I have never received such extensive feedback on my comprehensive biography course after the first 10 assignments. Thank you so much, this is great! My aim is always to provide tips and suggestions that will help others as much as possible on their journey of biographical memory work.
“Dear Dr. Mäckler,
it is certainly good to pause after the first ten assignments and take stock.
Your biography assignments make sense to me and the tasks are aligned with the theory. Such stringency in the approach and task setting is very helpful. Your explanations are clear and the tasks are doable. Nevertheless, I have hardly tackled any of your tasks in concrete terms.
I agree with you when you say that when writing the notes, events and important facts always come to mind. After all, rummaging in one’s memory is fun. It feels good to write without censoring yourself. Memories come back that one had thought long forgotten. The brain is – I have been amazed to discover – phenomenal, and far too seldom are all its possibilities exploited.
“On the trail of my story” would be a better description in my case. I feel an obligation to myself to write down the story of my mother’s death and its circumstances. Everything related to my mother’s death interests me. Everything that has nothing to do with it I consider at the moment to be paths into a labyrinth of distractions. So when I write down everything that goes through my mind, I’m afraid of losing touch with the story that I feel an urge to tell in its complexity.
Some members of my family have a view of the events leading up to my mother’s death – the dominant narrative – that, if left to stand, will give my posterity a picture of the events that I cannot share. I experienced the time preceding my mother’s death very differently. I would like my view to stand at least on an equal footing with that of these other – very loud and powerful – family members, so that the people coming after us will be able to form their own picture.
So basically, I would like to start by working out only a relatively small section of my biography and how it fits into my background.
Based on the task set in Assignment No. 2, I have now created some files (there should be one file for each year of life at the end). I can add to this chronology at any time.
As I thought about Assignment No. 3, I came to realize that my life has little relationship to the events that shook the world. What was I doing when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989? I can’t tell you. What was I doing when the towers came down on 9/11? I have no idea. We had no television at the time, not even a daily newspaper. News trickled through to me only very slowly and with a time delay. The significance of an event often only becomes clear in retrospect!
Assignment No. 4 emphasizes the value of the objects that make us remember. I have seen an infinite number of items around me and I know that there are as many more documents and photos gathering dust in file folders and loosely held together in cardboard folders. Where should I start? The story around our dining table today alone would be half a novel! Every day I am delighted by the sometimes strange, sometimes downright bizarre objects that I took with me from my parents’ house. All of them have a story worth telling. But which of these objects and documents are directly related to the section of my biography that I want/need to work on?
I found your photo viewing task highly interesting. I picked a few photos at random, and the longer I delved into answering the questions you pose about them, the more significant the composition of these images seemed to me. But again: Which images would now really be important for the story I want to write? Where do I get lost in events that are at best very distantly related to this “family drama,” the death of my mother?
Assignments No. 6 and No. 7 contain a – as you then explain in Assignment 10 – quite separate task, which in my family, or rather for three of the grandparent families (von Uexküll, Grote and von Mengersen) has already been done or is being done by more accomplished relatives. I lack material on my (bourgeois) Dutch relatives, but to get up to speed with that would take me too far away from the core of my own work. This does not mean that my paternal grandfather’s family is uninteresting. Quite the opposite!
If I had to designate a subgenre, “failure biography” would come closest to my biography and the events I want to record in writing: a personal failure biography whose tone fits harmoniously with a family dystopia. It is about this particular event in my life that happened in my (extended) family and that was so serious that it could not be solved within the family. So my aim is not to do justice to a chronology, but to describe a central event and to try to provide all the elements that can be useful to explain how and why this event came about. A central family figure in this event is very similar in nature to the current American president, and therefore, since “everyone knows Trump,” my story has also gained credibility.
The legal issues raised in Assignment No. 9 made me think a lot. But I feel that I want to assign the facts as I know them to the people to whom they belong and not beat about the bush. After all, I don’t have to publish this text. It should only be written for and read by people who want to get a picture of what happened. Maybe later on I will have time to anonymize the story and publish it as a “novel”. Or I will have the peace and quiet to write my full biography.
I hope I have been able to convey that I have thought about each of your Assignments, but that I have not yet found the impulse, the impetus to get started.
Here’s how I’ve been working so far: My index card holder is my head and I am quite bad at proceeding systematically in my tasks. I need an impulse, a trigger or – best of all – several from different “directions” to get me to start writing. Whenever I jot things down with a cool head, they grow cold and don’t speak to me and then I don’t look at them anymore!
I look forward to your upcoming Assignments, and as soon as I see a way in, I’ll get on with it!
In the meantime, your Assignments provide me with methods, insights and working tools that I will definitely be able to make good use of one day!
With kind regards
Leveke Nieuwenhuis-von Garßen”