Versions of the Past

Excerpt from "How Memoirists Mold the Truth," by André Aciman, The New York Times, April 6, 2013:

There is no past; there are just versions of the past. Proving one version true settles absolutely nothing, because proving another is equally possible. If I were to rewrite the scene one more time, this new version would overwrite the previous ones and, in time, become just another version among many.

Words radiate something that is more luminous, more credible and more durable than real facts, because under their stewardship, it is not truth we’re after; what we want instead is something that was always there but that we weren’t seeing and are only now, with the genius of retrospection, finally seeing as it should have occurred and might as well have occurred and, better yet, is still likely to occur. In writing, the difference between the no more and the not yet is totally negligible.

We can have many pasts, just as we can have several identities at the same time, or be in two places in our mind without actually being in either. For every life we live, there are at least eight others we’ve gotten close to but may never know. Maybe there is no true life or false life, no remembered or imagined itinerary, no projected or revisited moments, no worthy or wasted days, just as there is no such thing as mask or face, truth or lie, right or wrong answers. Can something be and not be at the same time?

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