This piece in the Washington Post about memory and Karl Taro Greenfield memoir struck a nerve especially after hearing the fictional television character Patrick Jane's (the Mentalist) remark in a recent episode how he perceived memory as a palace-sized room.
In a rush to judgement memoirs are scrutinized for accuracy, and often challenged or labeled as a lie while prodigious memory, eidetic or otherwise, is often over-rated or misunderstood.
As a child I was often praised for my memory. As a teenager I was often criticized for distortion or exaggeration. As an adult, and a senior one at that, I am often astonished at my own memory and how tiny little bits of yesterday arrive in sudden, unbidden bursts into my mind's eye.
I also know that I often search for hours or even days for a kernel to resurface as I work my way through colours, sounds, sights and alphabetic chants. Once a psychologist asked me, "how do you call up memory." Often I can just go there, the place of the event, other times I circle tangential threads until I can exclaim, "yes, that's it."
Often guided in my search for personal truths, I recall reading Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Hellman's Pentimento, Grass' Tin Drum, Kosinski's Painted Bird and just recently putting Amos Oz' new book, "A Tale of Love and Darkness" on my wish list, without doubts about the writers authenticity. A memoir is not, or rather should not be judged as evidentiary, but rather as a journey, a fleeting recollection, often coloured by time, space, wishful thinking and deliberate personal camouflage.
Kosinski, Grass, Oz and Hellman have been criticized for distorting the truth. Their role in their personal history was larger than life, but it is also their writing that rocketed them to fame, and created a body of literature, most often fiction, worth reading.
Greenfield faces his own truth, his parental mirror and the act of distortion head on in the WP interview.