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World Association of International Studies

PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Caves...and Memoirs
Created by John Eipper on 08/15/17 2:56 PM

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Caves...and Memoirs (John Heelan, UK, 08/15/17 2:56 pm)

JE commented on memoirs and caves (13 August): "Can we say that effective memoirs are the ones that penetrate most deeply into the caves of the self?"

This remark harks back to our original point of departure--honesty in memoirs. As a researcher into literary and artistic figures (e.g. "Lorca and his ilk," viz, Lorca, Dalí, Buñuel and Picasso) via biographies and especially their letters, I realised that the more I discovered about my celebrity targets, the more I realised that they were no different to most of us--warts and all. One would be surprised if "honest" memoirs provided a springboard to discover the "real" person behind those memoirs.

JE comments:  Some might say that artists have more "warts" than the rest of us.  Well-balanced folks are content to live their lives working, watching TV, procreating.  Malcontents make art.  Or is this a Romantic notion?

 


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  • My Memoirs, Volume I; Freedom of Information Act (Timothy Brown, USA 08/16/17 3:07 AM)
    While writing Diplomarine, a memoir, I ran up against several barriers to "telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," carefully navigating around all sorts of barriers, from risking a libel suit (I had my lawyer review it carefully) or disclosing classified information (the Freedom of Information Act isn't really), to avoid boring my readers to death.

    And that was just Volume One.


    JE comments: Please give us Volume II, Tim!  Diplomarine (part I) was a page-turner in every sense.


    I'm going to remember the quote:  The Freedom of Information Act isn't, really.  Should we discuss this further?  What encounters (or collisions) have WAISers had with the FOIA?  (Be careful about pronouncing the acronym out loud in Spain.)

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    • Memoirs and Memory at Odds (Angel Vinas, Belgium 08/16/17 1:49 PM)
      I have been in Berlin on holidays remembering old times. I have kept abreast of the many WAIS posts exchanged in the last few weeks thanks to my mobile. The ones concerning Mussolini´s Italy and the difficulties in writing memoirs have attracted my attention. Regarding the latter, I think that my personal experience may be opportune.



      I wrote a big book on my work at the EU and the changes I perceived in this organisation over fifteen years. My intention was to provide the reader with an insight of how the EU worked in the areas I had a direct knowledge of. I began writing one month after leaving the EU and wrote in flashback from the end of my activities toward the starting point. My memory being not that bad, I thought I could truthfully reconstruct the high points of my most recent experiences. I worked for three months on my last two EU years. I was relatively happy and self-assured. However, as a historian I immediately confronted my writing with the primary evidence (my personal files contained in 40 or 50 big boxes which I had taken with me--this was permitted at that time) and the comparison left me aghast.

      Episodes which I believed to have written truthfully turned out not to be as I had described then. Conclusion? From then on I wrote on the basis of direct evidence which I deposited several years later with the EU Archives in Florence. Any reader interested in contrasting my account can therefore check it with the primary evidence. The files description is available on line. I simply kept my old diary because it contained personal details I did not want to exhibit.


      What does this mean? As a historian I have developed a hearty dislike of memoirs as historical sources unless supported by corroborative evidence. In particular if the memoirs have been written from memory. Memory plays tricks. Needless to say, I had to fight the temptation to put myself in a glamorous light. I avoided it to the extent possible by having recourse to Brecht´s concept of Verfremdung highlighting the need to keep of critical distance to the Darstellung (the written text). I didn´t lie except on one occasion and only to protect a source following legal advice. However, I didn't tell the whole truth or what I thought was the truth for lack of evidence.


      I think that memoirs are indelibly personal affairs to be taken with a grain (occasionally with a ton) of salt. They should take a secondary role and only to be used in connection with available evidence. I, however, acknowledge that this is not always possible. In my next book I´ll be addressing without compassion some memoirs which historians have taken at face value.


      JE comments:  Yes, there would be no such thing as memory if there were no forgetting. Not that Ángel Viñas would do such a thing, but consider the "Brian Williams Syndrome," where you enhance a personal experience to the point that it becomes pure fiction.  Might we call it involuntary mendacity?

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