Value Proposition

by | Apr 15, 2023 | Contemporary Epistolary Forms Day 1

Dear Sarah,

You’ve seen my screeds (your word, not mine) before, and picked at how marginal their interest might be to any given reader―and you know well the difficulty of taking a strong position that itself is likely to bear many uncomfortable consequences. I insist on this kind of preface precisely because I expect you, circling your own languages at a dizzying pace and loving your operations as de-abstracted as possible, would give my argument a fair orbit, especially if you were prepared for a very narrow pronouncement. So, as I write this, my window billboarding a typical English skyline with its beaming grey-saturated sky, so absolute as to suggest that individual clouds are imminently for the memory-hole, (which I must sadly own to be my career’s bread and butter) I will fabricate the silver-lining by your general brilliance. You are, after all, the shining template from which academic excellence is formed!

It might be that I rely on a kind of self-effacement in your scepticism here, specifically to the hard lines crayoned between fiction and nonfiction. These lines, too, are a staple of the industry, though, and while I know you’d dislike me attempting to justify something like double carbs (or this metaphor) I also know that you are like me: you can hold a steady pretence of rejecting the spectacular and the lurid for their own sake, and yet… a carefully thrown tangle of concepts, confidently implemented, will have us each singing praise of the reach possible of even the most outwardly high-flying conceits and ostentatious situation.

So it is that I know you can’t help but want to defend our increasingly atomised story-telling landscape on some level, even as we jointly wince at the more cynical deployments. And it is my output, too, as you will no doubt soon notice in the forthcoming piece, the practically algorithmically-named, ‘Has Autofiction Supplanted the Memoir?’ Of course, the answer here is ‘No’, as per usual: just a hyperbolic assertion. However, Sarah, I would like to rail on harder than I could on that platform that I won’t curse us by naming. Because I love you, and you will no doubt disagree with me, and probably be correct.

Speaking of which, an apology: I borrowed an anecdote from our time together. That hellstorm of a weekend three years ago, in which you and Emma were practically estranged, and I, neglectful, found you seething behind the wheel of the car you shared with her, and with no particular destination that I’d like to name. Few people could speak of an experience so much of this shape, where your patient tone, softened to de-escalate, palms up-raised to do the same―how all this―and insistence of a continuous and unconditional assumption of good faith―all of this, to her, became the impossibility of saving face.

Of course, this is merely an outline of a single moment, and not the entirety of the slow and largely nonverbal sequence, which would be a worthwhile thing to have sketched out, if only for the same reason that one might reconstruct a catastrophic flight: because the truth of it turns heads that demand its conditions be summarised; all that sticky detail. The quality of you being so calmly, continuously and insufferably correct, coupled with her proximity to Emma and how contorted her position became over the weeks in order to maintain that noncommunication. Please, look the attached draft over and tell me if there’s anything you object to, besides its argument.

Now, finally, I can throw this further observation at you: of the truth assertion. Your experiences of that situation, racing round the ring-roads and speaking through the phone, tone serrated and conspiratorial: the truthfulness of your own fabrications had been rejected in favour of her feeble constructs. But this is a fiction: you were weeping, hadn’t bathed in weeks, stumbling away from suburban streetlights, still clutching to your purse and phone in case Emma called to say she had communicated, that she would like to share a meal with you; you wanted to recapitulate on everything.

Maybe it’s a trite thing but it maintains my sanity: that fiction conveys truth by its fabrication, and that that is narrative construction, our eyes in prolonged contact, each of us humid under the patchy summer starlight. The quality of those events lived as bodies of expression in motion. In truth my feeling is that the value of this episode deserves better than to be swallowed up by the exact particulars of its context, or the individual self’s primacy. As I said, the memory-holing of the past and the arbitrary lines between fiction and nonfiction are my bread and butter, and while I would support your writing of this experience yourself as autobiographical, I would sooner like to see you state the social trajectories of the thing with your overflowing empathy―the multivocality of an impartial fiction that understands its partialities. So, lastly, I say that the autofiction straddling would suit you least. No apology is necessary for our extremely trivial day-to-day lives, just a competition for attention that we at best fulfil with the quality and character of our fabrications. It would have been hard to say this in a piece between a slew of celebrity autobiography reviews.

Now then, screed complete, and I can already hear you disagreeing with my hang-up. Let me have my pettiness, please, and I’ll continue to cloud your silver-linings in moderation.

Still petulantly yours,

Claire Edwards

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