Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
On Memoirs, Fiction, and Blogspot.com: Voyeurism and the Compromise of Literary Integrity
Crisis memoir, reality television, and Blogspot.com. This is where America finds its readership, makes its cash. The real downside of this is not the bending of the so-called facts, nor the compromise of journalistic integrity, but that a form which was once an art has become another venue for American exhibitionism. The tomes of Henry Miller, The Diary of Anais Nin
, and Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdus
-- these were the diaries, the blogs of yesteryear, and the truths that they revealed pertained to the whole of humanity; whether the facts of their daily existence checked out was completely irrelevant. Journalism is meant to give us the facts, and art is meant to explore their depths, and what we have today is the worst of both worlds in which honesty of any sort is entirely absent.
If Anais Nin
were to publish her Fire online, her readership would have nothing on Mimi in New York
, despite the fact that, on the surface, the two writers would have much in common: young, bold, unconventional women, well-educated but sexually liberated, battling the disapproval and judgment of society. But reading Nin is inspiring. There is nothing of her battle, her grievances, her attitude -- she is an explorer who is fascinated by a lush and electric world. Reading Mimi, or, say, Elizabeth Wurtzel, another female memoirist and best-selling author of Prozac Nation
and More, Now, Again
, is rather depressing, provides a strange comfort in disillusionment and illness and attitude.
I think that the authors' very writing style, their phraseology, is as telling of their intentions and inspirations as their content, which may be similar. The style of Anais Nin is unconventional. It is immediate. She writes in fragments, lists, run-ons, tangents. She leaps from one insight and emotion to the next without necessarily explaining their connection. She breathes, and the reader breathes with her, the rhythm of her words recreating her experiences and emotional state, connecting with the reader effortlessly, with sprezzatura
. Wurtzel, a good writer and compelling woman, connects with her reader mostly through example, and her charismatic self-deprecation and irony. She does use humor, rather well, to elevate her memoir to something higher and more likeable than just a straight whine-fest. Her style however, is for the most part straight-forward, linear, first-person narrative. She begins at the beginning, with what could almost be read as a thesis statement -- she continues, she introduces her characters, builds to a climax of desperation, and reaches a conclusion -- in the case of Prozac Nation
, "drugs saved my life;" in the case of More, Now, Again
, "rehab saved my life." It is very nearly a persuasive essay, of the sort we are taught in eighth-grade for the CAPT test and then revisit senior year for the SAT Writing test. She is insightful, but her insights are almost entirely about her own psyche. She does not often examine the world around her, the other characters, and society as a whole, though they have clearly impacted her life.
In an interview, Wurtzel remarks
that she believes her books are controversial because they are not judged on the writing quality but on the flamboyant content. I don't believe this is the case. I believe her writing is good, but it is her self-absorption in her writing that rubs critics the wrong way. Readers, obviously, love it, because it allows them to indulge along with her. In this sense, it is easier for the public to stomach, because she may be writing about some dreadful things, but she doesn't make you think
Nin is fascinated by everything. She does not dwell on herself; she makes observations about her growth, the effects of those around her on creativity and spirit, and they are important insights. But the majority of her diary contains analyses about other people -- about Henry Miller, about Otto Rank, about her father, about Paris and New York -- about the life of an artist. As often as Wurtzel makes an ironic, cynical remark about her victimization, misery, and general malcontent, Nin makes a new observation about wisdom, creativity, and inspiration.
"Mimi in New York" is the least relatable of the three. Any relation one might feel would be merely experiential or sympathetic to her sense of victimization and frustration as a woman. Her blog is simple, cynical reportage about the life of a stripper. Her analysis of herself is infrequent and shallow; it goes no deeper than a remark to the effect of "I realized that then, I used to let it get to me, but now, I'm proud of who I am." She does not explore the motivations of the other characters in her life; she rarely even writes about them beyond scraps of unflattering dialogue in which she always allows herself the last word. With such a layered and complex emotional setting as a strip-club, there is so much more to be explored.
's Strip City
was another memoir of the same nature -- it was a fun book; a vicarious ride through one woman's experience. It was well-written and devoid of self-pity and sob-stories; it was rather impartial. It didn't delve deep but it didn't attempt to. It sold well of course, as a memoir written by a stripper, and was featured on Barnes and Nobles "New Non-Fiction" stand, but I'm sure if it had been more gruesome it would have sold more.)
Whether factually true or false, the memoirs of today have a much narrower focus than the art of years past. They are compelling; maybe they are as addictive as the substances with which their authors have (or haven't) battled. They are, at worst, manipulative cash-machines, and, at best, therapy for their creators and some source of comfort and catharsis for their audience. But do they inspire? Are they art? Will they withstand the test of time as anything other than a cultural phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries?