A book of memories about the act of remembering.
In this memoir, anthropologist Crapanzano (Comparative Literature and Anthropology/CUNY Graduate Center; The Harkis: The Wound that Never Heals, 2011, etc.) uses all the tools of his trade, approaching his memories skeptically and psychoanalytically, as a set of data where the truth is wrapped in self-protective layers. He considers all the key events of his life: growing up on the grounds of a New Jersey mental institution—where his father was a psychiatrist— then losing his father at an early age, which led to estrangement from his mother; a peripatetic foreign and domestic education at Harvard, followed by marriage to New Yorker writer Jane Kramer and a long career at CUNY. Crapanzano knew Margaret Mead and Jacques Lacan, and he saw the rise and fall of Paul de Man—the literary theorist later outed as a Nazi collaborator—but the book is more concerned with what he’s learned along the way. Memoirists, he writes, always want the big picture; they “have to give their life a raison d’etre that transcends it.” He never takes the straight route. Like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, Crapanzano becomes unstuck in time, recalling events as they occur to him, casually going from present to near present to far past to many places in between, always weighing what he felt then against what he knows now. He can be rough (or ruthlessly honest) regarding old friends, but he never stops interrogating himself. “What was my style? What were my styles?” he asks of his younger self. “Was I like everyone else at Harvard?” Later, he questions his desire to settle old scores: “Am I being discreet in writing this? Am I avenging myself?”
Crapanzano’s self-conscious, self-analytical style makes this a unique and interesting search for lost time.