06 April 2008

The Uses Of Autobiography

Fun Home
Alison Bechdel

I really liked Fun Home. It's a little depressing, but then, what that we read in this class isn't? It was also one of my boyfriend's textbooks for his American Autobiography course last semester, and autobiography came up in class, so that seems like something to talk about.

We came up with a few reasons in class for why something relatively unknown would write an autobiography. To give other people something to relate to, maybe. Because you've got a story you think people should know. Maybe, in the case of Alison Bechdel herself, to provide another book which could be added to a "self-discovery reading" stack like she shows us in Fun Home.

Honestly, though, I think the main reason for any autobiography is the straght Occam's-razor one. People like to talk about themselves. Everyone is, at all times, composing a little autobiography in the back of his or her head. Seriously. That's what your memory is; that's part of what it's for. Not everyone necessarily wants to deal with their little auto-autobiography, but there it is. The main difference between that and a written autobiography is that some people feel like letting everyone in on the secret.

Also, I think people write autobiographies as a personal aid to memory. Alison Bechdel, for example, describes Fun Home as a "memoir of her father." Fun Home seems like primarily an autobiography, but I'm certainly also willing to believe that it's exactly what she says it is. At one point in the book she discusses how uncertain she became, for a while, about the events in her life, to the point of writing "I think" after every statement in her diary. An autobiography is a way to validate your memory: it's easier to prove to yourself that you know what you know when you've got it in solid written form. And not only do you have a solid copy of your memories, you get to make them last even longer by giving them to other people. As long as someone lives who has a copy of your book, people will still know that what happened in your life happened.

I forget where I read this first, but there's...well, I think it'd probably be called a philosophical concept, that says that no one is truly dead unless everyone who remembers them is also dead. Autobiographies keep people alive. So that's also what Fun Home is. Until a time comes when there's nobody alive who's read it, Bruce Bechdel will still be alive.

Isn't that cool?

No comments: