I have already reflected on the phenomena of the memoir’s true audience being the author themselves. However, they do seem to also write their memoir, their story of their life for another audience as well. Who are the people who read memoir? Why are they so fascinated with it? It seems to be a movement in our current culture, as I have already explored in part with social media as memoir, but why?
Memoir as literature dates back to around 400 AD with the “Confessions” of St. Augustine. Moved to share his experiences with others, Augustine wrote the “Confessions” to document his life before conversion, his reasons for conversion, and how he came to convert. The first of its kind, “Confessions” to this day stands out as the first document to ever have been written in the first person, documenting what happened to him, what he did, AND how he felt about it all. This trend in literature continued on, and can be seen more recently in Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl.” Taken to a concentration camp in Nazi occupied Germany, Frank’s Diary was originally just that, a diary that she kept to note what was happening to her, and as my last post about Audience noted, deal with the atrocities happening around her and to her.
Since Frank’s “Diary,” the First World culture has seen a major trend in literature that is written in a first person perspective, regarding the author’s life, or some part of it, that typically deals with some emotional or physical trauma in the author’s life. Why are we so fascinated with this kind of writing? Why read this?
The First World culture, particularly the American culture recently is very fascinated with other people’s stories. It seems to be an escape from the mundane life that we each live into someone else’s life who is, undoubtedly, more interesting and exciting than our own. The rise in communication, starting with the radio, telephone, TV, and now social media has enabled us to learn other people’s stories in the blink of an eye. We hear it on the news all of the time, we look at our phone’s and see it on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, reddit. It has become an inevitable fact of our human existence in this world. Our lives have become mundane, and in an attempt to avoid our own lives, we look into other people’s. TV is no longer about Mr. Rogers and how to live the good life, it is MTV and reality TV, and Opera, and Divorce Court, and Dr. Phil. We want to see how messed up other people’s lives are in order to feel good about our own mundane existence.
Is this a good thing? Well, as a philosopher, I’m inclined to say that it is neither inherently good, nor bad, but rather, it depends on both how the author writes, and what kinds of things they enable and encourage people to do, and what the people actually do that matters. A person can say whatever they want (the glory of free speech) but the moral acts that they end up encouraging, and that the people end up acting on are the moral foundation for each particular thing.