PREAMBLE: MEMOIR + POLEMIC

THE POLEMICIST AT 25

I got a big laugh and a lot of nodding heads when I said to some writing colleagues that I realized I often write in a polemical vein. To do so, I think, requires a certain measure of self-regard: you have to believe both that the topic that exercises you is worth discussing publicly and that your opinion will be of interest to others. This also motivates memoir-writing, it seems to me. A diary is not quite the same, although people publish them, too, and their spontaneity, if this is allowed to surface, can make them valuable (as Nassim Nicolas Taleb noted about the Berlin Diary of William Shirer). Memoirs may refer to diaries, or not, but they’re a different animal, closer to polemics both in displaying the self and in the arguments they make for and/or against one’s life. One could call a memoir an apologetic, but I think that calling it a kind of polemic suggests that polemics are a kind of memoir. The polemicist is present, whether the cause is “out there” or wrapped up in the life, the psyche, the bodily equipment. It’s the polemicist who takes it all in and, having done so, argues for a way of seeing it or framing it. This “way” is always tentative, no matter how forcefully stated. There is no black-and-white in life, in actual fact. —John Parman

John Parman is an editor and writer based in Berkeley, California

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