For Madmen Only? The Authentic Memoir's Destabilization of Identity
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The memoir has been called creative nonfiction which positions it somewhere in between fiction and nonfiction. This paper considers the memoir’s capacity to approach authenticity and the challenges this presents for those writing about mental illness. This paper also clarifies the idiosyncrasies of the genre of memoir, particularly how it stands out against other genres such as the novel and autobiography, and how this generates certain expectations in the readers of memoir. Research is used that investigates the complexity of the genre of memoir as well as the concept of authenticity to make an argument for how authors might approach authenticity in their memoir writing. It is shown that memoir is a genre that allows for an emphasis on subjectivity and creativity rather than historical fact. Authenticity is shown to be a polemical concept, which, in the case of memoir, is directed against the author’s previous identity. Marion Milner’s autobiographical writing method is used as an example for writing authentic memoir. This thesis argues that the authentic memoir may be used to create a new identity of its own and therefore relies on an author’s relinquishing of previous identity, and that through this process of identity destabilization the activity of writing memoir approaches an authenticity of its own. This suggests a contradiction between the writing of an authentic memoir and the common approach of mental illness memoir writers. The apparent ambiguousness regarding the genre of memoir calls for further investigation of what may properly be called memoir.