Art & Autobiography

Superior Autobiographical Memory by

In my interview with diarist Kevin Bentley last week, Bentley and I discussed the form of the diary, and how it can help or hinder the type of autobiography an author is trying to tell. Bentley spoke about his decision to edit out many moments of high emotion, instead focusing on the descriptions of his sexual encounters – and the way that helped him create an entertaining and sharp narrative. Keep the Lights On director Ira Sachs also used his diaries to help write his film, but the resultant script lingers on some of his most painful moments. With this in mind, it’s interesting to consider the case of the six known people with what scientists call superior autobiographical memory.

In the first part of the report (above) from an episode of 60 Minutes last year, reporter Lesley Stahl interviews those who both suffer and benefit from this strange memory disorder, where the tiniest details of every experience, conversation (and the ensuing pain, pleasure, or ambiguity) can be re-experienced in real time. Being unable to edit out your painful moments could be useful to an actress like Marilu Henner, who may try to access moments of her life similar to what her characters are going through. But the piece points out, it can be a severe hindrance to others. The piece explores whether losing bits of our memory is in fact beneficial to us in an evolutionary sense – to keep us from being unable to function as the flood of memory hits each time someone mentions a potential trigger.

As writers and artists, we also try to access our own lives to create both our own autobiographical stories. Often we try to examine the memories that still remain, that we haven’t edited out of our own head because they’re too painful, and understand them better given the benefit of time and distance. To the many artists reading this post, I pose a question. Would you prefer to be able to access all your memories to use in creating work? Or is the art in trying to understand what remains, and why? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.

Adam Baran


Adam Baran is a NYC-based writer/director with a passion for making films that tell queer stories in unique, risk-taking ways. After graduating in 2003 from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a Bachelor’s degree in Film and TV Production, Adam wrote and directed two short films, Love and Deaf (2004) and Jinx! (2007), which aired in regular rotation on Here! TV and the IFC Channel in the US, respectively. Love and Deaf was released in popular gay shorts collections on DVD in the U.S., Germany and France. In 2009, Adam wrote the daily web comedy MTV Detox for That same year, he finished the feature script Jackpot, which was selected for the 2010 Outfest Screenwriting Lab and performed as a staged reading during the festival. That script led to his being asked to write the webseries The Great Cock Hunt, which is being produced and directed by Jon Marcus (Party Monster) and executive produced by Rose Troche (The L Word) and will premiere in late 2011. Adam’s work as a writer and editor began in 2004 with contributions to the groundbreaking gay journal BUTT Magazine. He became a contributing editor in 2007, had several articles featured in the BUTT Book, and was the online editor of from 2008-2011. He has also written for V Magazine, Pin-Up, Foam and the “T Blog” for the New York Times Style Section. Adam also co-curates the monthly film series Queer/Art/Film with Keep The Lights On director Ira Sachs at the IFC Center in New York. An “essential” series according to the New Yorker, Queer/Art/Film invites queer artists to screen films that have influenced their development. Past guests include Justin Bond, Antony Hegarty, John Kelly, John Cameron Mitchell, Barbara Hammer, Kate Bornstein and Genesis P-Orridge. Adam currently lives in Brooklyn and is working on making a short film based on his feature script Jackpot and writing several new features and shorts.

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