DEATH BY NOVEL: The wages of fable are death!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2019

We're quoting from an old book:
Even with an extra hour this weekend, we couldn't figure out what to do with Chanel Miller's new book, Know My Name: A Memoir.

Know My Name may be the most fascinating text of the modern political era, the era which has ended up giving us Donald J. Trump. That said, let's set Miller's fascinating book to the side. Much more important is the inability of upper-end journalists to see that Miller's memoir is actually a novel—is, in fact, a bit of crazoid fairy tale.

There's nothing wrong with fairy tales and the like, of course, as long as they're kept in their place.

To cite one example, Jesus spoke in parables. He offered no charts or graphs or accumulations of statistics or facts.

Aesop reasoned in fables. Basic precepts can be conveyed through such forms.

That said, Miller's book concerns an actual real-life event, not an imagined race between a hare and a tortoise. It also concerns a very important social problem, one our struggling society is struggling to address.

Simply put, Miller's memoir doesn't show a lot of respect for the importance of that deeply important problem. Much more significantly, people within professional guilds at upper-end orgs like the New York Times seem unable to notice this giant flaw with the widely-praised book Miller has offered.

What's wrong with the volume Miller has offered? As a starting point, we'd start where Miller did—with the very first paragraph in her Introduction.

Miller starts with a discourse on method. Her paragraph reads like this:
MILLER (page vii): INTRODUCTION

The fact that I spelled subpoena, subpeena may suggest that I am not qualified to tell this story. But all court transcripts are at the world's disposal, all news articles online. This is not the ultimate truth, but it is mine, told to the best of my ability. If you want it through my eyes and ears, to know what it felt like inside my chest, what it's like to hide in the bathroom during trial, this is what I provide. I give what I can, you take what you need.
Has Miller actually "told this story" "to the best of [her] ability?" We have no way of knowing, nor is that ultimately significant.

We will suggest that that's a slightly peculiar way to start a book about so important a topic. Beyond that, we'll suggest that something odd is implied in that passage:

If it's information and facts we want, we can look up the transcripts and news reports ourselves. Miller will focus on how she felt at various times. As readers, we can "take what we need," whatever that means, from the account she provides.

For better or worse, Miller is writing about actual events which involve actual people and an array of very important subjects. Arguably, an author is possibly being a bit willful when she tells us that we can get the facts for ourselves while she tells us how she felt.

Meanwhile, the weirdness of "subpoena/subpeena" is replicated all through Miller's book. So is the instant sympathy grab in which it's suggested that someone is saying that Miller isn't qualified to tell this story because she once misspelled a word—in which we're instantly asked to picture Miller "hiding in a bathroom" during Brock Turner's trial.

Miller is going to give what she can; we will take what we need! Arguably, this could be seen as a slightly flippant, notably weird approach to such an important topic.

Then too, there's the way this very young person started her Chapter 1. We posted this somewhat peculiar material two weeks ago. Today we'll add one point:
MILLER (page 1): 1.

I am shy. In elementary school for a play about a safari, everyone else was an animal. I was grass. I've never asked a question in a large lecture hall. You can find me hidden in the corner of any exercise class. I'll apologize if you bump into me. I'll accept every pamphlet you hand out on the street. I've always rolled my shopping cart back to its place of origin. If there's no more half-and-half on the counter at the coffee shop, I'll drink my coffee black. If I sleep over, the blankets will look like they've never been touched.

I've never thrown my own birthday party. I'll put on three sweaters before I ask you to turn on the heat. I'm okay with losing board games. I stuff my coins haphazardly into my purse to avoid holding up the checkout line. When I was little I wanted to grow up and become a mascot, so I'd have the freedom to dance without being seen.
In this somewhat peculiar opening passage, Miller rattles a list of points designed to let us know that she's shy. This opening format—I am shy—continues through a third full paragraph, spilling over onto the second page of this very "writerly" book.

As we noted previously, this passage doesn't just tell us that Miller is shy; it also presents her as the world's most self-effacing person. She's perpetually putting others first, in every imaginable way. Such absurdly self-flattering portraits continue all through the book, often in the face of behaviors which might seem to contradict or challenge the self-flattering portraits we're being "provided."

Something else is somewhat odd about that opening passage. In the second paragraph of Chapter 1, Miller tells us that she's so shy that she wanted to grow up and become a mascot, so she'd have the freedom to dance without being seen.

That may even be true! That said, by the time she describes the central event in her story, Miller is literally dancing on a chair, though possibly not on tables, at a drunken Stanford frat party. There's nothing "wrong" with doing that, but we're never told how this behavior comports with the humble-bragging self-portrait we're "provided" as she opens her book.

These points are trivial, a person might say, but that's exactly the problem. This book is larded with humble-bragging, self-flattering trivia and is quite routinely contemptuous of actual persons and elementary facts.

The author of these endless distractions is very young. Beyond that, she underwent a life-altering series of events starting on the night of that party. That said, no such excuse can be generated for the upper-end, upper-class pseudo-journalists who have somehow managed to read this book without seeing its giant, relentless flaws.

Miller actually is a "gifted young writer," as one such reviewer has said. She's also very young and, perhaps understandably, is deeply self-involved.

In even a slightly rational world, we would expect major journalist to be able to notice such facts. But we've been failed by our upper-class journalists for at least three decades now, and the wages of such incessant failure is intellectual death.

We're going to spend an additional week writing about this young person's remarkably novelized memoir. Much more importantly, we're going to think about the older, upper-class journalists who have taken what they needed from Miller's novelized fairy tale.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our upper-class culture is fatuous. Also, "the wages of sin is death," an old book once alleged.

The wages of our upper-class fatuity have already given us death all over the world. That said, our upper-class posers are going to continue to take what they need from noticeably peculiar books written by very young people.

They're going to take what they need, and what they seem to need is the simple-minded certainty of fable. They need their heroes and villains neat. Unfortunately, the wages of such childish behavior is intellectual death.

Tomorrow: The various roads not traveled

36 comments:

  1. This is ridiculous. Somerby asserts that Miller should be writing about a social problem.

    Instead Miller states her intentions and Somerby quotes her:

    "The fact that I spelled subpoena, subpeena may suggest that I am not qualified to tell this story. But all court transcripts are at the world's disposal, all news articles online. This is not the ultimate truth, but it is mine, told to the best of my ability. If you want it through my eyes and ears, to know what it felt like inside my chest, what it's like to hide in the bathroom during trial, this is what I provide. I give what I can, you take what you need."

    Miller plainly says she is writing a personal, subjective account of what happened to her. She is not writing sociology. She is not talking about public health. She is talking about what happened to her, from her own perspective.

    Somerby complains because she doesn't grapple with his issues. Miller clearly defined her approach to her topic. This criticism by Somerby is like complaining because the phone book has no plot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. “This criticism by Somerby is like complaining because the phone book has no plot.“

      No, it’s like saying a phone book that listed numbers, but haphazardly connected them to their context (data -such as towns, names, and addresses), had been rendered less relevant and useful.

      Delete
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    3. I’m extremely happy that my broken Marriage has been fixed…
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      I can’t express in words how grateful I am Dr Ojoka! It’s like we’ve finally rediscovered those things about each other that made us fall in love in the first place. All of the worrying and stress has simply vanished. Thank you Dr Ojoka for saving my broken Marriage and brought my husband back to me!".
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      I’m extremely happy that my broken Marriage has been fixed…
      "We recently made up, even though it was difficult. It's been more than a month now, and everything feels like it’s returned to normal. He has begun to treat me better, and it’s been a healing process for both of us. The nightmare that had lasted for almost 2 years before we broke up is finally over. It’s like we fell in love all over again! We’ve both put the past behind us, and are trying to move forward – and for the first time in a long time, the future looks a lot brighter.
      I can’t express in words how grateful I am Dr Ojoka! It’s like we’ve finally rediscovered those things about each other that made us fall in love in the first place. All of the worrying and stress has simply vanished. Thank you Dr Ojoka for saving my broken Marriage and brought my husband back to me!".
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      Delete
  2. Somerby ridicules Miller by calling her the world's most self-effacing person, who humble brags.

    Somerby doesn't understand that extroverts don't need alcohol to dance on tables. Miller is an introvert. Introverts sometimes drink in order to still their inner critical voices and free themselves to dance on a table in front of other people. Somerby thinks that if she were actually shy, she wouldn't behave as she did at parties. But that is the point, shy people do let loose at parties when they drink as much as Miller did, and that may be part of why they drink so much.

    It might surprise Somerby to find out that not all actors are narcissists who crave the limelight. Some are deeply shy people who want the chance to be someone else, to find release from their shyness that they can only find by adopting a different persona.

    But Somerby never took a psychology class. If he had the slightest interest in how people function mentally and emotionally, he might understand Miller's book and the situation in which she found herself. Instead, he imposes his own agenda on her topics and charges ahead with an attack, in order to justify Turner and similar frat boys.

    How dare Miller write a book after she has ruined Turner's life with her drunkenness and lack of memory? Somerby will repeat his accusations for another week, because tearing down Miller is the best he can do to rehabilitate Turner, and that is his real objective. Men need to defend themselves against those lying bitches.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry to inform you that your comment has been disqualified from serious consideration on two grounds. The first is that you tell us things about the blogger that you can’t possibly know. What the judges are looking for are informative opinions about the blog entry, not things like

      Somerby doesn't understand….
      Somerby thinks that….
      It might surprise Somerby to find out that….
      But Somerby never took a psychology class.
      If he had the slightest interest in how….


      The second problem is illustrated by the quotes below:

      …in order to justify Turner and similar frat boys.
      …the best he can do to rehabilitate Turner, and that is his real objective.


      Unfortunately for you, the blogger doesn’t reference Miller’s assaulter, directly or indirectly.

      Please feel free to resubmit your comment after you’ve removed the irrelevant polemics. Of course, should the blogger actually defend Turner’s behavior, we’d welcome criticism of that point of view.

      Best of luck in your attempts to provide cogent commentary.

      Delete
    2. Bob Somerby is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

      Delete
    3. When you teach a psychology course and you assign an essay question, you can tell how much the student has absorbed of the material from what they say. This is not an assigned question, obviously, but Somerby gives away his ignorance with everything he writes about what is essentially a psychological issue. He is one of the most ignorant people on that topic that I have seen on the internet. That makes it a safe bet that not only hasn't he taken any psychology courses at Harvard, he hasn't done much reading about it either. There are many fine trade books he could have read (akin to Einstein for Dummies) on how mind and emotion work, but he chooses instead to reread his old philosophy textbooks and stuff like Miller's book (so he can trash it).

      Given that Deadrat will accept no assertion of expertise on the internet, this is stalemate. Deadrat is wrong and I have no intention of removing the parts he says I cannot know. If someone wrote an article full of math errors, you could say that person didn't know much math. This is similar and I will not remove any of it.

      Deadrat says Somerby never mentions Turner so that means he has no interest in defending him. This is like the way Somerby tears down liberals and barely mentions Trump, so he cannot possibly be working on Trump's behalf in the next election.

      No one here has to conform to any of deadrat's conditions in order to comment. Please don't let deadrat discourage any of you.

      Delete
    4. 'Bob Somerby is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.'

      You were born yesterday ?

      Delete
    5. deadrat doesn't discourage me at all, since I think it's just one of TDH's sock puppets.

      Somerby is a gallant defender of Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson and Brock Turner.

      Delete
    6. Centrist @ 5:55 pm- ever see "The Manchurian Candidate?"

      Delete
    7. Given that Deadrat will accept no assertion of expertise on the internet, this is stalemate.

      You’re correct that I won’t accept your naked assertion of expertise to back up your claims. That’s because 1) I have no way to check whether you’re actually an expert and 2) Your claims stand or fall on the evidence you present and not on your credentials.

      A stalemate in chess is a draw, but an argument is a loser when it’s based on nothing but an unverifiable claim to learned status.

      Deadrat is wrong and I have no intention of removing the parts he says I cannot know.

      Being wrong is part of the human condition, and I’m often wrong. But your mere assertion that I am carries no weight.

      I’m not asking you to remove the parts you cannot know. It would be a fool’s errand to make that request of somebody without the intellectual integrity not to posit things they can’t know. I’m not in the habit of embarking on those.

      If someone wrote an article full of math errors, you could say that person didn't know much math.

      I would, especially if I could check the article for myself. But not so much If you failed to identify the article but claimed that the author didn’t know much math and that I should accept your word because you’d won a Fields Medal.

      Deadrat says Somerby never mentions Turner so that means he has no interest in defending him.

      I have little idea whether TDH’s interests extend to defending Turner. But what he’s written provides no such defense, mostly I expect because California law provides little cover for Turner.

      This is like the way Somerby tears down liberals and barely mentions Trump, so he cannot possibly be working on Trump's behalf in the next election.

      TDH’s criticism of liberals stands or falls based on his evidence and logical exposition. This is independent of whether his criticism helps or hurts Trump.

      No one here has to conform to any of deadrat's conditions in order to comment. Please don't let deadrat discourage any of you.

      This made me laugh. How could I possibly make conformance to my conditions a prerequisite for commenting? And what kind of numpties would be discouraged from commenting because someone with an odd nym might comment on their comments?

      Delete

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      HOW I GOT MY HUSBAND BACK WITH THE HELP OF PRIEST WISDOM CONTACT ON WHATS_APP NUMBER +2348124644470

      This is my testimony about the good work of priest wisdom who help me.... I'm Ann Earnis from north Carolina USA. And am sorry for putting this on net but i will have to, by this world best spell caster that brought back my husband who left me out for past 3 years, i eventually met this man on a blog site posting by one of is client for help, i explained everything to him and he told me about a spell caster that he had heard about and he gave me an email address to write to the spell caster to tell him my problems. In just 1 days, my husband was back to me. I just want to say thank you to this truthful and sincere spell caster, sir all you told me have come to pass and thank you sir. Please i want to tell everyone who is looking for any solution to their problem, i advice you to kindly consult this spell caster, he is real,he is powerful and whatever the spell caster tell is what will happen, because all what the spell caster told me came to pass. You can kindly contact him on: his email address is supernaturalspell1@gmail.com or directly on whats-app +2348124644470 or call. PRIEST WISDOM Blog   http://reallovespellcaster.over-blog.com

      Delete
  3. "Arguably, an author is possibly being a bit willful when she tells us that we can get the facts for ourselves while she tells us how she felt."

    Well, dear Bob, because your liberal zombie cult can't deal with the actual facts, it has turned utterly postmodern.

    No facts, just feeeelings. Feeling of the faithful, of the righteous victims.

    Get used to it, dear Bob. This is your life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like the whiners who lost their jobs to immigrants.
      I'm with Mao. Fuck those clowns.

      Delete
  4. "In even a slightly rational world, we would expect major journalist to be able to notice such facts. But we've been failed by our upper-class journalists for at least three decades now, and the wages of such incessant failure is intellectual death."

    Somerby is upset because those upper end journalists didn't trash Miller the way that he did.

    His criticisms are empty and there is no reason to expect journalists to cite those two forgotten numbers or rant about alcohol on campuses and so on, especially when Miller has defined her book as personal, not about college drinking but about her reaction to what happened to her.

    If Somerby doesn't want to know about a young woman's personal experience, he shouldn't have chosen to read a MEMOIR. The reviewers didn't make that same mistake. They understood what they were reading and didn't confuse it with a different type of book -- nonfiction about college drinking, for example.

    But Somerby is an ass. Like Trump, he thinks the rest of the world is wrong, while he blithely makes his errors in full view. Miller's fault is that she is too young. Hemingway wrote his first book at the same age.

    Here is what a biography of Hemingway says about him:

    "Hemingway created one myth after the other about himself: he claimed he had an affair with Mata Hari and that he joined the Arditi after his wounding in the first World War, among other accounts. Many people were perfectly willing to believe these tales, unlikely as they often were.

    Hemingway was sometimes captured or challenged in his lies, and the discrepancy between himself and the idealized image he had created has been cited as a factor in his troubled life and eventual suicide. Hemingway probably suffered from depression, which was aggravated by his alcoholism."

    His first book was a book of deeply self-indulgent and self-involved poems about his inner life and himself and his reactions to stuff. If the public had blamed poets for being self-indulgent, how many would continue to write? Emily Dickinson is as self-involved as they come. But poetry is supposed to be self-indulgent. Like memoirs.

    But lets all stomp on a new writer, in the name of objective truth about BAC and to save a young swimmer's olympic ambitions. Never mind the girl's literary aspirations. She's a girl and she deserves what she gets. For going out of her house on a Saturday night and trying to mingle with the extroverts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @10:59 comments

      If Somerby doesn't want to know about a young woman's personal experience, he shouldn't have chosen to read a MEMOIR. [Instead he should have read] a different type of book -- nonfiction about college drinking, for example.

      But TDH isn’t complaining that Miller has written a memoir; he’s saying she’s written a bad memoir, a book that “is larded with humble-bragging, self-flattering trivia and is quite routinely contemptuous of actual persons and elementary facts.”

      Miller's fault is that she is too young. Hemingway wrote his first book at the same age.

      TDH doesn’t fault Miller for being too young. Her youth mitigates the offense TDH sees. And I don’t see how Hemingway helps here. His first book (Three Stories and Ten Poems, I gather) is fiction. Dickinson seems an inapt reference as well. It might be true that (as you say) poetry is supposed to be self-indulgent, but not so much for memoirs. Too much self-indulgence and a memoir becomes a novel, which is TDH’s complaint.

      Delete
    2. "But TDH isn’t complaining that Miller has written a memoir; he’s saying she’s written a bad memoir, a book that “is larded with humble-bragging, self-flattering trivia and is quite routinely contemptuous of actual persons and elementary facts.”

      If it's that important to Bob, he'd write his own book about it.
      Same reason I'd start my own blog before I criticized Bob for repeating right-wing memes on his.

      Delete
    3. Deadrat, Somerby doesn't mention any specific complaint about Miller's self-indulgence except that she deemphasizes her drinking and doesn't give out those BAC estimates used at trial. But she does say that the drinking and all that went before was irrelevant to the assault, since she was unconscious.

      She does deal with the drinking, extensively, but Somerby disagrees with her about it. She is entitled to express her opinions in her book.

      Deadrat says that Somerby uses Miller's age to mitigate his criticism. No. He is saying that she wrote in a self-involved manner because she is young. He considers her age to be causal of the other flaws he notes.

      Self-indulgence doesn't make the facts incorrect. It dictates the emphasis and choice of what to include. Her book is subjective, about her feelings, thoughts and reactions, not the facts of the evening. That doesn't make it a novel. A novel is made up. She has full access to her own inner thoughts and there is no impeachment of her reporting of her own internal states. So, no, it is not a novel because it is factual, even if about something that cannot be verified because it is her subjective, inner world.

      Somerby's contempt for Miller is obvious. He pretends to excuse her but then says mean things. This series is among his ugliest writing.

      Delete
    4. deadrat - start on page 33 and read carefully from there.

      Delete
    5. But she does say that the drinking and all that went before was irrelevant to the assault, since she was unconscious.

      I’m agnostic on the worth of Miller’s memoir. For a starter, I haven’t read it. And TDH, as is his wont, is drawing out his commentary. So far, I haven’t seen more than general whining from him. Miller is correct that her unconscious state means that her drinking is irrelevant to Turner’s guilt. That’s a matter settled by the California penal code. Miller can hardly be correct that her drinking is irrelevant in the unfolding of events on the night she ended up beside a dumpster. That’s a matter of personal responsibility.

      Is this a grave matter than implicates “upper-class journalists” in “upper-class fatuity”? Stay tuned if you can stay interested.

      She is entitled to express her opinions in her book.

      I’ve seen this statements several times in the comments of Anonymous Ignoramuses. Of course I can’t tell how many ignoramuses are commenting. Perhaps it’s just you. In any case, nowhere does anyone, including TDH, say that Miller isn’t entitled to express herself as she pleases. That entitlement does not exempt her from criticism.

      He pretends to excuse her but then says mean things.

      He pretends? Criticizing an author’s work isn’t necessarily saying “mean things” about the author.

      Delete
  5. I find it somewhat demeaning that Somerby chooses to refer to a young girl's experiences being sexually assaulted as "a fable".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Conservatives are the awful people Liberals have been telling you they are for 4+ decades.

      Delete
  6. deadrat says:
    “Unfortunately for you, the blogger doesn’t reference Miller’s assaulter, directly or indirectly.”

    You would have to go all the way back to last Friday to see Somerby mention Miller’s assaulter, in a post where he provides Turner with reasonable doubt, saying that Miller might well have given her consent, and Turner might have been too drunk to realize that Miller was drunk. That provides context to everything that Somerby writes about this case.

    deadrat says further:
    “he’s saying she’s written a bad memoir, a book that “is larded with humble-bragging, self-flattering trivia and is quite routinely contemptuous of actual persons and elementary facts.”

    “Too much self-indulgence and a memoir becomes a novel, which is TDH’s complaint.”

    You are saying two different things. A “bad memoir” doesn’t mean that the memoir is a “novel”, ie fiction, ie untrue. (Somerby calls it a “fable.”)

    His suggestion, that Miller isn’t really shy because she danced on a table while drunk, means either that Somerby is unaware of human nature, whereby many shy people drink to overcome their shyness, or he knows this, but merely wants to use this suggestion dishonestly to imply that Miller is lying, which would fit in with his description of her book as “fable”, or novel as you call it.

    Somerby has also complained that Miller doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge her own culpability for the events of that night. He has already suggested in a previous post that the assault wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been drunk. That is speculation on his part, but it is beside the point. Miller clearly tells us about her drinking that night, and clearly indicates that that wasn’t the first time she had drunk like that. That she doesn’t issue some sort of mea culpa claiming partial or sole responsibility for the events of that night does not turn her memoir into a pack of lies.

    Also, your suggestion that “too much self-indulgence” causes a memoir to become a novel makes no sense. A writer can be self-indulgent and still tell the truth.

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    Replies
    1. You would have to go all the way back to last Friday to see Somerby mention Miller’s assaulter, in a post where he provides Turner with reasonable doubt, saying that Miller might well have given her consent, and Turner might have been too drunk to realize that Miller was drunk. That provides context to everything that Somerby writes about this case.

      Reasonable doubt can be raised with regard to the elements of the crime (here, sexual battery). That means the jury could acquit if they found that reasonable doubt that Miller was unconscious or that Turner touched Miller for sexual gratification.

      The law says that if Turner didn’t know or reasonably couldn’t have known that Miller was unconscious, he’s off the hook, but Turner’s state of intoxication can’t provide him with reasonable doubt about Miller’s state. If the jury finds no reasonable doubt that Miller was incapacitated, then under the law, Turner should have known that no matter how drunk he was.

      TDH mentions the intoxication of both parties (which clearly played a part in what happened) at the feet of Stanford officials.

      You are saying two different things. A “bad memoir” doesn’t mean that the memoir is a “novel”, ie fiction, ie untrue. (Somerby calls it a “fable.”)

      A memoir could be bad for any number of reasons. The specific “badness” of Miller’s book (in TDH’s eyes) is its “novelization.”

      His suggestion, that Miller isn’t really shy because she danced on a table while drunk, means either that Somerby is unaware of human nature, whereby many shy people drink to overcome their shyness, or he knows this, but merely wants to use this suggestion dishonestly to imply that Miller is lying, which would fit in with his description of her book as “fable”, or novel as you call it.

      First of all, I’m not calling Miller’s book anything. I haven’t read it, so I can’t characterize it. TDH says he’s read it, and he has characterized it. He may be on point or he may be off base. If the latter, someone who’s read Miller’s book could counter TDH’s conclusions without reference to TDH’s interiority.

      I don’t know what Somerby is or isn’t aware of, and neither do you.

      I don’t see that Somerby is implying that Miller is lying. I realize that’s your inference, but the most that he writes is that Miller seems remarkably unself aware.

      Also, your suggestion that “too much self-indulgence” causes a memoir to become a novel makes no sense. A writer can be self-indulgent and still tell the truth.

      What do you mean it makes no sense? Self-indulgence isn’t a necessary condition, but it can certainly be sufficient to make a memoir misleading.

      Delete

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