Patricia Hampl

(Un)Reliability in Memoir

A) In full, chapter one of Lauren Slater’s memoir Lying: “I exaggerate.”

B) And this from Sven Birkerts The Art of Time in Memoir: “…memoir is undertaken not just as another kind of artistic expression, which is to say a work created for an intended audience, but also as an act of self-completion” (88).

C) What does a writer do if the act of self-completion forces her to consider the gaps in a life that cannot be filled? See “A.”

***

As memoir, Lying addresses both a unique and resolutely universal conundrum, the instability of memory, which complicates the writing of a piece of art that in its very definition depends on memory. If memoir seeks to think back on a portion of life, reinhabit memory, then apply the lens of time to make sense of those memories, the enterprise would seem to be utterly corrupted when the view through the lens magnifies a gaping hole or, in fact, if the application of the lens functions like a magnifying class aimed at an ant in the hot sun, the multiplication of energy causing the obliteration of the subject of study. Such a memoir would be a close-up image of a smoking hole. And in many respects, Lauren Slater writers of the examination of such absence. Hers is a story of reconciling childhood epilepsy (or appears to be…instability makes me question everything in this book), which she describes as having left gaps in memory. Experience has been erased, and in this memoir she seeks to write and examine that experience.

So, directly, Slater’s admissions of exaggeration are revelations of experience. I hope that doesn’t strike anyone as too post-modern, this intentional absence functioning as commentary on the absences of life. Indeed, this is the only tactic that Slater has in reconstructing her life. She cannot complete the self in the same fashion as other memoirists, because she cannot access or even pretend to access memories. About fifty pages in, she writes the magic words THE END, then flips everything around on the next page, just so we’re clear on what’s happening:

Not quite.

This is a work of nonfiction. Everything in it is supposed to be true. In some instances names of people and places have been changed to protect their privacy, but the essential story should at least aim for accuracy, so the establishment says. Therefore, I confess. To the establishment. I didn’t really fall into the grave. I was just using a metaphor to try to explain my mental state. The real truth is I went to the funeral, the hearse had engine trouble, the coffin was late, I looked into the grave, and I thought about falling in. (60).

Page 59 offers the narrative clarity we desire in reading, a story that comes to a satisfying and properly evocative ending, Slater lying at the bottom of a grave looking up at the faces peering over the rim. Page 60 presents the complication, that it didn’t happen even as it did, because things that happen in the mind are every bit as real to the body as things that happen physically. Perhaps obviously, in a memoir focused on the deep issues of the brain, writing through this aspect (and against the mind-body split) is crucial.

What memoir isn’t about this, actually? In Firebird, Mark Doty looks through lenses of time to repopulate the memories of his childhood, and he identifies his project as the construction of a perspective box, which is to say, a box built of distortions and viewed through different resolutions. In Descanso for My Father, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher assembles a version of his father through the collection of pieces, which is to say he reconstructs a false image through the act of tertiary memory. In I Could Tell You Stories, Patricia Hampl addresses the difficulty of could in the telling, and the slipperiness of memories of learning to play the piano, and how writing through the false memory leads to something…else.

While it’s too easy to repeat this aphorism, I repeat it anyway: all memoir is meta-memoir. How can it not be, if the project of the writing relies in the ethical engagement of memories that can never be fully trusted? I say too easy, though, because Lying cannot be reduced to mere meta-artifact; it is not just or even a book about writing memoir. Sure, we can read it that way, since the trouble of memory that Slater considers is the trouble of the genre, but Lying is also a tremendous act of ethical reconstruction. It is a memoir (how I want a strand of significant organ music to play as you read those words), and it is concerned primarily with the very construction of self that Birkerts suggests as central to this particular style of art.

I’ll back up here for a moment, to my aside about never trusting anything in Lying, that I’m never quite sure if she’s really writing about epilepsy or if she’s using it as a metaphor for something else. While this, too, sounds overly-meta, I think that’s part of the point. Even though Slater keeps reminding the reader of when she exaggerates, or when she is flat out lying (think, again, about page 60), that act works to weaken the reader’s resolve to see the action on the pages as fully literal. Yet, also, it encourages the reader to trust the moments that are presented as real, because Slater has established herself as reliably unreliable. She’ll tell you if she’s lying…right…won’t she?

Maybe. Maybe not. How could she if she herself doesn’t even know? Ultimately, that’s the point of the accent on unreliability, that we can never knows as readers because she can never know as writer. So we are forced to trust experience in the same way she trusts experience, which is to say that we can’t but also do. Which is to say that the memoir functions simultaneously as meta and literal text. Which is to say that memoir itself, even life itself, is about dealing with the unreliability of our own narrative centers. We do that automatically every day, yet also experience the frustration of moments when, say, a loved one remembers a cherished moment different than we do. Who’s wrong? Who’s right? Both…neither…we can never quite know.

Just Who Is This?

Patricia Hampl begins so personally, relaying the story of her younger self riding the night bus and witnessing the mystical kiss between a beautiful young man and a woman she describes as “stout and unbeautiful” (19). Or, I should say, she starts even before that, still personally, offering a preface that sets out to explore the self composed of reader and writer, explaining that she will soon embark on “the surprisingly passionate experience of a reader trying to tease out from the works of others the habits of memory as it flares the imagination” (11). Curiously, however, even though I think of this start as tremendously close — “To the Reader,” it is titled, as a direct invitation, an arm around the shoulder pulling you in, to whisper secrets — Hampl writes without any use of first person singular (to loosely cite a fine and important essay by Scott Russell Sanders).

So it should come as no surprise that in a collection that opens with such heavy metaphorical use of the story of self, Hampl soon recedes behind the stories of others. She could tell us stories, of course, but she choose instead to tell the stories of others, sometimes with the framework of herself engaging those stories, more often as a scholar exploring ideas without much interest in her own autobiography. Yet I cannot help but consider how Hampl constructs her own self through the meat of this collection, in essays that focus on Walt Whitman, Mrs. Beranek, Czeslaw Milosz, Edith Stein, Sylvia Plath, St. Augustine, and Anne Frank (or, in fact, on trying to write a review of a “definitive” edition of Anne Frank’s Diary).

I worry that my sense of this created self might be a bit too facile. But here goes anyway: in declaring this project one of reconciliation between reader and writer, Hampl sets out to move through the way her own sense of authorial identity has been shaped by reading. She also returns often to a refrain declaring memoir as the act of tracing a mind at work. Thus, the motion through her reading of Whitman et al scribes the arc of her own sense of self. At the simplest (and most obvious), Hampl presents a self that is built from parts scavenged by the writers to whom she pays attention.

Somewhat more complexly, the sequence through which she moves and, more importantly, how her own self emerges occasionally in considering these other writers, reveals a constantly shifting and ever-deepening sense of nuance. Her thoughts on Whitman are about the loss of innocence, which is then partly reconciled by the inclusion of Milosz’s sense of history, which is made deeply internal through Hampl’s alignment to Stein’s refusal to reveal her conversion story. Then we come to Plath, where the memoir of Hampl strains through the writing again: her story of reviewing Plath as a college student shows the mind of Hampl at work, a prototype of her current self wrestling with what she first found, just as the author self of I Could Tell You Stories wrestles with the how Plath’s legacy limits the personality of the poet to idea alone. The lens moves out, then, to Augustine and his deeply personal quest — and more notably that “one of the things that made Augustine’s readers gasp was not his admission of lust, but his acknowledgement that, after conversion, indeed even as a bishop of the Church, he is still searching and speculating about his God and himself” (170). In this line, Hampl emerges as clearly as if she were penning straight memoir, as the compilation of focal points invites the reader to consider Augustine as metaphor for Hampl, too. And this very line seems to be a kind of mission statement for the book, something tied up in the difficulty of telling stories. Hampl continues to question, speculate, and search for a stable center in the field of memoir.

Now, Hampl is certainly writing about Augustine here. Don’t get me wrong: she’s not simply poaching his life story as a thinly veiled metaphor of self. Instead, I see Hampl writing through the animating cores of her subjects to find her own motivations. In Whitman, we find innocence and hope; in Beranek, we find guilt and complexity; in Milosz the weight of history; in Stein the power of that which is withheld; in Plath the collision of self-identity and -ism; in Augustine the desire to always question; in Frank the need for sane witness. By writing through these individuals, Hampl builds on the page her own desired self as memoirist. She argues (in the circular way an essayist can be said to argue) for these as crucial building blocks of the writer and, crucially, that we can find in reading books the core elements that can allow us to read the world which, after all, is the primary job of the memoirist.

It comes as no small surprise, then, that the fully personal voice of Hampl — the self-focused memoirist — cannot reappear until these influences are duly inspected. Moving forward, then, Hampl turns in the last two essays toward answers to questions posed in the very nature of the book’s title. Further, I remain convinced that “What She Couldn’t Tell” serves as the true centerpiece of this collection, that the fake-named Mrs. Beranek is the key to the selves on display here, and that Hampl’s own conflict with history and innocence is tied up in both the act of writing someone else’s story and the act of not being able to easily read that story. The reader-writer self, looking for a way to honor each end.

Nerdy Essays

A brief and sudden departure, today, from the trajectory of discussions I established in the first two installments. I’m still writing about Hampl’s I Could Tell You Stories, and I imagine I’ll likely write next week once again about issues of narrative self. Today, however, I’m interested in thinking about a curious feature of form contained in this beautiful collection.

I’m thinking about the overall arc of the book, in part, and the way the narrative voice shifts. Hampl begins with writing that the reader recognizes easily as memoir and.or personal essay. And she ends similarly, with two essays that return to questions about the memoirist’s task. In the middle, her voice gradually recedes for awhile as her writing becomes tremendously external. Certainly, we can think about this from the perspective of self-creation…but I don’t want to do that yet. I promise I will. Next week. Yes, next week.

Instead, I want to consider how the center essays of this collection are written as differing versions of a hybrid scholar-essay. There’s a clear intellectual intention to these pieces (the Nerdy), but there’s also the inclusion of the self (in various degrees) and, more importantly, a sense of the journeying mind working through material (the Essay) instead of declaring and defending a thesis. I understand, of course, that within the world of academic specialization, Hampl’s method of writing about Whitman, Milosz, Stein, Plath, Augustine, and Frank wouldn’t pass muster. She “fails” to hit the marks of scholarship, since her work “wanders” around considerations of these individuals. Yet for me, as an essayist who also has published work clearly defined by the great soporific title of “scholarship,” Hampl’s manner of intellectual engagement presents itself as far more interesting, and far more energized than the faux-objectivity, forced-rationality, sobriety that we (at least those of us in the academy) expect. Hampl’s life intersects with this scholarship, and that’s a very good thing indeed.

I find myself wanting to veer into a discussion of content, here, though I’ll resist. Suffice it to say, there’s a clear way her essaying can be read as the artful construction of…

…Next. Week…

Again, to construction, and a question of genre, offering an apparent digression: it unduly annoys me when colleagues across my campus (and other campuses), in and out of the discipline of English, refer to the assignments they make and the scholarship they write as essays. As I tell my own students, professors are rarely, if ever, asking for or producing essays. They’re talking about articles, those self-conscious, thesis-bound, straight-line attacks that can be understood more or less fully by reading the first paragraph. Hand in an actual essay for most assignments asking for an essay, and you’re looking at comments along the lines of, 

where is the thesis? 

you argument meanders all over the place!

Cut this entire section: it’s just a tangent, unrelated to your main point.

Evidence!

Unsupported opinion!

Who taught you how to write? I recommend you return to Strunk&White’s Elements of Style and review the basics.

Ah, but, but, but E.B. White was an essayist, first and foremost, and a pro at the sort of intuitive, connective leaps that motivate a reader through a text instead of repelling them into outer space, like a rocket missing the angle of re-entry and ricocheting off the impenetrable surface of the Derrida-o-sphere, thereby doomed to a life of lonely space-faring. A few words, then, on why I find Hampl’s intellectual engagement so compelling, and the genre choices of the center of her collection such a fine model for how essayistic scholarship can and ought to have a place in the canon of serious thinking.

Another sidelight: in “The Essayist is Sorry for Your Loss,” Sara Levine makes the point that early-career academics write articles. Then, once they have the freedom, they more or less write essays, giving up on the safety blanket of citation. Now, I think I’ll suggest that many of those artifacts aren’t good essays…but they are perhaps essays.

In the case of Hampl, we see a writer who thinks and writes within the more organic style of the essay, meandering (this is a good thing) through her consideration of, for example, the life and martyrdom of Edith Stein. She’s weighing things, here, using the writing to wrestle with complexity, instead of wielding the writing as a mace to bludgeon the reader with a falsified sense of fully-formed idea.

Notably, in this essay Hampl fully suppresses the “I” of her narrative stance. A representative and important line, late in the piece: “The mind goes back instinctively to the brief flashes that spark from Edith Stein’s memoir as if to live again in her life rather than her death, jots of personal life indelibly inscribed in her account of her ‘life in a Hewish family.’ They are the small moments she chose to rescue and reveal as evidence of simple humanity…” (126). This excerpt is not about Hampl (thus no “I”), but is about a consciousness at work. And I think it also demonstrates the honest of the “personal” as a mode of scholarship. Here, Hampl suggests that Stein’s legacy as martyr must be considered, in fact cannot be fully considered at all, without thinking about the life that was lived. Stein can do easily exist as mere idea: a Jew who became Catholic who was murdered by Nazis because she was a Jew who was later beatified by the Catholic Church.

Similarly, in the essay that follows, Hampl writes extensively about Sylvia Plath (the “I” has returned in force in this one!), partly to consider the importance of viewing Plath as an individual who lived and breathed and not just as an idea or representation of American Feminism. To ignore the life is, here, to ignore the reality and complexity and vitality of the idea, as it is in discussing Stein.

“Ultimately, a life seeking greatness is about the loss of the self in the service of a more complete reality,” Hampl writes (105). Yet that complete reality cannot ignore that a consciousness is at work. Even as much as Stein refused to tell her conversion story — as Hampl relates several times in the essay — she was still animated by that story, as private as it might have been.

Ultimately, this is the power I see in the activation of lived experience in scholarship, and why as much as I admire the intellect of Hampl’s Stein essay, I vastly prefer her writing about Plath, where she offers close reading of the poet alongside Plath’s biography and Hampl’s own autobiography (more on why she chose to be so distant in discussing Stein next week). By writing about how our live’s intersect with our reading, we can better articulate how the meaning of texts cannot resonate in a vacuum. Indeed, texts are meaningless without readers. If I veer a bit too close to reasserting an unfiltered Reader Response theory here, I apologize. But, still, we cannot ever refuse to acknowledge the way our own experiences govern our thought. There is no such thing as pure scholarship: everything is written from a subjective position, from an “I” who is shaping the material. The act of the essay, then, becomes a more genuine act of intellectual engagement.

Historical Perspective and the Position of Memoir

In the early going of Sven Birkerts The Art of Time in Memoir, Birkerts describes the act this way: “Memoir begins not with event but with the intuition of meaning — with the mysterious fact that life can sometimes step free from the chaos of contingency and become story” (3-4). Today, my own consideration of the genre leads me to consider the way Patricia Hampl positions the narrative identity that is intuiting the meaning at hand, just whose contingency is telling which story. After opening with two essays that mull the nature and (un)reliability of memoir, Hampl moves to a curious trio: “The Mayflower Moment: Reading Whitman during the Vietnam War,” “What She Couldn’t Tell,” and “Czeslaw Milosz and Memory.” From the perspective of, well, perspective, these three essays address the narrative position of the American Self, the Memoiring Self Who Doesn’t Quite Understand the Whole Story, and the Historical Self. In the motion between these three essays, Hampl addresses a key question of the genre, that of how you position and fashion a narrator (the “I,” generally).

The bracketing essays of this trio describe two poles of that self. From Whitman, Hampl argues that the American memoirist writes within a national context that must reckon with a troubled national history (as must all who write within the context of any nation’s history) but also within an uttered sense of American unity, a conflict that can create some mental unease. “But reading Whitman I belonged: to what I felt was the true nation, to those who lived in the magic of the possible, in mourning for America, the pure idea” (49). Yet Hampl also develops the essay as a tracing of her path away, at least for awhile, from Whitman, in part because of the tension between ideal America and lived experience.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Hampl writes of Czeslaw Milosz, who she argues “has located the best grace of memoir: a method which allows the self to function not as a source or a subject, but as an instrument for rendering the world” (86). Instead of a Whitmanesque author describing the self, Milosz is a self inhabiting the residues of Eastern European atrocity, Nazism and Communism. For Milosz, then, or perhaps for the version of Hampl writing in this essay, “This presence which lies at the heart of the experience of memory is both personal and impersonal. This double nature of his memory, which Milosz says caused his post-War experience in the West to be ‘robbed’ of some of its ‘reality,’ is, from an American middle-class perspective, an enriching and intensifying of reality” (90).

The nature of the narrative self, then, can be considered from these two perspectives. One is the central I, the figure whose authority as individual  (something Hampl, I believe, would argue is rather particularly American), allows that I to serve as the vision for both a nation and the reader. This is an I who can see all, is an active participant in the making of meaning about the self in question. The other side, the Milosz, is the witness who walks through the wreckage of history and weighs the personal experience against the heft of the past. This is Milosz placing personal childhood memories in the context of killing fields (see 90-91). This is Milosz writing a self that is not so much a stand-in for Poland but a self who cannot be reckoned alongside the known history of the homeland.

The contrast here is, perhaps, one born of age. As any American tourist will report, Europe is so much older than the U.S. As facile as such an epiphany may be, an American abroad can rarely help but marvel at the number of buildings that are older than our country. This is a useless emotion, but one I’ve certainly felt when abroad — some combination of humility, wonder, and pride. We’re so new. So naive. So fresh. So full of hope. That’s kind of Hampl’s suggestion as well, in the choice of the I as conduit: Whitman’s I is one that isn’t yet jaded enough to deny the possibility of national ideology. The I of Milosz, instead, has seen enough to be less impressed with the hopefulness of a youthful national identity. And, as Hampl illustrates so well, the reading of Whitman during the Vietnam War is a dissonant moment of reading about the ideal while the ideal commits the atrocities of war. Reading Whitman now, of course, carries similar cognitive risk.

How then, might a memoirist move forward from these two extremes of the narrative position? As Hampl puts it, “We embody, if unwittingly and partially, our history, even our prehistory. The past courses through our veins. The self is the instrument which allows us not only to live this truth but to contemplate it, and thereby to be comforted by meaning — which is simply the awareness of relationship” (97). This persistence of the past animates the most interesting of these three essays, the centerpiece that is nominally about Hampl’s relationship with an elderly Czech woman in St. Paul, “What She Couldn’t Tell Me.”

First, consider the relationship of that essay’s title to the title of the book, I Could Tell You Stories. Here, immediately, is the opening and closing down of narrative fullness. Together, the book promises the possibility of story (an issue covered deeply in the first essay of the collection) and, then, the refusal or inability to tell it. Spoiler: the problem of Mrs. Beranek is that she is a Czechoslovakian refugee of the wrong sort. She and her husband left the country not to flee Communist oppression but because, immediately after WWII, the nation wasn’t a friendly place for a couple who had fared well as collaborators with the occupying Nazis. Beranek wants to tell that story, starts to at one point, but cannot: it’s a story of the wrong sort of struggle, since it is the bad guy trying to argue for his humanity. Yet, at the same time, it is a quintessentially human story of loss, and a story we typically refuse to hear. We prefer the St. Paul newspaper version of it, that the family had had enough of Communism, than the troubling reality of collaborator suffering. A) We’d just as soon have them suffer as not; B) We’d just as soon not hear stories from collaborators; C) We’d just as soon not consider the historical residue of living collaborators.

Thus the structure of Hampl’s essay moves the reader through a fascinating progression. Her own choice of narrative presence is an intriguing combination of Whitman’s American ideal and Milosz’s historical witness. Hampl reveals unease throughout the essay, moments that indicate that the historical self knew something was up with Beranek. And by the end, she returns to Prague to find a relative of Beranek who reveals some part of the truth, that the couple had left the country at precisely the moment when only national traitors would have. Hampl writes of Beranek to write of a narrative self that gradually must contend with the rupture of national idealism.

Hampl has befriended an enemy here, has shown great kindness to a woman who history marks as traitor. For this, she inherits a book of photographs that forever fix the images of Mr. Beranek, the soldier-collaborator, the wartime wealth of a couple who profited from the loss of their country. Whatever is left of Hampl’s American idealism must succumb to this reality: Mrs. Beranek could be used as a story of American dreams only by ignoring the nature of what brought her to the country. Notably, the essay is written mostly as a narrative of Mrs. Beranek, without a heavy consciousness by Hampl; she breaks for reflection seldom, until the end of the essay. Here, I see the imprint of Milosz, of what Hampl herself identifies as the position of memoirist and lyric poet: “consciousness in the light of history” (100). This is an essay that traces the coming of age of a voice. It is a narrative self that recognizes the limitation of stories that could be told but cannot, that recognizes the importance of using history to consider experience. In fact, Hampl herself does not know that Mrs. Beranek was a collaborator; she has only intuited this, and been told by someone else that such was the case. Factually, there’s little “evidence.” Yet the reality is clear: this is the only reasonable explanation.

Here it is at the very beginning of that essay, the commentary on the nature of figuring the memoirist’s stance: “Everything about Mrs. Beranek…should have told me that she harbored a secret. But I was incapable of recognizing a secret of her kind” (61). At this moment in the collection, Hampl’s narrative position is not yet one capable of hearing the story that could not be told. She was, perhaps, still too much steeped in Whitman and not yet tempered by Milosz. At the same time, Hampl chooses to end the essay not with the final revelation of the full truth of Beranek’s guilt but, instead, with the revelation that this is a fake name, at the request of the woman, who is long dead and, therefore, who would never read these words. That Hampl chose, still, to honor that request indicates the persistence of Whitman’s hope, that she has written with the gravity of history even as she participates in the peculiar hope of a young nation. The last word, in fact, is “innocence,” tied to Mrs. Beranek, who we know not to be innocent in any pure sense. In this move, the self of Hampl’s narrator has  populated a sophisticated place of hope and history, has set aside the naiveté of Whitman, which in fact Hampl recognize as a misreading of Whitman and not a problem with the poet. Hampl writes a consciousness that reckons with the relationship of the past and the self, and in so doing makes a contemporary revision of Whitman: an American self that writes what she sees, all the while understanding that there is much she cannot see. 

 

Remembered Reality

Focus on: Patricia Hampl, I Could Tell You Stories

Or, I should say, the focus is on the early parts of this book; the first two essays, to be precise. Or, perhaps I should say, the focus is on establishing a certain foundational layer for the conversations that will emerge over the next three and a half months. Hampl works wonderfully here (so, so much better than the text I had originally intended as the first for the course…which I won’t name here…which focused far too much on the sexual prowess of the (male, of course) author…and took itself way too seriously…and counts itself as innovative when it just really might not be), because in I Could Tell You Stories, she probes the impulses of memoir while simultaneously engaging external literature. It is a book that goes straight into the mind of the author, and that mind is not one stuck in its own orbit. Instead, she uses personal story, experience, and literature as a way to essai toward a rich understanding of self, memory, and story.

These first two essays end with these lines: “Moving though it all faithfully, not so much a survivor with a harrowing tale to tell as that older sort of traveler, the pilgrim, seeking, wondering.” Such a perfect line, really, to offer clearest answer to a question I asked my class on day 1 — what’s the difference between autobiography and creative nonfiction, between memoirs and memoir? Hampl nails that answer, referencing the classic essayistic journey, the quest always to seek and the refusal to succumb to the false hope of concrete endings. After all, a pilgrimage doesn’t end a faith journey, instead ignites a passion for a renewed stage of seeking, which is precisely the impulse of life itself.

Much in these first two chapters, then, strikes at the important definitional level of meta. Hampl establishes a cleavage between the too-easy notion of factual reportage as the bedrock of memoir. Indeed, in relaying the mismemories of her “first draft” memory of a childhood piano lesson, she illuminates how recollection presents us with the opportunity for reflection. We will get the facts wrong, always. And if we’re ethical nonfictioneers, we’ll seek to “fix” mistakes moving forward, even as the “fixing” may in fact take form as rumination on why we remember things differently, or more detailed, or at all.

The act of memoir, then, is the act of recovering the self. Or, I might say, the act of memoir is an act of revealing one sort of self…to author and to reader. We are built of multiple selves, versions of ourself that emerge in different occasions: I can be the lively teller of goat stories at a party, or the moody contemplative wandering in a forest, or the energetic raconteur of the classroom, or the self-conscious writer stumbling over his own words. My totality is, of course, a combination of these things, a Venn diagram of the selves that congeals into something I can call “Me.” In my own act of memoir, I look for the self that wants to tell a particular story…or, perhaps, I seek to recognize a self not fully known. In this sense, I refer both to the revelation of a heretofore unrecognizable MicroSelf and the lifelong assemblage of the FullSelf.

In a sense, Hampl is writing about the fracture of our identities, some scattering that occurs, I’d wager, at the moment of adolescence. As children, we know ourselves fully, driven by the impulse of life and unaffected by self-consciousness and subterfuge. Each subsequent year, we learn how to conceal, and rupture, and try on the masks of the world offered to us. In recalling stories, in thinking about what stays with us — “We store in memory only images of value,” Hampl writes — we begin to recognize the parts of us that we have become immune to.