Writing memoir entails more than researching, recording and constructing a past ‘self’. The act of writing forces a set of critical strategies similar to that of writing a fictional work: there is a problem to be solved, narrative choices to be made, a theory to be tested. The idea of how the past is accessed, reconstructed, researched and re-experienced is also problematic. My recent memoir, Soldier Blue (2008) poses the usual autobiographical problem – ‘Who am I?’ – but further attempts to interrogate and analyse how this ‘I’ is constructed, and uses narrative strategies such as the conflation of characters and events, a framing device/ use of an outside narrator, and the constant destabilisation of the idea of a retrievable past in order to solve this problem. The protagonist of Soldier Blue has been created by his society (1960s and 1970s Rhodesia) as a colonial ‘white male’ with a particular propagandised national identity and agenda. In this paper, I explain the narrative methods used to help me deconstruct this ‘self’ and trace the paths that lead him out of this labyrinth to become Albert Memmi’s ‘coloniser who refuses’ (Memmi 1990:106). Further, I discuss how in making certain narrative choices in writing this memoir, the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction are blurred, and that in order to create a cohesive narrative, fictional techniques are used that apparently sacrifice historical and factual integrity for the achievement of other aims – that of achieving the emotional truth of the memory/event … and that of liberating the ‘I’ or ‘self’ from the confines of gender/race/class.
Text: journal of writing and writing courses / Vol. 17, No. 1