Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Allow to see

Some months back, I wrote here about my own memories, awakened physically it seemed to me. At the end of the piece, I appended a passage from Proust. In a comment to that post, Lloyd Mintern argued that the truth value of my own writing was, in sense, negated, or at least undermined, by my inclusion of Proust's writing. I had to conclude that he was right: as writing of its own, as writing qua writing, it works better without the Proust passage, the addition of which feels like a strange appeal to authority, as if Proust could authorize my own memory, as if he were proof that the memory weren't bogus. I recall that even at the time, it felt tacked on, and the transition awkward, at best.

Why did I include it? I considered possible explanations: I was showing my work; or, I had had a larger piece in mind, in which Proust played a key part, which I never got around to finishing, but like the novelist who doesn't want to waste all that precious research, I felt the need to leave it all in. These reasons are part of it. But more than that, I was making a claim, I think. My experience was not a subset of Proust's, but in a very real sense, I was able to take note of it, to think about it, in part through having the experience of reading Proust. And, in a way, through this taking note, I was able to in fact have the experience at all. Instead of a fleeting, forgotten moment, it becomes a memory, something I take the trouble to record, which recording allows me to perhaps pursue the line of thought further, to facilitate further experiences, further memories. Isn't this in part what the experience of literature is for? One of literature's uses, so to speak? To allow us to see?

This experience, once written, what becomes of it? Does it escape me? Is it too literary? Does it, by existing, misrepresent the experience as I experienced it? In a sense the piece was an attempt to bring the personal to the fore, in the context of, or under the influence of, my reading. But is it mine anymore? I can tell you that I still have the memory of the experience of having the memory come to me--but in the telling, does it become something else? Does it become other than fact? Not false, but a truth separate from fact? A literary truth?

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