Lies Lying in Truth

We don’t know what’s true or what’s false in Lauren Slater’s creative memoir Lying. Slater dedicates an entire page/chapter to the statement “I exaggerate,” which is the only statement we can comfortably take at face value, given the nature of the statement. Our author makes many claims, confirming none, but going back on enough that we as readers are forced to assume that everything she says is a lie. So why read what she has to say? What’s the point of reading a memoir if almost none of it is true? Well, first, we should understand why we read memoirs at all. What’s the point of reading a memoir? How is a memoir different from an autobiography? A memoir is defined on Wikipedia as, “a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events, both public or private that took place in the author’s life.” The difference between a memoir and an autobiography, I believe, is the total purpose of the author. Memoirs attempt to teach a lesson or convey a feeling, whereas autobiographies are typically broad and straightforward accounts of the author’s life. So already we can agree that authors of memoirs have a little more wiggle room when it comes to literary technique and artful interpretations of events. But what about the lying? If the author is a compulsive liar we have no choice but to presume everything she says is false. But false according to whom? It’s important that we keep in mind what it means to be correct or incorrect. A wikipedia article on pathological lying claims that sufferers of this condition tell convoluted and long-term lies, HOWEVER, they may not be aware they are lying, or they may begin to believe in their own lie. The reality of compulsive liars is different from those of us who are “honest.” So, if Lauren Slater is writing a memoir (memoir, by the way, is derived from the french word memoíre, meaning memory) and she is honest at least to her memories, is she really lying? While the things she say may not be “true” in the standard sense, they are at least true to her, or true to who she is. We aren’t reading Slater’s memoir to get an accurate picture of her life. Why would we be interested in that? We are reading to understand better the feelings that are associated with life as a pathological liar who may or may not have epilepsy, i.e., confusion, instability, and frustration, which she conveys by lying in her memoir. I wrote about Joan Didion and the subjectivity of truth earlier in the semester, and I discussed the relationship between minute truths and total truth. Total truth is a gestalt, suggesting that the “truths” it is made up of don’t necessarily have to be true, as long as they create that ultimate total truth. My argument for Didion was that she was altering the facts so she could more clearly and accurately represent her version of reality, and that she could not be criticized for being “incorrect” as she remained true to her own perceptions and interpretations. I make the same argument for Ms. Slater, whose version of reality is twisted by whatever conditions she has or thinks she has.

 

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