The Made-Up Self/Carl H. Klaus: Reflections

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

If the titles designating the four parts of this slender paperback seem, at first, daunting—"Evocations of Consciousness," "Evocations of Personality," "Personae and Culture," and "Personae and Personal Experience"—there's nothing but good stuff in between.  Delightful ruminations on the poetics of self, the possibility/impossibility of tracking the mind at work, the grand seductions and sometimes promise of what Klaus, the founding director of the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program, calls "The literature of interiority.  The story of thought. The drama of mind in action." etc. We get satisfying reflections on Montaigne reflecting on Montaigne, pithy quotes from nonfiction masters, mind teases that force us to conclude (again and again) that writing (and reading) the personal essay is both a mine field and an irresistible enterprise.

Every time I teach memoir or essay, I yearn to be writing it again.  This happened to me during the online book club ("Literature of Bearing Witness") that I was recently leading for the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania.  Memories leak.  Assertions are disproven.  The mind set free veers, trembles, and ultimately discovers something that might have been, something that might still mean something.  If only we knew for certain what about any of it was/is/could be argued into true. 

Reading Klaus put me right back into that danger zone—that thirst for trying to write the personal all over again (and yes, dear readers, I do realize that I write the personal every day on this blog).  Klaus gave me new essays to read (note to self:  read more Didion; get a copy of David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," get Anatole Broyard's Intoxicated by My Illness). He gave me experiments to try out on myself.  He gave me cause to think, and he made me smile, and it was all delivered with the kind of companionable prose that made me feel like I was in a classroom, which is where, so often, I want to be.

I have said this a few times this year; I grow redundant:  We have entered, I believe, a new era of memoir making and personal essay writing.  An era in which the forms feel noble again—better explicated, more sound, more open to new possibilities.  I grow increasingly tempted to write toward the true.


KFP said...

You wrote:
We have entered, I believe, a new era of memoir making and personal essay writing. An era in which the forms feel noble again—better explicated, more sound, more open to new possibilities.

I totally agree. I am very excited about the essay and memoir in particular and creative non-fiction in general, both as a writer and a reader.

Thanks for adding to my list of more good stuff to read, and study. said...

Thanks much for your generous reactions. It's a rare pleasure to be read with such verve and engagement.

Carl Klaus

Hannah said...

What a generous, thoughtful and clarifying response Beth. I've been trying to explain this book to my friends who live more in the world of healthcare and less in the world of the word. Now I have something to share with them--your enthusiasm is catching.

Hannah Klaus Hunter

Lilian Nattel said...

I wonder what book will come out of that yearning, Beth.

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