Do only narcissists write memoirs? And how much does it matter when memoirs are embroidered? These are the questions Daniel Mendelsohn explores in the January issue of The New Yorker.
Mendelsohn writes of a "troubling association between creativity and narcissism," asserting that the tie is most intense "when the creation in question is memoir." While early Protestants favored the memoir genre as a tool for pious self-examination, Mendelsohn argues their self-flagellating tone set a precedent. Memoirs now perversely pride themselves on the degree of their misbehavior.
Of course, memoir is often the best genre for the job. When attempting to write objectively about the complications of "gay identity," Mendelsohn himself found he had to dip into the first person to acknowledge his own entanglement in these issues; in dealing with this tricky and subjective subject, he says, "I felt I had to write, in some part, about myself."
So can memoirs be about something other than self-obsession?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.