Sunday, February 17, 2008

On Writing Some More

The feeling of writing as responsibility – this is what I’m starting to feel may be the basis of a lot of nonfiction writing. Obviously in the case of testimony, especially because it’s so tied to place and history, writing is meant as a voice to proclaim injustices or to proclaim greatness. (I’ve only ever heard of “testimony” defined within the realms of religious testimony or of social injustices being dealt with, or rectified.) I’m struggling with whether there can be testimony without being oppressed, since that seems to be the focus of our class. I’d like to read some other types of testimony, but even within the realm of religious testimony, there’s the feeling of having been lost, oppressed, being in some dark, unsafe, hurtful place, the freedom of which causes any type of relief.

In “The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative,” Gornick writes of personal narrative being written in relation to the “subject at hand” (56), to write as a response to the political, tying one’s responses to the political with one’s personal story. I think what’s making me pause is that I don’t feel I’ve ever had that type of personal tie to any sort of political past, save the ethnic tie I have to Ireland and its (to me) long ago oppression of the British that doesn’t quite affect me in the same way it affects those who are actively and more presently in that situation. So what happens when you don’t have your own testimony? Am I supposed to be finding it? I feel strongly about several things – religion, public education – but I don’t know if that’s the right type of testimony, or if that even matters, or even if there isn’t really more than one type of testimony. I think I’m still figuring out how to define “testimony” as it relates to me, and considering how involved I want to me in the matters that are most interesting.

I’m thinking about the sense of place that I think a lot of people have but that I can’t quite carve out for myself, especially for this first essay. Even Gornick does what I think I might easily do, even now, in her anecdote of writing about the Cairenes – merely transplanting herself and assuming things would work out because of course the situations would be the same. Instead, “the place” is much more definitively fluid; there’s not a single definition that can entirely work in each case, since I’m having trouble defining “personal narrative” with “the place” that’s supposed to mean so much to me, yet I can’t find because there simply aren’t that many places that have meant that much to me. For Gornick, Cairo was supposed to have the same meaning for her as New York (I think), and it didn’t quite translate the same way. But at least she had a foundation of a pace that meant something that she could testify to. Gornick wrote that it took her years before she had “sufficient command of the distinction [between personal journalism and personal narrative] to control the narrative” (59). In a sense, with al the blogging I do, I do nothing but personal narrative. So how can I tie this to testimony? Does testimony have to be a painful experience, tied to politics or abuse? Can one happily testify about nothing? I feel I have nothing to testify about; does that mean I haven't embraced any sort of social responsibility?

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