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MemoirAn Introduction$
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G. Thomas Couser

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199826902

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199826902.001.0001

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The Work of Memoir

The Work of Memoir

Chapter:
(p.169) [7] The Work of Memoir
Source:
Memoir
Author(s):

G. Thomas Couser

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199826902.003.0008

This chapter explores why we read memoir differently from fiction. While the memoir and the novel may mirror each other in form, in force they may be quite different. Among the things memoir can do that fiction cannot is to immortalize—or at least memorialize—actual people. Seeking to immortalize oneself is not necessarily a noble motive; hence the redundancy of the celebrity memoir. But conferring a kind of immortality on a partner, parent, child, or friend in memoir can be an act of real generosity. At its best, life writing does not register preexisting selfhood, but rather somehow creates it. This inverts the intuitive idea that one lives one's life, then simply writes it down. Instead, in writing one's life one may bring a new self into being. If this is true, then in reading life narrative, we witness self-invention.

Keywords:   memories, life writing, fiction, novels, selfhood, self-invention

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