The Perils of Bearing Witness

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In a few days, I'll be teaching this online book club discussion for the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania—revisiting familiar texts and reviewing some new ones as we weigh the perils of bearing witness—to our own lives and to the lives of others.  Among the many seemingly "simple" assertions we'll consider is this one, made by Patricia Hampl in her essential text, I Could Tell You Stories: 

Memoir must be written because each of us must possess a created version of the past.
 Agree?  Disagree?


Sherry said...

I know that writing about the past, in my journaling, these last few years, has helped me to cope with the present. It's also given me new eyes for the future. So I'd agree.

Georgie K. Buttons said...

Some things I don't want to remember. But should I remember them anyway?

Susan Taylor Brown said...

I am so wanting to participate in your group (even though the idea terrifies me.) I'm out of town for the middle chunk of it and will have to think if that would still work for me.

dstanton said...

Everything that we put into words becomes a "version," because the act of translating experience into linear sentences and words -- which are like small pre-labeled Tupperware containers -- is inherently incomplete. Experience is without definitions; words are nothing but definition. But, that said, I think that we do need to work hard at going beyond our "pat" versions of the past in writing about it; if we only tell our familiar stories, then we are not going to expose or challenge ourselves, whic means we are bound to let down the reader and ourselves.

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