Friday, March 11, 2011

Cosmopolite

I love coming across sentences like these in an memoir:
I used to think truth was eternal, that once I knew, once I saw, it would be with me forever, a constant by which everything else could be measured.  I know now that this isn't so, that most truths are inherently unretainable, that we have to work hard all our lives to remember the most basic things.
This could have been written by anyone anywhere at any time.  Notwithstanding the vagaries and subtleties of translation or other-century syntax, etc., these sentiments rise above the individual nature of the person who conceived and wrote them, and would have have at any time.  They usher from individual, private experience, but make contact with universal, personal experience, a worthy, crucial gesture in autobiographical writing.  This is partly what Joyce Carol Oates means when she says that the memorable essay "is not place- or time-bound; it survives the occasion of its original composition."

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The lines I quoted above were written by the late Lucy Grealy and appear near the end of Autobiography Of A Face.  The statistically unique life she writes out of is broadened, Grealy becoming for a moment a silhouette into which we step and recognize that we fit.  That we can do this—offer our privacy as personal, via language and the imagination—is a remarkable truth that we work hard to retain.  It's why we keep writing, to remember that possibility

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