Don't Feed the Liars! On Fraudulent Memoirs, and Why They're Bad

Philosophy and Literature 46 (1):137-161 (2022)
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Some infamous memoirs have turned out to be chock-full of fibs. Should we care? Why not say—as many have—that all autobiography is fiction, that accurate memory is impossible, that we start lying as soon as we start narrating, and that it doesn’t matter anyway, since made-up stories are just as good as true ones? Because, well, every part of that is misleading. First, we don’t misremember absolutely everything; second, we have other sources to draw on; third, story form affects only significance, not facts; fourth, fiction and nonfiction offer different affordances, benefits, and delights. And since we need both kinds of writing, we have to insist on honesty in memoir; we have to stop saying that everything is invention and that fibs don’t matter. If memoirs could never be trusted, who would still read them? In a world without truth, what exactly would we speak to power?

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Joshua Landy
Stanford University


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