“A Literary Pilgrim Progresses to the Past” by Andre Aciman

This essay was taken from a collection of essays called “Writers [On Writing]” from the New York Times with an Introduction by John Darnton.  My intention is to provide comments only on the content of the essay.

The author describes writing as a sheath covering a hidden nerve.  His sheath is his home in Alexandria where he reminisces about his mother and growing up as a child.  His genre is the memoir and he reveals that he lied about his past in his memoir.  He feels that if he writes about his life as others might see it, he can understand his own life story better.

I agree that some objectivity is useful to gain perspective about your life, but I don’t think you should have to lie about it.  In this case, the author admits to lying about his mother coming to his school.  Who cares if she came or not?  The important thing is that she loved him and cared for him.

Anyway, the author has some other very salient points.  He talks about that hidden nerve that every writer is about.  “It’s what all writers wish to uncover when writing about themselves in this age of the personal memoir.  And yet it’s also the first thing every writer learns to sidestep…”  This is what he feels writers hide in their sheaths.

I enjoy some of his statements in this essay, such as:

“I write to give my life a form, a narrative, a chronology; and, for good measure, I seal loose ends with cadenced prose and add glitter…”

“Perhaps writing opens up a parallel universe…”

“…the measure of a beautiful life is perhaps one that sees its blemishes, knows they can’t be forgiven and, for all that, learn each day to look the other way.”

Writing has given my life form and a lot to do and learn.  I needed to have something that would keep me going in retirement, and I find that writing has done just that.  It has opened a parallel universe in which my characters are active and living full lives.  Their lives as with my own is filled with blemishes.  I’ve made mistakes that have never been forgiven, but I’ve learned to move on.

1 Comment

  1. George Beddingfield George Beddingfield
    October 11, 2011    

    Nice, Joni. I especially like the “parallel universe” thought.

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