Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Hero on the Bar Stool

A triptych from David Carr's The Night of the Gun:

But was it really all thus? Shakespeare describes memory as the warder of the brain, but it is also its courtesan. We all remember the parts of the past that allow us to meet the future. The prototypes of the lie—white, grievous, practical—make themselves known when memory is called to answer. Memory usually answers back with bullshit. Everyone likes a good story, especially the one who is telling it, and the historical facts are generally sullied in the process. All men mean well, and clearly most people who set out to tell the truth do not lie on purpose. How is it, then, that every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?


There is also an almost irresistible consistency bias. Memory is an expression of hindsight as much as recollection, so my rear view must incorporate the fact that I was eventually redeemed from a life of drugs, alcohol, and mania. In this construct, the moments when I stumbled across a life-changing epiphany are vividly reserved, while the more corrosive aspects are lost to a kind of self-preserving amnesia. To be fully cognizant of the wreckage of one's past can be paralyzing, so we, or at least I, minimize as we go. Nowhere is that imperative more manifest than in memoir. Popular literature requires framing a sympathetic character, someone we can root for or who is, as they say on the studio lot, relatable.

The star of his own epic...

Truth is singular and lies are plural, but history—the facts of what happened—is both immutable and mostly unknowable. Can I somehow remember enough to type my way to an unvarnished recitation of what happened to me? No chance.

Image via (the great) Jeremiah's Vanishing New York.

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