September 29th, 2010

“On leaving the theater, we shared a long, uncomfortable silence. Between the movie we’d just seen and the movie about to be made, we both felt awkward and self-conscious, as if we were auditioning for the roles of ourselves” (Sedaris 154).

This passage found in David Sedaris’ Repeat After Me essay explores the idea of the “self” as a protagonist in a  movie. Sedaris is writing about the process of personal writing, which will always come back to the very same struggle: constructing the self. To be a protagonist, a main character, a center piece…are a few ways of looking at what happens to the self in the writing process. Authors like Sedaris may choose to write about others in order to progressively identify,  allocate, or discover what his/her “self” is, or ought to be. In Sedaris’ case, he also chooses to parallel the self with the idea of distant on-looking, as only film-making can deliver.  Why? Maybe because some of us think distance gets us closer to objectivity, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in fact being objective.

I believe that Sedaris thinks of life as a movie, and that someone must capture it. I would dare to say that he doesn’t leave his house without pen and paper, though he may often forget his house keys.  Life as a movie… this idea helps when thinking of the self as a protagonist, and also with the so-called objective distance Sedaris aims for through his language choices. I started thinking, don’t movies get edited? Then the veil came down for me, autobiographic authors write, and edit, their lives. It is a consequence of dealing with the self, and its constant reminder of what it’s not, without ever revealing what it truly is.

Authors mean to tell us the truth, which is an issue very much discussed in the first few pages of Autobiography (everybody remembers ‘intentionality’, right?), but this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that what we get is the truth. So why call it non-fiction instead of let’s say, “non-fiction with a hint of fiction”? Sedaris’ essay helps put the “self” in perspective, he treats it as its own actor, separate from the author, one that can be observed with a sense of distance, as opposed to enveloping it around a narrating voice that speaks in first-person. Therefore protecting the author’s integrity, by suggesting slight fallacy on the part of the self.

9/22 LUCKY Response

September 22nd, 2010

“I played histrionic games with Ken and Barbie, where Barbie, by sixteen, had married, given birth, and gotten divorced from Ken. At the mock trial, where the courthouse was made out of poster board I’d cut up, Barbie gave her reason for divorce: Ken didn’t touch (43)”.

This passage, though oblivious to the author’s main story, represents what to me is one of the most recurring themes of Lucky, which is that of “touch” as a consequence of human actions and interactions. Alice, the protagonist, describes herself as being “touched” by the black men she sees on the ride to her sister’s dorm, by the old ladies that come to visit her at home, by the frat boys at her sister’s school, etc. Her mother is described as touching her breasts as part of a “dreaded flap”. When describing her mother’s nervous flaps, there was a sense of obscenity, disgust, disapproval, and embarrassment… the author couldn’t accept it as a medical condition.The rapist evidently touched her physically. She described regular couples in her neighborhood as always touching each other while pointing out that her parents barely did so. There is an obvious concern with describing how people touch each other as well as themselves, and I found this concern very unique to this author.

What does it mean to be touched by others? When reading the autobiography of a rape victim, the idea of being “touched” takes the form of a rape scene, where it gets tainted and from which changed perceptions of the same will derive. It seemed to me that from the rape scene forward, how people “touched” became an important descriptive feature to the author for reasons that could range from being a point of comparison to a self-reminder that every touch represents a kind of rape.

I feel that for the purpose of changing the reader’s mindset of what it means to be “touched”, the author intentionally abandons any romantic notion of touch as being a rather emotional manifestation, even when she means she was emotionally “touched” by something or someone she describes it as a very physical, thus uncomfortable process. This was intentional. Most likely to convince us that to be “touched” is something to be watchful of, if not concerned with: it was an intrusion, a crisis, an unforgivable thing. In the presence of this constant concern, I grew more aware as a reader of a trauma that was invisible in the author’s narrative but was vividly sprouting in the language used.


September 21st, 2010

“(…) ‘intentionality’ signals the belief that the author is behind the text, controlling its meaning; the author becomes the guarantor of the ‘intentional’ meaning or truth of the text, and reading a text therefore leads back to the author as origin (…) Trust the author, this rather circular argument goes, if s/he seems to be trustworthy “(Anderson 3-4).

In this passage Linda Anderson is directing her focus at Laura Marcus, a critic of autobiography who theorizes that looking at intentionality, or an author’s conscious choices to disclose or omit content, leads back to the author as he/she defines his/herself. Intentionality has a lot to do with the author’s control over what is being said and the question as to why he/she says it. I interpreted this as if there were two distinctive versions of an author within an autobiography, the one being represented and the one struggling to represent his/herself , the latter due to intentionality. However, Marcus argued that intentionality pertained to the author’s intention to always tell the truth, which is connected to the author’s automatic assumption of  trustworthiness. I disagree.

As there are many versions of the truth, there are many conscious choices to tell it, therefore an author will struggle with these choices, and through intentionality he/she will choose what to say as well as what to omit . Think of it as editing, only that this process happens before the author begins to write. As to what constitutes an author’s trustworthiness, I believe that should depend heavily on the reader’s discretion, and not the principle that authorship constitutes trustworthiness. Questioning why the author deems issue X as “relevant” will surely lead us back to his/her psyche, which I find more honest than an author’s intention of being honest, as suggested by Marcus.