Response to Brainard, Codrescu, and Wolff

Brainard, Codrescu, and Wolff all evoke strong emotions in their personal essays. Joe Brainard uses syntax in order to create a flow of prose similar to stream of consciousness, however a more structured version. The structure of Brainard’s piece is a continuous stream of short sentences which evoke emotion in its random and quirky nature. For example, the sentences are ordered as links to a chain, which connect the different memories together: “I remember (from lake life) mosquitoes” and “I remember mosquito spray” (110) portray two related ideas, while the following sentences capture summer vacations, swimming, and other related ideas. Stylistically, Brainard’s writing reminds me of the stream of consciousness style of writing in essence, which is when the author writes the first thoughts which come to mind, unusually in an unstructured form, which can also lack punctuation (such examples are “Catcher in the Rye” and “On the Road”). Brainard’s writing, however, is extremely structured, sorting similar ideas in chunks of text, separated by clean spaces, short sentences, and punctuation.

Andrei Codrescu’s “Nostalgia For Everything” draws on the theme of memory through describing his travels throughout different countries, attaching signature imagery to specific places. For example, “San Fransisco” and “Golden Gate Park”, “Rome” and “Santa Maria Magoire Cathedral”, “Spanish” and “bitter, hot espresso”. Codrescu also treats the essay as a timeline, tacking on dates as early as 1958 to 1992. This gives the story a sense of age and progression as Codrescu notes his travels. Codrescu uses the present tense throughout the essay, by stating “I remember” before each memory, concluding the essay with “I’m writing now at the Deja Vu in New Orleans at the end of 1992, and I miss this place already” (199).  This sudden change in tense and the mention of “Deja Vu” further reinforces the feeling of nostalgia and memory.

Tobias Wolff’s “Last Shot” incorporates paying tribute to a deceased friend through “remembering” him in the correct way. Wolff begins the essay by disagreeing with Orwell, who states “It is a great thing to die in your own bed, yet it is better still to die in your boots” (57). Wolff disagrees with the context of Orwell’s statement, which was written before World War II. Wolff pays homage to a friend who died in combat in Vietnam. He believes that rather than remembering a person for all of they things they were not able to achieve due to their untimely death, it is better to remember the deceased by the accomplishments they were able to achieve.

These ideas of memory can be approached in a variety of ways. For example, in this Ted Talks video Daniel Kahneman describes the link between happiness, memory, and experience. Kahneman gives the example of listening to a “glorious” 20 minute symphony, where at the end, a loud screeching sound appeared. Although the experience of the music was pleasurable, the entire symphony was ruined by the screeching sound at the end, because the memory of the screeching overpowered the experience itself.

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