56 minutes | Oct 11, 2021

Helena de Bres, "Artful Truths: The Philosophy of Memoir" (U Chicago Press, 2021)

What is a memoir? What makes a memoir both nonfictional and literary? What are the memoirist’s moral obligations to the people they write about besides themselves, and to their potential readers? And is the writing of a memoir just indulging in narcissism, or revenge? 

In Artful Truths: The Philosophy of Memoir (University of Chicago Press, 2021), Helena De Bres examines the philosophical issues that the memoir genre raises, given the doubts we may have about whether people can write the truth about themselves, whether the demands of literature overwhelm the demands of truth-telling, and even whether there is such a thing as a unified, persisting self to write about. De Bres, who is an associate professor of philosophy at Wellesley College, defends the nonfiction status of memoir while acknowledging that memories fail, we often engage in self-justification, and it can be difficult to draw a line between the “experiential truth” the memoirist tries to capture and falsity. De Bres deftly navigates issues in metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics in this highly readable examination of an evolving literary form.

Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.

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