The Inventive Mind: Memories and Lies

The human mind has always amazed me in its psychological complexity. It is able to the discern emotions; receive, process, and send information to the rest of the body; and most interestingly among the mind’s various abilities, store memories. Yet, nothing in this world exists without its flaws. Memories can be skewed by the person that holds such snippets of events, and the same individual might not even notice it.

Daniel Nester’s “Notes on Frey” offers an interesting take on the issue of inventing, or exaggerating, a memory and brings up what other memoir writers — and personal essayists, in general — consider a risky and touchy subject: lying. Where is the line drawn between putting substance to a moment and lying about it? Throughout “Notes on Frey,” Nester investigates what it means to commit the sin of lying and how other memoir writers dealt with the subconscious plausibility of inventing a memory. What particularly struck out to me while reading the piece was the Nester’s contemplation of whether “we should allow the existence of more than on kind of memoirist” (128). There are those memoirists who will do anything to get to the absolute truth and those who “value emotional truth over public record” (128). The idea of a truth that arises from the emotions is an appealing idea that I think is quite radical. It reminded me of what Michel de Montaigne notes in his writing, “Of Lies”: the “distinction between telling a lie and lying” (11). The difference appears to blur when writing based on emotional truth, for emotions can go against our conscience and display the truth as something else. However, it is revealing to note what Patricia Hampl, in “Memory and Imagination”, argues as the reason why memoirs should be written: “Memoirs must be written because each of us must possess a created version of the past. … We must live with a version that attached us to our limitations, to the inevitable subjectivity of our points of view” (788). Although difficult to stray away from subconsciously inventing what happens in a memory, our imaginations are what makes us part of who were are: our idiosyncrasies, our views, how we deal with the world. That doesn’t mean we should outright lie about what makes us who we are, but Hampl reassures us that it’s okay to possess a memory different from the absolute truth because realizing that our imagination is an active part of a memory is just the first step to seeing the actual self.

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3 Responses to The Inventive Mind: Memories and Lies

  1. adharahaque says:

    I agree with everything you said on your blog Remembering little things cause us to distort images, events when we recall it I think it is important to try to remember the best we can but it definitely hard as the years go by. No one has a fresh mind. So in a way our memories and talking about the truth as to what happened is ironically a lie at the same time. Our imaginations take over and we believe what we want to believe. Great interpretation!

  2. cierrarouse says:

    Amanda, I couldn’t agree more with the points you have raised. After taking biopsychology over the summer I have been so intrigued by the mechanisms that the mind uses in order to store memories. After reading Frey I focused a lot how our subconscious fills in the blanks in order to do justice to our memories even if skewing their accuracy. Although I still agree with this as I found myself bringing great detail to my personal essay of a lie I told when I was no older than 7 years old, you made me think about the psychological aspect, even if we tried to fight this aspect of exaggeration or manipulation we are not in control of it. As much as I picked apart my memory I could never 100% tell my reader what was imagination and what was true memory. This “radical” idea you have interpreted, of the emotional bias being the major distorter of memories is a very strong point. There are only so many black and white facts we can create an outline of a memory, the color comes from the emotional setting and our own state of mind as we understood this memory. When thinking back to things our greatest confusion comes from the person we were when we first experienced this moment, because it is nearly impossible to strip the in-the-moment factors that influenced our initial interpretation of the experience.

  3. cjchumas says:

    I thought this was an awesome blog. You started by bringing up some great points, such as the distinction between adding substance, particularly to a memoir, and outright lying. In addition to your assertions, you provided some great details and quotes from the text to explain them. I also liked your scientific sort of approach to the issue of truth-stretching. Most of all, I agree with your last line, such that : “realizing that imagination is an active part of memory is just the first step to seeing the actual self”. Your wording here is perfect for the argument. I for one, feel that it is nearly impossible to recall any memory, no matter how old or recent, with definite and precise detail. It’s almost like a phenomenon that we overlook, such that truth-stretching or imagination is an essential part of our memory.

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