- Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process—Explorations in Narrative Psychology by Jens Brockmeier
Norwegian writer Karl-Ove Knausgård defines memory in the third part of his six-part book series, titled My Struggle, as follows: "Memory is not a reliable quantity in life. And it isn't because of the simple reason that memory doesn't prioritize the truth. It is never the demand for truth that determines whether memory recalls an action accurately or not" (11). Knausgård's books can be defined as autofiction, although they do offer many possible interpretations in the field of autobiographical fiction writing. What is interesting here is that in his books, Knausgård explores the ways our memory works: he has a strict, almost ascetic idea of writing about everything exactly like it happened, he aims at writing his memories up to the present, and simultaneously he explores how it becomes possible for us to remember or how it becomes possible to write about our memories. In many interviews, he has pointed out how memory for him is visual: he remembers landscapes, scenery, or "the feeling of snow, and the smell of it" or his feelings toward his father or mother. But he never recollects words or letters, sentences or speech (Barron). Thus it is obvious that the dialogue his books are filled with is made up—although it is written in a way that gives a sense of authenticity. For Knausgård, memory does not seem to be an archive from which authors can pick up memories and write them down as they were. Rather, memories are deeply connected to narration, and they are also highly untrustworthy, accidental, and vague—although Knausgård's book series tries to convince the reader of something else: that it is possible to remember things just like they were and then write about them. My Struggle offers an enchanting view on looking into the process and outcome of remembering, or memory work.
Although Jens Brockmeier does not refer to My Struggle in his book (probably because the first books in the series were published in English just before Beyond the Archive came out), it does feel quite natural to start discussing Beyond the Archive with a reference to Knausgård. The enormous popularity of his books and the active discussions in various countries, first in Norway then in Scandinavia and, from 2013, also in the UK and US, are just an example of how the field of life writing is ever expanding, both in terms of research and in terms of academic and popular writing. This recognition is also an important starting point for Jens Brockmeier's book. The genres of autobiography are various, from comics to poetry, visual art to fiction, and memoirs to fictive and documentary diaries, not to mention all the new digital possibilities of representing, writing, and performing the autobiographical I, including Instagram, blogs, video essays, Facebook, and Twitter. We seem to [End Page 396] write autobiographical texts more than ever. At least the forums for autobiography are more widespread than ever. As Brockmeier puts it in his book, "in the Western world, the autobiographical process has become one of the basic forms of life" (254). Thus, it seems, it is more difficult than ever before to grasp academically this vast field and aim at a coherent study around the themes of autobiography, narrative, and memory. Brockmeier has to be thanked for taking on this task and offering an impressive exploration of the concept of memory, particularly from the perspective of autobiographical writing and narrative studies.
Brockmeier's starting point for his study is the idea of memory as an archive, which he sees as the most constant and unchanging idea that the Western tradition of memory theories has developed. Brockmeier moves elegantly in the multidisciplinary field of memory studies, as his long career has involved studies concerning not only narrativity but human identity, language, and mind from the perspectives of literary studies, psychology, language...