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«Sophie Fitzpatrick Bachelor of Communication (Professional Communication) Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Bachelor of ...»

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Her & I: The construction

of self in memoir

Sophie Fitzpatrick

Bachelor of Communication (Professional Communication)

Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for

the Bachelor of Media and Communication (Honours)

Kyla Brettle

School of Media and Communication

RMIT University

October 2012




Statement of authorship vii

Acknowledgements ix

Introduction 1

Identity & memoir 3

The memoirists 13 The interview: A method 17 Radio documentary: A medium 23 Project: Making Her & I 31 Conclusion 39 Appendix 43 Works cited 53 Works consulted 57 Credits 59 v Abstract What is identity and how is it explored in memoir? I set out to investigate these questions by interviewing prominent published memoirists about their approaches and experiences in writing personal narrative. The interview, as a research methodology, raised further questions as to the most suitable form for presenting and collating the findings. Would the production of a radio documentary yield a deeper and more coherent understanding of the material? The inherent relationship between audio and voice and the clear affordances of radio for telling non-visual stories pointed to the radio documentary as an appropriate form for expressing ideas concerning identity construction in memoir. The research project, Her & I, examines this proposition. Through the process of producing this work I gained insights into the nature of the radio documentary as a research artefact and discovered synergies between narrative construction in both memoir writing and radio documentary making.

vii Statement of authorship I certify that except where due acknowledgement has been made, the work is that of the author alone; the work has not been submitted previously, in whole or in part, to qualify for any other academic award; the contents of the exegesis is the result of the work which has been carried out since the official research program; and any editorial work, paid or unpaid carried out by a third party is acknowledged.

Sophie Fitzpatrick viii ix Acknowledgements I would like to thank my supervisor Kyla Brettle for your invaluable advice, challenging my assumptions and providing unfailing guidance throughout the course of this year.

Thanks to Honours Program Director Adrian Miles and Nonfiction tutor David Carlin for your feedback and faith in my academic abilities.

To Kate Holden, Alice Pung and Francesca Rendle-Short a sincere thanks for contributing your knowledge to this project.

Thank you to my family for your consistent support, encouragement and proof reading.

Finally, to my Honours classmates, you have made this the most enjoyable experience.



‘Every man’s work – whether it be literature or music or architecture or anything else – is always a portrait of himself’ (Samual Butler in Shields 2010, p. 157).

Reading David Shields’ Reality hunger raised the question of how identity is formed in memoir. It sparked a curiosity in me to understand the things that make up the foundations of our sense of self and how we communicate this to others.

To understand concepts of identity and its construction within memoir relevant literature was consulted, this is presented in the section Identity & memoir. The literature highlights the role of personal narrative in the formation of identity. Acclaimed Melbourne memoirists, Kate Holden, Alice Pung and Francesca Rendle-Short were then invited to share their insights and knowledge of constructing an identity through writing. A study of these authors and their works can be found in the section, The memoirists. Following this, The interview: A method, outlines the use of interviewing as a research methodology. The raw interviews with the memoir practitioners and their transcripts can be found on an electronic apprendix the USB attached at the back of this exegesis.

From the interviews a key question emerged; how best to express and understand the findings from the authors’ experiences in an accessible form? A proposition to make a radio documentary to convey a cohesive argument and aural narrative appeared. The affordances and appropriateness of the medium for conveying

Her & I

the research is outlined and discussed in Radio documentary. An exploration of the production of the radio documentary is inclosed in the section Project: Making Her & I. The completed radio documentary encapsulates the findings from the interviews and can be located on the attached USB. It is recommended the radio documentary be listened to preceding the reading of the exegesis. Finally, in the section Conclusion, a discussion of the discoveries made about radio documentary and the mediums appropriateness for presenting the findings from the interviews is offered.

Sophie Fitzpatrick

Identity & memoir This section will firstly consider identity construction with a focus on the connection with personal narrative. Secondly, identity within memoir and fictional elements employed by authors to achieve boarder understandings of human experience will be discussed.

Identity What is identity? Identity is a word used to describe ourselves and others, as a way of understanding ‘who we are’. Identity is a complex and nebulous concept. We can easily pinpoint things that reflect out identity, but such indications fall short of capturing our identity in its entirety. The origins of the word identity come from the late 16th century from the Latin identitas, from Latin idem ‘same’. In this sense the concept of identity is considered to have the ‘quality of being identical’ (Lawson 1988, p. 8). This definition resonates with early historical understandings of identity concepts as being ingrained, fixed, bound by the collective and socials role within the community (Bauman & Vecchi 2004, p. 20; Kellner, p.

231). Modern concepts of identity, however, began to shift away from the collective with the development in the awareness of ‘inwardness’ (Taylor 1989, ix). Taylor states, ‘In our languages

Her & I

of self-understanding, the opposition “inside-outside” plays an important role. We think of our thoughts, ideas, or feelings as being “within” us, while the objects in the world which these mental states bear on “without”’ (1989, p. 111). Inner consciousness is a large part of Modern identity concepts.

Postmodern Western concepts of identity privilege the individual, the personal and an innate ability to self reflect (Kellner 1995, p.

232). Identity is now perceived as multiple and mobile (Bauman & Vecchi 2004, p. 29). There is no longer certainty that one ‘true’ identity will be found (Kellner 1995, p. 232). Identity can be seen as a construction whereby it is possible to simultaneously hold conflicting identities (Hall 2004, p. 71).

Madam Sarup (1996) argues identity construction falls into two broad models. The first, the ‘traditional’ view of identity is shaped by gender, race and class which operate simultaneously to produce a unified, fixed and coherent self (Sarup 1996, p.

14). The second model is the more recent view that identity is fabricated, constructed and in process (Sarup 1996, p. 14). Sarup states, ‘Identities, our own and those of others, are fragmented, full of contradictions and ambiguities’ (Sarup 1996, p. 14). He views identity as being affect by social institutions - parents, family, education, workplace, friends, media - with a choice to stress elements more greatly in certain circumstances (1996, p. 47). He also notes the symbolic way identity is constructed through narrative and language (1996, p. 47). A self is produced through the telling of personal narrative and the interpretation of events retrospectively (Sarup 1996, p. 14).

Sophie Fitzpatrick

Memoir Memoir is a form of written personal narrative that ‘depicts the lives of real, not imagined, individuals’ and ‘incorporate[s] invented or enhanced material, and often use[s] novelistic techniques’ (Couser 2001, p. 15). Memoir necessarily involves a construction of identity, as the author explores the ‘self.’ Memoir writing focuses on a specific event, time or relationship in an

author’s life. Memoir writer Vivian Gornick defines memoir as:

Neither testament nor fable nor analytic transcription.

A memoir is a work of sustained narrative prose controlled by an idea of the self under obligation to lift from raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform the event, deliver wisdom (2002, p. 91).

Patricia Hampl sees memoir as quite separate from


The very thing that would seem to be the basis of autobiographical writing - a life over time - is not the ground the memoir can stand on. It has to root itself in the same dilemmas and adventures as poetry and fiction. It has to make a story. In doing that, it has to disregard a lot of the life. The inevitable incompleteness of memoir may account for the fact that people can write more than one memoir (Hampl in Shields 2010, p. 41).

A memoir is different to an autobiography. An autobiography is a life account whereas memoir focuses on a fragment of a life.

–  –  –

Memoir writing is a process of narrative construction whereby the author shapes and sculpts aspects of their life based on memories. Scenes are reimagined and dialogue recreated all for a greater understanding that hopefully achieves insight and wisdom based on emotional experience (Gornick 2002, p. 91).

The fictive and fragmented qualities of memoir can lead to questions and doubts about the truth or authenticity of the

account. Gornick comments on truth in memoir:

Truth in memoir is not achieved through a recital of actual events; its achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer isn’t what matters; what matters is a larger sense of what the writer is able to make of what happened (2002, p. 91).

Memoir is a form of personal narrative that uses language to produce a self for the page. Written retrospectively it allows the author to reflect on a specific time, event or relationship in their life and its contribution to their overall identity.

Universal Truth Memoir writing uses an author’s individual story to touch on broader understandings of human experience. Hampl (2008) argues the best memoirs resonate with universal understanding.

She states, ‘The most fully realised memoirs situate personal memory in precise public places, the specific geographical, historical and cultural settings where life events occur’ (p. 149).

Grounding personal narratives with details about place and time

–  –  –

contextualises the story and helps to locate the reader in the space the author is inhabiting.

Memoir writers draw on their personal stories to carve an identity and a voice for the self on the page. Shields quotes Susan

Cheever, a memoir writer, in Reality hunger:

What I believe about memoir is that you just happen to be using the nuts and bolts of your own life to illustrate your vision. It isn’t really me it’s a character based on myself that I made up in order to illustrate things I want to say. In other words, I think memoir is as far away from real life as fiction. I think you’re obligated to use accurate details, but selection is as important as imagination (2010, p. 39).

Cheever reiterates memoir’s fictive qualities and its ability to appeal to broader universal understandings of human experience. This illustrates the highly controlled and constructed nature of memoir writing.

Donald Morrill argues characterisation only occurs in

nonfiction writing:

Only in nonfiction is there a character whose traits and attributes are being portrayed and betrayed - a character, however f luid and coreless and ineffable that exists beyond the words on the page (2011, n.p).

Knowing a memoir is based on the life of a real person allows the reader to draw parallels between their own life and the author’s depicted life.

–  –  –

Process of self-reflection Writing about the self can be a reflective process. It involves purposefully surveying the self, and expressing this through a character that represents or partially the self. Paul Eakin discusses the role of narrative in shaping identity. He states, ‘Narrative is not merely something we tell, listen to, read or invent; it is an essential part of our sense of who we are’ (2008, preface). He argues that autobiography and memoir are much more than books but a discourse of identity inherent in our lives as we share anecdotes about our selves (2008, p. 4). Couser agrees with Eakin on the role of personal narrative stating, ‘Even when it does not take the written from, life narrative is essential to - built into - the formation of individual identity and human relationships’ (2001, p. 25). Life narratives, autobiography and memoir can be seen as potential pathways to self understanding and reflection on identity construction.

Sarup (1996) writes about identity construction through the telling of personal narrative. He highlights the role of language in personal narrative and identity construction whether it be written or spoken (1996, p. 47). It is through our life narrative that we produce an identity. In memoir writing, it is through the process of an author isolating an event, time or relationship in their life that has contributed to their sense of self. Something about this event, time or relationship resonates strongly with the writer. This drives them to reflect on the impact and meaning to their overall understanding and formation of identity. Sarup notes, ‘When we talk about our identity, we start thinking about our life story: we construct our identity at the same time as we tell our life story’ (1996, p. 15). This illustrates the connection between memoir writing and identity construction.

Sophie Fitzpatrick

Patricia Foster, like Sarup, argues that writing the self helps to form an identity. It is through the writing that an understanding of the self occurs (2004, p. 82). Writing the self can lead to greater self awareness as it requires scrutiny and reflection.

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