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.

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  1. jennylee on September 30, 2010 10:36 am

    When you said that “the veil came down” and you remembered that life writers write and edit their lives, my immediate reaction was: life writers in many ways get to rewrite their lives…maybe that’s why there are so many autobiographies/memoirs out there…so that they can make themselves the hero/heroine or, I guess in Sedaris’s case, make his life appear 24/7 funny? Which brings us to intentionality again: why did the author choose to include this memory/scene/dialogue out of all the possible memories in her/his life? what’s it’s significance? Instead of concentrating on whether or not the author is fibbing (since we established in class that autobiographies are not 100% true), I think when close-reading lifewriting, we must always have that intentionality question on the back of our minds.

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