In one of my classes we've been reading and discussing three autobiographical stories — three versions of memoir, you might say: Augustine's Confessions, Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory, and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. The other day I remarked to the class that all three of these authors are, in their varying ways, displaced persons — displaced from homeland, or upbringing, or culture, or language, or some combination thereof — and that displacement is one of the major prompts for memoir and other forms of self-narration. The person taken out of the environment in which he or she was formed is almost forced to reconsider the self and its components, is almost forced into redefinition. And one of the classic ways to achieve a successful redefinition is by telling one’s own story, in large part because through telling it one discovers what it is.
Given the mobility of American culture (I went on to say), and the resulting vast numbers of displaced persons, can anyone be surprised that memoir has become the dominant literary genre of our time?
But here’s what I’m wondering: does Facebook make self-narration less compelling, less necessary? In a much talked-about essay, Peggy Orenstein has speculated that Facebook denies to young people “an opportunity for insight, for growth through loneliness”; it makes it harder for them “to establish distance from their former selves, to clear space for introspection and transformation.” Maybe it also eases — or hides from us — our displacements, and creates a false sense of seamlessness in lives that have actually undergone significant ruptures.
Or perhaps it does what it promises to do: offer a real sense of seamlessness, allow us to shift our lives in innumerable ways without ever leaving anyone or anything vital behind. We’ll see.