Women writing memoir, body, and self: October 23, 2012 Lidia Yuknavitch

By Amanda Reavey

“I don’t believe in memoir,” said Lidia Yuknavitch during her visit to our JKS Special Topics class. Baffled and intrigued, especially since we had recently read her novel The Chronology of Water: A Memoir, I sat straight up in my chair and contemplated pulling out my voice recorder.

Lidia explained that when you remember something, many parts of the brain fire at once to collect into something coherent that can be put into language. Every time you revisit a memory, it deteriorates a little: details are lost, new details emerge, and sometimes details change completely. Thus, if memory is unstable, then you can’t tell the story a certain way and paragraphs can’t be written a certain way. She wanted to write her story the way memory works and ultimately, she wanted readers to feel something in the body.

This goal was certainly achieved. She asked through a show of hands how many felt the story in the body, and everyone in the room, myself included, raised their hands. Never have I had a story affect me in the body quite like that. I read her memoir, or rather anti-memoir, while sitting in a coffee shop, and I was uncomfortably aware of myself as well as those around me. Her work in raw detail describes her attempt to heal from childhood. Through ‘sexcapades,’ alcohol, and drugs, she gives away her body, abuses her body, and then, through writing, she takes back her body.

In the essay, “The Laugh of Medusa,” Hélène Cixious states, “Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reserve-discourse.”

As a woman writer, Lidia said she struggled to write out of her inherited script or rather, the girl stories inherited at birth. Because the inherited stories that did not match her experience, she either had to find the language or create it. With a sense of urgency, she said, “not only is it okay to hunt for forms of corporeal writing or to create the form, but it is necessary.”

Bodies are sites of meaning making. They can negate meaning, including the restrictive societal definitions placed on women, and they can redefine or generate new meaning. Cixious writes, “by writing her self, women will return to the body.” By writing her self, Lidia reclaims her self and her body. I thank her for giving me permission to do the same.


Amanda Reavey is a poet and a current MFA candidate in Writing and Poetics in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She received her BA in Italian Studies from UW-Milwaukee and studied studio arts at The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts in Italy and Greece. Finally, after much drifting, she has landed in Boulder, CO where she explores her suspicions of psychogeography and identity narrative through her writing.

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