“a kind of unknown third thing”: the violence of juridical truth & how aporias bear witness in Samantha Giles’s Total Recall by Ariana Nash, with quoted passages from Giles’s book
It’s probably true that some people would characterize Samantha Giles’s Total Recall as a memoir about sexual trauma, childhood trauma.
This feels true. That is, her book of poetry, which is also a book of prose, which is also neither, is categorically about those things.
Total Recall, “I guess then what I want to tell you,” is also about the trauma of proof.
This part is less about what parents did or didn’t do, or what a friend did or didn’t tell that night on the steps. This part is about on top of those things another thing which is the difference between memory which is always more complicated than its parts and evidence, the difference between memory which is always slipping and juridical truth.
At least, “I should probably say,” that’s how I read it.
As I read her experience, I thought of my own experience.
“I think I’m remembering this right” when I say I didn’t tell anyone what happened after.
“I don’t really remember what gesture I was trying to make by not having said anything.”
“It’s mostly accurate to say” that’s what I said when a group of eighth graders who I was talking to about my experience asked me why I didn’t tell anyone. It’s possible, though, that I said it didn’t occur to me. I think “it’s probably fair to say” I might have said it didn’t occur to me.
Since not saying anything earlier, I wrote about it extensively and many times. In writing over and over “maybe I was trying to make the gesture of someone trapped into a kind of unwilling submission,” that is the submission to the demands of the memory, which refuses to stand still or take a single shape. Each time I wrote the different events, “I remembered them differently.”
Reading is like that, a text is different each time you read it.
I read myself differently, reading Total Recall.
Total Recall is written so that it already remembers the ways that reading will happen differently later.
“That is, I think we’re meant to enter a kind of destabilized subjectivity.”
That is, by opening the book to the destabilized subjectivity of memory, Giles posits we are all always already living destabilized by subjectivity. That is, “it’s mostly accurate to say” that memory is inaccurate, unstable. That what the legal justice system demands of victims and their witnesses is a violation of our innate uncertainties.
That is not to say that nothing happened, or that there is no such thing as evidence, or that such evidence being destroyed is not a further institutional approval of trauma, or not a trauma.
That is not to say the accusation of false accusations is not a violence. That is, since maybe I’m not being clear, the accusation of false accusations is a violence that Total Recall can’t totally recall.
That is to say “to hold these two things / side by side / the nothing/everything of it” — that is what Total Recall feels like it is doing.
Also, it feels like what it is doing, “I think if I’m honest,” is asking us to witness her fragmentary experience, to come into contact with it in its pieced-together, protean, aporetic form.
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (which, though it sounds like something Giles made up, exists) says on its website that “professional organizations agree: the only way to distinguish between true and false memories is by external corroboration.”
Giles’s aporias refuse the possibility of the reader as corroborator, they refuse corroboration. We cannot say what we have seen though we know that we have seen it.
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Giles tells us, “asserts” that someone who has falsely accused a parent “assiduously avoids any evidence that might challenge the memory, making it resistant to correction.”
Giles insistently opens her text, her memory, to correction.
She has already insistently been opened to correction by the legal system. The unstable trace of this violence can be felt in her language which subjects the smallest claim to scrutiny and is so careful to acknowledge ambiguity.
“As you might remember” this ambiguity certainly exists.
This ambiguity (“I wish I didn’t have to tell you this part”) is the cleft that is exploited, pried open and left gaping by lawyers, by parents, by The False Memory Syndrome Foundation who are parents. By the media who began to report predominantly on “false accusations” rather than “stories of survivors,” swayed by the biased but effective campaigning of The False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
Even though “this isn’t a full picture,” “you’re just going to have to take my word for it” that Giles insists her memory is neither accurate nor false. “As you might remember” “this body / like an especially privileged / kind of evidence” may be “performing a kind of unknown third thing.”
It feels like Giles asks: what future justice might be possible if we can bear witness to this performance?
Ariana Nadia Nash is the winner of the 2011 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry for her collection Instructions for Preparing Your Skin, published by Anhinga Press. She has also published the chapbook Our Blood Is Singing from Damask Press. Her work has appeared in Rock & Sling, Poet Lore, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Cimarron Review, among other journals.