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The Narcissism of Contemporary Autofiction
Psychic Self-Defense
 March 27 2024 at 07:22 am
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The Narcissism of Contemporary Autofiction The Anti-Art of Confabulation You wake up to it. Thirty unread messages from last night’s date, each more mundane and self-involved than the last. You scroll and scroll, the onslaught of nonmeaning condensing into a Talmud of intellectual antimatter. Something about the dog. The ex. The rich aunt in Tallahassee. The color of last week’s socks. You read the thirtieth message and gasp. The text thread has found a publisher, and will be available at a store near you by Q4 2024. You try to scream, but no sound comes out. That would be too interesting for the kind of nightmare you’ve found yourself in. The kind of nightmare that’s most young writers’ ultimate dream. Why? Because they’re boring narcissists. To put it more elegantly – and give perspective to this phenomenon of boring narcissists with literary aspirations – we’ll start with Norman Mailer, a narcissist who attained his literary aspirations through the miracle of actually writing well. In his late-career celebration of the novel as a form, The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, Mailer identifies two broad approaches to longform narrative: the Tolstoyan and the Dostoevskian. The Tolstoyan novel is epic in scope, breathing life into a wide-ranging array of characters while grounding them in their particular social and historical contexts. The Dostoevskian novel, by contrast, focuses on how individuals’ thoughts and actions serve as building blocks of their existential conundrums. Now the Tolstoyan novel is all but gone, and the Dostoevskian novel seems more a product, rather than an exploration of, the pathologies of our age. Literary fiction is fast becoming an offshoot of self-help journaling, portraying only those events which directly impact its author/subject, and seldom digressing into their wider significance. This style, known in the book trade as “autofiction,” certainly has its place, the best of it having the quality of a long, boozy conversation with a charismatic stranger. Knausgaard comes to mind. His pale imitators (their names are legion -- could you be one of them, niche Internet reader?) do not, and the more I’m exposed to their output, the more I dread the morning after: the bitterness of lost time, unrecoverable by a latter-day Proust, too muddled by a sour stomach to dare a bite of madeline. Unlike Bukowski or Henry Miller, whose outsized personalities led them along paths rich with intrigue and startling insights, and without the dreamy melancholy of Duras or Kavan, many of today’s self-mythologizers seem ruled by base neuroses, whatever voice they may possess drowned out by verbose, tormented chapters devoted to a childhood slight, death of a pet, or dissolution of a three-day situationship. A huge proportion of alt-lit Substack is guilty of this, and a surprising (non-zero!) fraction of works published there are eventually compiled and given some form of physical distribution. Again, this sort of writing can and has been done very well, but as a rule, recent autofiction’s limited concerns would best be discharged on an analyst’s couch, or, in a more perfect world, taken out in scented markers on a wide-ruled page. Ubiquitous psychotherapy seems only to have expanded the domain of its subject, rendering the novel just another surface onto which “lived experience” may be inscribed. When literature offers nothing but the quotidian, readers' minds wander inexorably toward a stain on their shirt or maintenance of the catbox. Bores beget boredom and little else: it's a fact of life. So why are these people writing at all? To give “therapy culture” its due, a major clue can be found in the annals of contemporary psychology. Our reader’s path to enlightenment may be getting junked up by the surprising popular appeal and mass-marketing of confabulation – the process by which memory gaps are bridged by plausible, but totally fabricated, threads of meandering narrative. Two diagnostic classes that rely heavily on confabulation, narcissists and dementia patients, are sadly illustrative of a growing fraction of the rising literary milieu. Both seek to impart plausible deniability to the chaos of their half-remembered lives, position themselves as persecuted objects or the center of events, and need for you to listen to and believe them. “I’m not perfect, but I can explain,” expanded into a lifetime of shoddy fabrications -- and sometimes presented in book form. As our dominant modes of being shift toward a nexus of narcissism and outright dementia, so do our cultural products, and all but the most determined readers may soon be drubbed into accepting confabulators’ leaden alchemy as genuine magic, content as they are with their daily input of TikTok beefs and Twitter soft-blocks. Is there wisdom to be found among these shifting dunes of glitched-out memory? Just as much as anywhere else. But that’s not why we’ve turned to literature, historically, and I suspect the result – mostly indistinguishable from the nightmare we opened on – will collapse once rights to some of the above-mentioned masters’ catalogs enter the public domain and reinvigorate the idling fiction industry. For now, we’re stuck with placeholders, passively nodding at a motormouthed stranger as we wait for our bus to come in. It might be the polite thing to do, but for my part, I’ll put the cost of a new paperback toward a bottle of Melatonin and sleep this one out. Which, come to think of it, is pretty narcissistic of me. Excuse me while I compose a couple hundred pages about why, exactly, there’s nothing wrong with this…. FURTHER READING: Jonathan Sturgeon - 2014: The Death of the Postmodern Novel and the Rise of Autofiction 2014: The Death of the Postmodern Novel and the Rise of Autofiction The postmodern novel is dead. It is no longer what William James would call a living hypothesis: no committed literary novelist would now choose to write a postmodern fiction. Sure, genre and YA novelists may continue to churn out commodified,… Prof. Sam Vaknin - Dissociation and Confabulation in Narcissistic Disorders Dissociation and Confabulation in Narcissistic Disorders (narcissistic amnesia) why narcissists and psychopaths often contradict themselves. Tomorrow's confabulation often negates yesterday's. The narcissist and psychopath do not remember their previous tales because they are not invested with the emotions and cognitions that are integral parts of real memories. Eve Attali, Francesca De Anna, Bruno Dubois, Gianfranco Dalla Barba - Confabulation in Alzheimer's disease: poor encoding and retrieval of over-learned information Confabulation in Alzheimer's disease: poor encoding and retrieval of over-learned information Abstract. Patients who confabulate retrieve personal habits, repeated events or over-learned information and mistake them for actually experienced, specifi

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