Lies in Lying

I’ve been dwelling a lot on our conversations on the importance (or lack thereof) of Slaters’ diagnosis of epilepsy. By now I think we can mostly agree that whatever shred of epilepsy was in her life has been exaggerated for the story. I don’t think she had it, but I think it deserves more merit than just a metaphor. I’ve been toying around with the term “emotional truth” in regards to this; she explicitly states that not only is emotional truth different than the factual truth but that it is superior. We see Slater struggle with the false memories coming to her during her seizures and we realize that not only are we, as readers, are armed with a necessary skepticism when approaching the subject matter of this memoir but that she, as an author and a human being, must approach the very “facts” of her life in the same fashion, constantly questioning whether something ever truly happened. 

And so in my reading epilepsy is not just a metaphor for her emotional state throughout her life, though it is a perfect fit. Too perfect, to ride the cliche. I don’t think Slater decided to write a memoir of her life and use epilepsy as a conduit for that; I believe that she believes, or believed during the events in question, that she truly had epilepsy. That belief in her own lie came from an uncontrollable desire for something solid to ground herself in, maybe even something to blame for her depression or many idiosyncrasies. Her personal life was too overwhelming; the negligent father, abusive mother, the underdeveloped social skills that so often accompany harsh upbringings. Maybe her first seizure was a real, brought on by stress, maybe she faked it, or we can always call into question that the event in question even happened. Regardless, in epilepsy she found release, she found an excuse to be different and, most importantly, had a way to flee from reality.

When she writes scenes revolving around her seizures the language is nothing short of beautiful and, as we’ve said in class, romanticized. We were right to question whether this romanticism is responsible, but another question has been occurring to me: is it intentional? I don’t think she can help her romanticization of epilepsy because it represents, to her, something romantic in a very real sense. She craves the auras that grant artists preternatural skill, lusts after the attention it brings her in emergency rooms, and we see she can hardly function outside of hospitals when she’s being studied so intensely. Epilepsy is something she sought after, so desperately and with such vigor that she created a lie which gained so much steam she lost total control of it, and when it came crashing down her brain was being surgically altered. It is not the surgery that heals her, however, it is the spirituality she finds in college.

Or maybe none of that is being close to true; that’s what’s tricky about Lying. What we can hold onto, however, is the emotional truths she represents. Her epilepsy is her escape, her seizing at a new life away from her abusive home; maybe she didn’t go to a convent in Kansas to learn about falling, but she was exposed to and found hope in Christianity as a child which helped her gain confidence and some control; maybe she never had the surgery, it just represents a moment when she was caught in the lie, or had to face the truth that she didn’t have epilepsy, something that made her seizures lose steam; if her first relationship wasn’t with the accomplished author Christopher we can at least take that it was with an older man who made her feel loved to take advantage of her and continue to use her as time went on. The emotional truth in Lying is that while none of the events in question may be real, Slater still had to face the emotional consequences they presented. That’s the one fact that she presents us with, and with that in mind we ought to take it as nonfiction. Metaphor is nothing new to the creative world and with all of the warning signs of Slater’s skewed recollection it’s impossible to take the book as fact anyway. As far as she is concerned, that’s her goal; she addresses us as her readers, begging us not to take it as the account of an epileptic child. Instead, we are granted a look into the past of a woman so emotionally disturbed that she saw uncontrollable seizures day in and day out as a desirable alternative to the reality of her life. With this in mind it’s no wonder that the core truth is hidden beneath so many layers and lenses.

2 thoughts on “Lies in Lying

  1. Simone Louie

    I love how you brought this up: “I don’t think she can help her romanticization of epilepsy because it represents, to her, something romantic in a very real sense.” I think Slater has stated in numerous places that she cannot help “lying” if she wants to be true to herself. We cannot blame her for her skewed truths and perspectives. She’s admitting how messed up she is by opening herself to the reader about all the lies in her life.
    Does this change the fact that Slater’s inaccurate portrayal of epileptics could be unethical? Perhaps in the same way that we cannot blame Slater for lying, we also cannot blame Slater for “unethically” portraying epileptics in an inaccurate way, because it would simply be wrong for us to expect Slater to give us accurate facts about epileptics when she is constantly describing the illness as a metaphor in her book.

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  2. Dillon Murphy Post author

    The ethics of it are important but it’s such a gray area that I think I’ll be stuck with the answer of “yes, it’s unethical BUT…” for a long time. She took some creative license with it which is fair game as an author but since she claims her work to be nonfiction she does have a very real responsibility in her portrayals of these elements. If we assume she’s not speaking about literal epilepsy but her romanticization of it then her inaccuracies are more forgivable in my mind

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