2017 Seymour Biography Lecture
Raimond Gaita - Truth. Truthfulness. Self. Voice.
Seymour Biography Lecture
Hear from Raimond Gaita, author of Romulus, My Father as he tackles the big concepts of truth, truthfulness, self and voice in his writing. What do they mean when one is writing portraits that express gratitude to people one loves, unapologetically in a personally inflected voice? Raimond explains further:
I’m writing a book of essays that express gratitude to, often love of, people I have known who have mattered deeply to me, some of whom have inspired me. I’ll include part of one of those essays in my lecture. Perhaps they are better described as elegies. Or, portraits. Some are of teachers, others of friends. One is of my late father-in-law. Writing about him I will, inevitably, write about my wife. The essays (I’ll continue to call them essays) will be worthless if they are not truthful in intent and achievement. In such small pieces (none is longer than 5,000 words) that explicitly express gratitude many things will be left unsaid and I’ll encounter the usual kinds of difficulties non-fiction writers do when they write about people. The difficulties inevitably lead to failures, many of them psychologically and ethically motivated. They make the ambition to be truthful appear naïve, perhaps even culpably so.
Nonetheless, anyone who reads those essays will wonder, “Was that person really like that?” They won’t mean, ‘like that in some respects’. They will mean, ‘like that in essence’. I hope the answer will always be, yes. How could I not? Yet I know that I hope in the face of well know scepticism, often grounded in the observation that when you ask seven people what someone they know well is like, you are likely to get seven different answers, and that the differences may forever be unresolved. More radically, some will say that the difference cannot, in principle, be resolved in a way that could reveal what the person was really like because there nothing in this world, no fact, that is what someone is really like”, against which we could match narratives to assess their truthfulness. Against that, I’ll take heart from, and reflect upon, Iris Murdoch’s remark that to see the reality of another person is an act of love, justice and pity.
The Seymour Biography Lecture is supported by Dr John and Mrs Heather Seymour