Discovering the (W)hole Story:
On Fragments, Narrative, and Identity in the Embodied Essay
Perhaps we need a new name for this type of essay—one in which the topic demands both a traditional and segmented narrative form. The (w)hole essay? “(W)hole,” as in how I’ve created a new narrative for my father. He is no longer completely fragmented in my mind, and yet he is also more complex than the birth-to-death chronology of his life. His story is cumulative—having to do with the recognizable trail: his history of mental illness and addiction—and also fragmented; having to do with the chaotic and disparate ways in which I understood him. Bringing these two structures of my father’s story together to create a whole narrative of who he was, his identity, and how I identify him as my father. My identity in relation to him—fatherless. My whole identity is perhaps based on the fact that there is a father-shaped hole in my life. There’s poetry in our pauses, our considerations. But there’s also the language and narrative qualities of how my mother and I progressed through discovering the meaning of my father. These are the elements of life, the lyric space of living. Click here to continue reading.
“The Self-ish Genre”:
Questions of Authorial Selfhood and Ethics in First Person Creative Nonfiction
The centrality of the authorial “I” is what sets creative nonfiction, then, apart from adjacent genres such as biography and journalism, in which the author is reporting on people and events with a primary concern for accuracy, and in which the authorial perspective is of lesser concern than the events or people themselves. The role of theory here is to provide me with the ability to ask the questions I wish to ask; to give me the conceptual framework that makes their asking possible. But this is still an essay, and as such, it seeks to engage with these concepts in an open-ended way. As Adorno has written, “The essay… takes the anti-systematic impulse into its own procedure, and introduces concepts directly, ‘immediately,’ as it receives them. They gain their precision only through their relation to one another” (160). And so it will be here. It’s my goal to ask “What is the self in self-centered writing,” and then to think—in the company of the others I cite—about the ethical relationship between that self and the reader, but it isn’t my goal to come up with an answer. I doubt there is an answer. But there are certainly questions. Click here to continue reading.
Seeing in Embraces
Yes, The Book of Embraces is a collection, a compilation of wonders and memories, a mosaic and a collage. But Galeano’s use of images in conjunction with text is more than an assortment of items or a composition technique. It is the point and power of the book. In addition to everything else, The Book of Embraces is a book about seeing, or perception. Through its anecdotes and illustrations, readers see the world through Galeano’s own sensitive and insightful vision. But more than that, the anecdotes and illustrations heighten the readers’ awareness of seeing and suggest lessons on how to see. Click here to continue reading.
Sentiment, Not Sentimentality
This anxiety about too much sentiment, so much anxiety that we go to great lengths to avoid even the scent of it in our work is taxing, but it certainly does mean we will be pushed to make on a conscious level a lot of craft-heavy choices in our writing and with greater frequency. But even succeeding on the craft level at avoiding sentimentality does not free women from the burden of answering questions in interviews about subject matter as is the case for Elena Passarello, or the almost inevitable demand from workshop peers and editors for revisions, for more of the personal. Click here to continue reading.