Fogle and narrative unity, or whatever

Chapter 22 is full of Chris Fogle’s potentially contradictory positions on the merits of awareness, indifference, conscious choice, and accident. As we discussed in class, his declarations are sometimes hard to resolve. The indifference of “whatever” characterizes the wastoid, but Fogle’s father also “essentially said whatever” to his life (194). Important thinking gets done in “accidental, almost daydreamy ways” (192), and yet his transformation comes when he “decided” that he “had some very important, sustained, concentrated thinking to do” (178).

There are lots of ways that one could try to map these seeming contradictions out in a way that renders them consistent, but I think that trying to resolve them into some kind of coherent life-philosophy misses the way that their differences work to serve Fogel’s narrative needs moment-to-moment. Especially in light of Dave Wallace’s later critique of Fogle’s autobiographical style (259), I think that we can see the shifts in life-philosophy that narrator-Fogle is espousing as actually enabling his narrative to hang together in a way that feels acceptable to him and that seems to coherently answer questions about how he got to where he is. 

Part of what characterizes Fogle’s storytelling is the seeming grounding of the narrator as a whole and complete entity occupying a single point in time. This enables him to talk about things as he understands them right now, and use this more complete understanding as a way of organizing and making sense of the past. We could see this as coming from the fact that he is not carefully crafting a memoir over months or years, but rather rambling in front of a camera for a few hours. But Fogle’s positioning as narrator actually changes a lot over the course of the chapter. At different moments, he has different goals and concerns, which change the way that he uses the material of his narrative. This is really clear in his use of detail in his memory at different moments. Whether he is inventing those details or not, they serve a narrative purpose. On 191, deep in his description of his wastoid phase, he mentions DePaul’s identical buildings “whose names I don’t recall at this moment.” But on 217, in the heightened awareness lent by the impending transformative moment, he says “I knew Garnier Hall […] on this day I had somehow gone to 311 Garnier Hall instead of my own political science class’s identical 311 Daniel Hall.” The quality of his memory gets mobilized to serve the version of himself that he is trying to describe in the moment.

So I’m interested in how narrator-Fogle uses the different versions of his philosophy on intentionality and accident as tools to make sense of different parts of his story. To understand the impact of the substitute teacher and to follow the familiar pattern of transformative life event (here represented by the Christian girl), he has to emphasize the the accidental as ultimately determining his path. But to distance himself from the “whatever” that he sees even in his father’s approach to life, he has to at other moments paint conscious choice as the motive force behind his narrative. 

If we see his chapter as an example of a certain kind of memoir — one that explains and clarifies the subject rather than complicating him — then the work of his storytelling is the work of holding these different philosophies together just closely enough that they will look like they are part of a single subject’s way of understanding of the world, but not so close that their contradictions will overwhelm each other and undermine the narrative’s sense of unity. 

1 thought on “Fogle and narrative unity, or whatever

  1. I think that what Patrick mentioned about Lacan’s mirror stage is really relevant to what you’re saying here ( According to Lacan, the individual gains its subjecthood in the very act of misrecognition (for example, the infant looking at a mirror and seeing a self that is not itself– a perfected self, in fact, with all of the benefits of image and without the drawbacks of uncooperative flailing baby limbs). The subject then strives, from this instance of misrecognition toward the unattainable goal of uniting these disparate aspects of itself. Fogle’s accidental thinking, or misrecognition, is an essential part of himself– not necessarily an aspect that should be drawn in contrast with his active thinking. They are, so to speak, two sides of the same foot.

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