What the memoirist owes [readers] is [the attempt].
As such, literary nonfiction ought to be judged on a different set of aesthetic and standards from those that govern other forms of nonfiction. For me, Mike Steinberg—the person—the impulse for writing a memoir grows out of a sense of not knowing. Often it takes the form of an internal wrestling match, a struggle to come to terms with some nagging itch, perplexing question, persistent feeling, sense of confusion or disorientation, or a lingering personal problem.
And the decision to create a narrative persona, whether conscious or unconscious, is, to a large extent, an aesthetic choice. On the first day of high school, the coach calls the boy out of homeroom. But when he gets to the tiny, cluttered office, the coach explains that he called him down there because a friend had told him that the boy was a trustworthy, responsible kid. So he offers him the job of assistant football manager, a humiliating duty that boils down to having to be a glorified water boy and stretcher-bearer.
The boy wrestles with the decision, but in the end he takes the job, partly because he thinks it might give him an advantage at baseball tryouts.
Yet I maintain that I did not invent or deliberately distort that scene. The coach unquestionably did meet with me. And when he told me I was going to be a water boy, he was standing in the middle of that tiny room wearing only a jock strap, white sweat socks, and a baseball hat. My point is that I choose particular scenes and situations largely because they serve the narrative. And in this instance, I had to rely pretty heavily on memory and imagination.
Well, then, did the young boy see and hear all of this in a single visit on a single afternoon? Or did this happen over a period of days during the first or second week of school?
In several instances throughout literary history, the clown might in fact be the madman as well, but there exists the narrative of the clown as a form of high art, such as street performance, which takes into consideration the light-hearted nature of these narratives. The madman can be interpreted as the least reliable narrative type, according to Riggan, as he states,. These characters might have mental or physical impairments; however, their experiences become disabling due to the lack of accommodations and societal attitudes towards these impairments. The information on which the projection of an unreliable narrator is based derives at least as much from within the mind of the beholder as from textual data.
This combination of madness and estrangement leads to an even greater sense of unreliability for the reader:. The resulting mix of madness and estrangement thus presents a complex situation in regard to the reliability of the narrator.
On the one hand, his obvious derangement, the aberrations and fixations and compulsions he shares with a long line of untrustworthy neurotic narrators, plus his pronounced inability to distinguish reality from imagination, mark him as a patently unreliable guide to his past experiences and present circumstances. On the other hand, the relative cogency and sincerity of many of the expressions of estrangement […] lend occasional touches of seeming trustworthiness to the narrative.
These mental impairments that each narrator faces in their respective stories, as Riggan suggests, result from oppression that these respective narrators face within their narrative.
This narrator and his respective analysis demonstrate a stereotypical view of mental illness in literature, as well as problematic interpretations throughout literary criticism. He expresses to the reader that he is to be executed the day after he is writing his narrative, stating:. For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.
Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not—and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified—have tortured—have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but horror—to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the commonplace—some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and events.
Poe I am suggesting that readers might classify these narrators as unreliable based on an ableist perspective that discredits these narrators due to their physical and mental disabilities. The classic case in point is the prose oeuvre of Edgar Allan Poe—in particular, his first-person narratives.
One of these animals is a sharp, all-black cat named Pluto, which the narrator takes the most pride in and loves the most deeply. It is only after he begins drinking that the narrator begins physically abusing his wife and pets. This act of alcohol abuse leads many scholars to believe that he is an unreliable narrator—not as someone who struggles with addiction—he is simply lying to the reader.
As Amper states:. On the eve of his execution for the murder of his wife, a condemned man tells a far-fetched tale about how the murder occurred. In it he expresses little remorse, denies responsibility, and blames the murder on an extraordinary sequence of events beyond his control. These impairments that the narrator faces become disabling when he is driven to murder Pluto, and eventually his wife.
This term implies that readers and scholars can experience these impaired narrators without discounting their lived experiences and disabling them within their narrations. As members of academia, it is our responsibility to dismantle harmful vernacular that upholds stereotypical images within our treatment of literature and within our classrooms.
Abrams, M. Amper, Susan.
Though the phenomenon known as “unreliable narration” or “narrative unreliability” has received a lot of attention during the last two decades, narratological. Unreliable Narration and Trustworthiness. Intermedial.
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