Memoir Writing Tips: Did the French Philosopher Have it Right?

by Matilda Butler on November 14, 2012

Writing Prompt LogoPost #168 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompts and Life Prompts – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

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French Philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard and Memoir Writing

Today we return to a topic that never seems settled — the topic of memoir and truth. We’ve written about truth before and will probably revisit it again and again. Each new way we find to discuss it helps us better understand how we will deal with truth when we write.

My most recent inspiration came from an unlikely source — an article on the sports page of The Wall Street Journal. I’m a casual rather than a serious follower of various teams. Since I live in Corvallis, I can tell you about the wins and losses of the Oregon State University football team — Go Beavers. Because one son lives in Eugene, I also check the scores for the University of Oregon team — Go Ducks. I used to follow the San Francisco Giants when I lived in the Bay Area and thought it was timely to live the state a few days after they finally won the World Series in 2010. I say finally because this was the first win since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958. We imagined it might be another 52 years before they won again so it seems just fine to leave California. Instead, the Giants won the World Series this year.

Well the point here is not to show my minor league knowledge of sports but rather to say that it is unlikely I would be reading about sports in the newspaper. However, during a recent hotel stay, the one time I read newspapers, my eye fell on an unusual opening sentence in an article about Boise State’s football team. It read:

“In his classic 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition, French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard argued that all grand ideas, universal narratives and overarching philosophies of the world should be rejected. One of his strongest bits of evidence against them was that individuals rarely see things the same way–rather, the ‘reality’ of any situation is colored by the observer’s perspective.” — Stu Woo

I thought this was an interesting way to look at truth. What is the reality of specific incidents in our lives? Can someone else tell you the truth of the situation? Only you know what has happened and what that meant to you — what your emotions were — what impact it had on your life.

It is actually this lack of a universal acceptance of reality that makes memoir writing so important. No one else can tell your story. No one else knows your truth unless you write it and share it. You have the one best view of your reality. You may share it with your family or you may want to share it more widely. Either way, know how important it is to write your memoir.

Do you struggle with knowing what is the truth of a situation? Consider digging deep into all the elements of your story. You’ll find the truth there, deep under all the superficial layers.

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