“So I started to work from memory. I knew that a novelist is allowed to do this. And if I got something wrong, it was not a simple error: it would be a function of my own warped heart. Maybe I didn’t even know Tulsa, my hometown, as well as I should. All this was grist for a novel.
But now that it’s over I have to justify myself. I read in Leviathan—all too conveniently, just in the very first pages—that Thomas Hobbes thought all imagining was decayed sense-input—that is, faded memories. His example: ‘After great distance of time, our imagination of the past is weak, and we lose (for example) of cities we have seen, many particular streets.’
So misremembering cities is the essence of imagination. Sure, we can recombine memories, to produce fantasy—put a man on a horse and call it a centaur. Or, I’ve always lazily imagined the Hobbesian “state of nature,” which is so nasty, brutish, and short, as a combination Boy Scout camp and stage set for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
But most of what we do is go backwards. According to Hobbes, thinking is nothing but seeking, and trying to go back and remember where to start. If you want to someday be rich, you trace back to see what you can do now, to begin to get on the right track. The same way if you have lost something, you run back and remember when you last had it.”
Finally, finally, Ben Lytal’s A Map of Tulsa is out today. Above, a few paragraphs from an essay that Lytal just published on The Paris Review Daily about remembering (and misremembering) one’s hometown. Beautiful, thoughtful, caring & memorious writing in all that he touches.