Ask yourself, my readerly friend, was I, your faithful (ahem) narrator adopted? Or is adoption a metaphor for my life, for a life, for an autobiography built out of the constant adoption and re-adoption of particular subjectivities, of narratives, of metanarratives?

Ask yourself–was I literally, actually, legally adopted, or was adoption a useful metaphor I adopted to talk about post-structural notions of identity construction and narrative?

And then, once you’ve answered, or perhaps just considered the question, ask yourself this: how does it matter?

In her memoir Lying, Lauren Slater adopts the metaphor of epilepsy (and possibly the real life ailment–it’s never made clear) to describe what she calls a life of “falling down;” adoption as the main focus of my project turns out to be sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy–or a self-fulfilling metaphor–or an epic metaphor–yes! an epic metaphor! how Greek! how tragic!–because not only was I adopted, and was my mother adopted, but our identities were adopted, each of the narrators I’ve used were adopted, each of the narratives, each of my Is.

While Slater’s neurological disturbances create (include?) a compulsion to lie, I could tell you that my supposed adoption, my (new/alternative) identity construction at the age of five months, create in me an inordinate ease, to create, to adopt, identities. To adapt. To change voices. To change narrators and subjectivities with not so much as the blink of an eye.

I could tell you that I am playing with you.

I have been telling you about the various Is that narrate my work:

  • the early 1990s Liz, trying on the voices of various Long Island Democrats, writing their speeches and press releases and radio spots–although she’s not in this story, is she? Maybe she should be.
  • the 1996 Liz, MA student, writing about the adoption story for a personal essay class
  • the 2011 Liz, doctoral student, writing about the 1996 Liz writing the personal essay
  • the 1994 Liz, standing by the mailbox in Lindenhurst, opening the letter from the adoption agency
  • the 2006 Liz, rediscovering The Chosen Baby
  • the 2012 blogger Liz, of questionable truthiness

And so on. And so on.

I could tell you that each of these Lizs were created by the discourses available to us at the time–my age, my psychological and emotional development, my movement toward/away from Catholicism, the random occurrence of events that shake the narratives by which I live my life–and recorded in, the moment these Is existed captured by, these various artifacts.

Or I could tell you this:

I wrote them all yesterday.

Each of my subtly different narrators is nothing more than a fiction created by me. A character in a cleverly written novel. A coming of age story.  Here’s Liz figuring out the adoption thing at 21, at 28, at 30, at 45. Notice the subtle changes in awareness of the self as adopted child, in values and beliefs, in the use of language, in epistemological concerns.

It’s fiction, I tell you. Brilliantly. Constructed. Fiction.

(Totally. Overused. Periods.)

Paul de Man says that all autobiography produces fictions or personas, characters, instead of the self-knowledge that one expects from an autobiography.

He says: “Voice assumes mouth, eye and finally face, a chain that is manifest is the etymology of the trope’s name, prosopon poien, to confer a mask for a face (prosopon). Prosopopeia is the trope of autobiography, by which one’s name . . . is made as intelligible and memorable as a face. Our topic deals with the giving and taking away of faces, with face and deface, figure, figuration and disfiguration.”

Which is a fancy way of saying (and I’m being a bit reductive here), that because we can’t represent the self in language, and we can’t know the self, and yet the self exists only in language, language is metaphor, the persona we create in autobiography is at once a face, a mask, and a defacement. I’m thinking “defacement” works because it’s a face, but it’s the wrong face, because it can never be the right face, not in language anyway. It’s a face removed. It’s a face with at least one degree of separation–and that degree is the abyss that is the space between the signifier and the signified, the break between the self and other, between autobiographer and autobiographical subject, the wound, to paraphrase my friend William Epstein.

It’s always a metaphor. Always a representation.

Always a fiction.

So let me rephrase my original question: is my adoption story fiction, à la Stephen King, or fiction, à la Paul de Man? And how does it matter?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: