The title of this post is a paraphrase from religion historian and author Brita Pollan’s book «Å huske sitt liv Litterære essayer (To Remember Life – Literary Essays)». She gave me the book one day as a gift. It is a book that is good to read and reflect on. The book is about autobiography, but I think the quote also says something about how we fictionalize ourselves through social media. We choose sequences of our lives, edit and modify these to create an illusion around our rather trivial and everyday experiences.

In the book, Pollan writes about various people / thinkers / writers who have written their autobiography. Autobiography is old, but still not one of the oldest cultural expressions we have. Pollan writes: «Scientists have believed that at the time of Homer and the write-down of the Iliad and Odyseen, humans had not yet developed an understanding of the I that allowed an individual to reconstruct the context of a personal life story from childhood to adulthood. The self was not discovered as a reality detached from what family, society and religion was defining as a human being (Pollan, 2015, p. 37) (my translation).” In other words, the story of the“ individual self ”is not as old as human beings, and rather radical unlike our contemporary time, where the individually and the personal are in the focus. For the sake of word, what Pollan calls the autobiography, I choose to call the personal storytelling or personal story in oral storytelling.

Pollan calls the autobiography «from within – truths (Pollan, 2015, p. 62 – my translation)». That’s because autobiography doesn’t pretend to «remember correct», it’s more about how you want to be remembered. She writes: «Life is the raw material for poetry, which is not a failure to life, but a consummation of life as an awareness of life (Pollan, 2015, p. 62 – my translation)».

To remember is to be in a particular social space, influenced by the culture we are in (Pollan, 2015, p. 159). At the same time, we have our private, mental spaces, where all kinds of stories intertwine: «There you find hidden meanings of the life we have lived – impressions from childhood and growing up, books we have read, memories, family stories, unfinished thoughts, feelings we do not understand ourselves, dreams, presence of people we have met and never forget, the dead ones we remember with gratitude, memories that connect us with the past and an unknown future, emotions such as wonder, confusion, anxiety, and not least awareness about our own death that awaits us – all that and much more is present in our own hidden inner space. (Pollan, 2015, p. 171- my translation)»

Personal storytelling «as awareness of life», I think gives a good description of what happens when you build a story based on a memory. This process involves a reflection similar to Ricouer’s three stages of mimesis – the memory has to go through some processes in order for it to be communicated to others, it has to be reflected upon.
I like to work in the span between the personal and the mythical. One might wonder why stories like myths survive despite the fact that they do not represent an objective reality. They are in a place where we use our imagination to understand them. Pollan says that this survival is because the myths are about the absolute value of the individual and the need to «accept the loneliness of oneself (Pollan, 2015, p. 64 – my translation)». For me, the myths are about providing a framework for the personal.

There is a danger in telling one’s own story, for when it is told or written as Pollan writes, it is “finished made”: «Life is no longer as open to new interpretations (Pollan, 2015, p. 97-my translation)». I also think that when one’s own stories are told, the experiences no longer belong to teller. I have become something else in the eyes of others, I have lost a bit of myself into something bigger, a different interpretation of me. Pollan says «Somehow we still remain ‘ourselves’, as separate individuals associated with a particular history, the way we remember it and the way others see us. (Pollan, 2015, p. 159) ». The personal story focus on concentrated parts of me, it is me in an interpreted state – a mixture of representation and presentation. It is necessary to have an understanding of what one is exposing oneself to when one share personal stories in the public, you are no longer your own interpretation, but living a life in others that is beyond your own control.
Pollan, B. (2015). Å huske sitt liv Litterære Essayer. Oslo: Emilia Press.