What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: What role does memory play in your work?

Jonathan Franzen: There were some moments when I was writing this personal history I published, when it became clear to me that my memory was very unreliable and I’d always thought it was titanically reliable and it was a ice breaker of a memory compared to the flimsy tenuous memories of other people of my family. I could be relied on to know the date, know the place, know the circumstance.

But when I was doing this--for want of a better word--memoir, I had to fact check it because most of my friends and family were around. And I could fact check this stuff and it was jaw dropping. Things that I remembered more vividly than my own high school graduation or first day of college, the stuff that I had clear crystal memories of these things, never happened.  Never happened.

So that was very humbling. But it’s much more fun to make fun of other people’s inability to know than one’s own. So I’ve gone back to doing that.

Question: Does it matter if the memory existed a certain way for you?

Jonathan Franzen: If you say this is nonfiction, it matters a lot because that’s what nonfiction is. It’s stuff that is verifiable in some way and if it can’t be verified. If you don’t make an effort to verify it, it shouldn’t be called nonfiction.

It seems pretty straightforward because nonfiction has all of these advantages, you get this _______________ when you read something and you know, oh this really happened. And then you have been betrayed if it turns out, no, it didn’t really happen, it’s just the way that author remembered it happening.

That sense of betrayal comes from the freeloading that one does as a writer. When one labels something nonfiction, you’re getting something for free, the reader is giving you a gift of excitement and credulity because it really happened. But you have to hold up your side of the bargain.

So it matters a lot I think.

Nothing’s perfect and good storytellers get away with a lot. But the only honest way to do that is by leaving stuff out, not by making stuff up.

Question: Can memoir be its own category?

Jonathan Franzen: I think in common parlance when something says memoir on the cover, people assume it’s nonfiction.

So if you put a disclaimer up front and say, "This is just how I remember it, there’s probably a lot here that didn’t happen this way but this is the memories I have, which would be true to the actual word memoir." I think that would be different. That would be a useful disclaimer to see. But, no, I think now when you see memoir, you assume it’s what happened.

Recorded On: April 1, 2008

 

Jonathan Franzen on Memory ...

Newsletter: Share: