Dearth of craft and reflection in contemporary memoir

Lee Siegel considers what the rise of the poorly edited, unreflective memoir might mean for literature:

American literary criticism, in its blindness to the advent of the simulated book–namely, to the broad context that produces these new modes of expedience–is about twenty years behind American publishing.

And for good reason. To take one recent example, how do you critically approach Oh the Glory of It All, a “book” that is, for one thing, less a book than a very long e-mail? E-mail’s conversion of casual conversation into writing–you chat with your fingers rather than try to organize your thoughts into words–is slowly phasing out writing as a formal mode of reflection, to the point that soon we won’t expect writing to have irony or different levels of meaning any more than we expect casual conversation to have a meticulously crafted structure. The discipline of arduously thinking your way into words has given way to the indulgence of going on, and on, and on as a substitute for thinking. When Edmund Wilson said that the typewriter had changed American writing, he didn’t know the half of it.

Somewhat related:

  • My Boston Globe review of the Wilsey book; and
  • An excerpt from Ugresic’s “Come Back, Cynics, All is Forgiven.”


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