Writing and Memory: Joan Didion’s Transformations
I was particularly struck by the way she distinguished “raw” writing, as exemplified in The Year of Magical Thinking, from writing done after healing has already begun or enough time has passed to allow for critical distance. She believed she had to complete the book before the first anniversary of her husband’s death or else she would lose the emotional intensity she wanted to preserve, a voice and rhythm she’d be unable to recapture at a later date. I haven’t yet read her book, but I recognize the types of writing she mentions, for she touches on issues that writers of both nonfiction and fiction often face when they recount personal histories, regardless of circumstances.
My own work on memory explores dynamics between first-person narratives of ongoing experiences—such as one might find in diaries, journals, and “raw” accounts like Didion’s—and first-person narratives (in writing or another medium) of the same experiences told by the same person at a later date. Each mode on its own tells one version of a story, and within a given mode endless variations are possible; when present and past tense accounts are brought together in one text, new variations emerge, complementing and contradicting one another. Representations of the future may be considered, too. The issues Didion raises concerning immediacy versus distance come into play, as do other issues, especially when additional media are involved. My research continues, and so do my creative experiments with writing and memory.
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