Patricia Hampl “Memory and Imagination”

From exact word-for-word lines insignificant characters said to the color of every object in the room, Patricia Hampl demonstrates a rare and enviable trait; a photographic memory. When was the last time you met a middle aged – elderly woman who could recount every single miniscule detail of her first piano lesson from when she was seven? Midway through the reading of her memoir I had to stop and call shenanigans on all of the unbelievable, clearly made up, and unnecessarily detailed memories. Thankfully, she did all that for me. Upon the conclusion of her memoir Hampl does in fact explain to us the “lies” in her story and why she wrote it the way she did. She didn’t write the piece to tell us exactly what happened in that moment of her life, she explains that the real job of memoir is “stalking the relationship, seeking the congruence between stored image and hidden emotion.” One might now wonder what she has done that has differentiated memoir with fiction; all of it was filled with lies anyways. Her answer: “Memoir must be written because each of us must possess a created version of the past. Created: that is, real in the sense of tangible, made of the stuff of a life lied in a place and in history.” Long story short, Hampl spends the rest of the essay to explain to us why it is ok/ why it is right to do something our parents taught us all at a young age not to do, lie. If Heaven and Hell were truth and lie, respectively, then memoir would be the common ground, Earth. Earth, something all of us can understand and relate to, that is why Hampl mixes in her unnecessary vibrant details with her memories; she aims to recreate a time, an image, which is for her an ideal recollection of a time in her past.

Hampl also states “True memoir is written, like all literature, in an attempt to find not only a self but a world.” To me, this statement was written to tell the reader that not only does a memoir cause an author to find themselves, but also attract readers, “the world,” to read and learn about the author’s “self”. Most people live pretty insignificant (for lack of a better word) daily lives that many people would not pay to read about. By finding the world in a memory that Hampl can use to paint a picture that can gather readers, that is what a true memoir is. It is the world that people wanted to see, not the world as it was. A piece of writing for an audience of one would just be silly for someone who makes their living off of the art.

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