should support the Factual evidences with proper style and presentation.  Any falsification of facts in case of journalistic essays is considered unethical. This issue of ethics is applied in other types of Creative nonfiction too. The purpose is to project the truth. According to Einstein, creative nonfiction deals with both truth and accuracy, that is expected from nonfiction writing.

Pickett has observed that since the genre of creative nonfiction started gaining acceptance from the readers and the authors, some critics have talked about the limitation of the art form. Writing in scenes, which is an important element of creative nonfiction, indicates the difference between telling and showing. It is observed that a nonfiction writer mainly introduces a subject or a topic, a place or any personality. However, a creative nonfiction writer will show the topic or the subject, place and personality through actions. It has resulted into the development of subgenres under the category of personal essay. Memoir is one such genre of creative nonfiction, where the writer focuses on presenting the “I” of the writer.

“Memory and Imagination” by Patricia Hampl is a creative nonfiction narrative. It falls into the subgenre of memoir. Here the narrator has shared her childhood experiences in a creative manner. Hampl describes the role of music in her family life, as her father was a violin player. Hampl learnt music from her father and used to perform duets with him. The story is presented in detail. According to Gutkind, from the very beginning of the story, the facts appeared to be believable. However, it is found that not every single details presented in the narrative is not true. Some of them are the projection of Hampl’s own imagination. Through the narrative, she has tried to demonstrate the need of the people while writing or reading a memoir. Hampl has tried to establish the importance of imagination in memoir writing. However, the first draft of the narrative introduced only the basic concept of what to write; then the writer shifted to the detailed discussion. Through her memoir, Hampl has expressed the hidden emotions and images. This is what many critics have talked about as the violation of the authenticity of nonfiction writing. While presenting her life story, Hampl has incorporated her emotions and experiences into the narrative. The existence of the self or the “I” within the structure of the nonfiction writing is what makes it a piece of creative nonfiction (Hampl, 1996). On the other hand, Freeman discussed, the existence of the self in the narrative is an evidence of truth and reality. Whatever she has experienced in her childhood, she has expressed it to the readers. The memories of that she shares, the memories of her parents compelling her to become the person they wanted, the kinds of punishments and consequences that she survives, everything is described with effective choice of words. The debate was whether these words are exaggeration or real emotions. Words such as “tortured flair”, “artistry”, “gleamed” are mainly found in fiction prose. According to Concha, Hampl has used these words to show the situation she has faced. All creative nonfiction writers should have the idea about the limitations of providing emotional overtones. Through the scenes, she has presented her story. The readers are able to see what she has wanted to show them. It goes perfectly with the concept of creative nonfiction.

Apart from the scenes, Hampl has maintained all the four elements of Creative nonfiction. She has retained all the other elements of creative nonfiction in this memoir. She has documented the real life events, exercises her perspective through experiences, presented the “scenes”, and written in beautiful literary prose style. To discuss whether Hampl is successful in presenting real events without any exaggeration, a close look at the prose will be given. While reading the story, the readers will find the detailed description of the characters mentioned by the author. She described Sister Olive Marie as “small, plump woman”. She has mentioned the name of the real people. It is found in the name of Thompson (Hampl, 1996). However, Hampl has justified why she has chosen the genre of memoir while intending to share her childhood experiences. She has written that a memoirist always have her story already finished and completely achieved in reality. In such a situation, the memoir is nothing but a transcription of the history. Her words justify the authenticity of her narrative. She has discussed how memory plays an important role in recollection of the real facts. As she said that she did not remember anything about her first arithmetic lessons, yet the memory of the first piano lesson is accurately preserved in her mind. Her discussion negates the allegation of falsification. According to Himmelheber et al, the memoir that she has written is replete with minute details of experiences because she has actually remembered those things. Therefore, when she utters that, “the sun makes me sneeze”, the reader is supposed to accept it as a real experience of that particular moment because Hampl has actually remembered them. Caulley opined, on the other hand, when she mentioned that she has added her creativity to differentiate the narrative from mere transcription, the reader is bound to accept the areas where creativity occurred. Hampl has pointed out that memoir is considered nonfiction because each person has a real and tangible past. In this book, she has only brought that past in front of the readers. As it is her life events and she is the person who is writing, it is supposed to include her subjective point of view. Therefore, it is very much a piece of creative nonfiction.  


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