AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FICTION VERSUS FICTIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FICTION
In her fifty-page application, the writer mentioned in one of her fragmentary tales, that ‘maybe history has evidenced the notion of the Wandering Jew as “a wild-eyed hook nosed disheveled homeless banshee. Little did it anticipate a pre- pubescent myopic meidele with rain frizzed hair, bottle top glasses, ginger freckles and a padded bra, knickers and toothbrush secreted in a brown school satchel always at the ready for the second coming or an overnight
stay at a school friend.”
Because she was obsessed with this idea of veracity, of resonance, of ‘the speaking of
suppressed truths (as) one of the great possibilities of the novel” the writer cast herself, at first, as the protagonist.
She referenced the novels she’d always admired, much more than memoir. Jann Martel’s debut novel, Self, where the protagonist shape shifts sexually throughout the subjectivity of
an unnamed protoagonist; Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex where a similar metamorphosis
occurs, Gore Vidal’s Myra Brekenridge, any number of Tim Robbins’s female creations.
What about the women? We’re equal opportunity tricksters; the reimagining of Sappho’s Leap by Erica Jong, Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, Allende’s Eva Luna. What if she could create a creature so fully realised that she could take her place at table with the heroines and anti-heroines of that literary genre?
And then there’s Orlando. A feminist labour of love, writ through the centuries, but with absolute plausibility once the writer has convinced the reader to suspend all disbelief. Woolf also insisted on the writer having a room of her own. After wandering from the cellar to the attic, the red room to the everpresent production studio, she finally settled on a nook overlooking the garden, strapped into an Edwardian mahogany desk, where the dogs could lie at her feet and she could click onto YouTube and catch up with the latest Ektar jam.
I started to poke my nosey nose through at the proposal stage. My name was different then; Wanda, ever Wanda, but the surname was different, as was the name of the book. What did she know? My writer posits the possibilities: fictional autobiography versus autobiographical fiction. Does she fictionalise her own life here, too strange for truth, exposing the world as sheknewit, or does she take a fictional character and create for me a new universe? Is her novel an archeological dig of sorts, superimposing a fabulous tale on top of an ancient structure upon which she can superimpose her own fiction of facts?
The writer herself had a misspent youth, once, one in which her teetering in the world rubbed up against the same transgressive values as I hold dear. She’d leapt into the abyss of life in the early eighties after a suffocatingly premature Jewish marriage. She’d wiggled her finger about in the family wound, the parental Apartheid that pursued them from South Africa like a dybbuk up a drainpipe. She’d seen sneering in the snow, the diva cut off in full throat, the showbiz family that couldn’t even. But autobiography? It wouldn’t work. The satire was too close to home. It couldn’t be the writer as raw data. Could we be creating a palimpsest?
According to the Cybercyde; In literature, literary criticism and literary theory the palimpsest is used as a metaphor, based on the concept of a multi-layered record produced by the layering of texts over time, to describe a surface (such as a medium) that has been reused, erased, or altered while retaining traces of its earlier form, or something having diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface writing fiction over autobiography – or even perhaps, an existing fictional glyph/metaphor or genre.” In which case, all literature is a palimpsest of some kind. My story needed to be told across a far wider swathe of cultural cloth.
By the time she hatched me more fully in her mind, thank Y-h-v-h, she’d gotten over the idea of using herself as the protagonist. The inverted, perverted picara seemed to encapsulate the word tags that the writer wanted to pursue: otherness-exile-identity-memory-autonomy and a good dose of amorality. The schtupping was never her intention, may I add. That was my idea. Perhaps I’m a weird combination of the lot of them. Or perhaps I’m just me.
I mean, what does she know from himations and humiliations? How could she project back two thousand years to know how I really felt? All she could bring was her own conceptions, gleaned from a mere fifty years on the planet. Whereas, I had always been. She just had to imagine me into being. Besides, she’s too old, she’s past it, she can’t fit in with the eternally youthful, energetic, throw it all to the lives of Wanda. For starters, she’d never been through history like me.
Anyway, she must have a screen upon which to project her smoke and mirror tale. In the process of imagining me, my writer has plumped for the fictional autobiography route,
although the episodes of my tale are shot through with her own experience, re-imagined through my eyes. In my own, peculiar voice. She needed to to create me to become the writer she always wanted to be. How’s that for dramatic irony?
So, it was decided that I would be the anti-heroine. Not just literally, from scene to scene, story to story, but literarily, in the character – in my character. She’s given herself a scourging stick to beat her back with, what with making me immortal and all. How do you sustain interest? Am I not a one hit wonder? Do I age, Y-w-v-h forbid? It’s bad enough I get to live forever, do I have to listen to all this creative kvetching for the rest of eternity?
The writer wants to build in a growth factor; the reader wants to realise meaning. But there’s the rub; I don’t. Given that she’d struck the fool’s gold of transformation through C.G.’s sneaky individuation clause, she’s determined that there has to be some kind of growth.
Alright, alright, I have to embody some kind of empathy, become truly human, find compassion, metanoia, as my writer puts it – an oft mistranslated biblical word meaning ‘change in one’s life, resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion’10. It’s all a bit over my head. And she hasn’t got it quite right yet, I keep slipping back to my bad, old ways. Time will tell.