Feb 18, 2015

As honest as sin

David Carr was a recovering addict. He wrote a memoir of his recovery, called The Night of the Gun. The story is basically what one expects from the genre -- a colorful fall from grace, "bottom," then redemption. What set it apart was that Carr didn't want you to trust him. The Night of the Gun was re-reported, not just remembered. Carr dug up documents and did interviews and approached the story as a journalist. When he said he loved his children, he went and checked it out.

Really, the memoir started from the premise that memories are suspect.

"Even if I had amazing recall, and I don't, recollection is often just self-fashioning," he wrote early in the book. And then later: "When memory is called to answer, it often answers back with deception. How is it that almost every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?"

It is a dogma of public confession that you can tell the truth and it will set you free. Carr insisted, however, that baked into that (as he would say) was the tendency to not tell the truth.

"If I said I was a fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, would you like my story?" he wrote. "As a member of a self-interpreting species, one that fights to keep disharmony at a remove, I'm inclined to mention my tenderhearted attentions as a single parent before I get around to the fact that I hit their mother when we were together."

This reflects a commitment to journalism. It also reflects a belief in sin.

Read the full essay at Religion Dispatches: "David Carr's secret to honesty: sin