Monday, October 7, 2013

Non, je ne regrette rien!

Sacchi Green

Okay, I’m lying, but I don’t regret that. There are things I do regret, and a great many things I feel guilty about, but none of them are things I feel compelled to confess here.

I hadn’t thought much about it before, but I’m not even clear what the differences are between confessions, admissions, and memoirs. Confession, to me, means revealing things about yourself that you consider to be wrong, things you’ve done that you’re ashamed of. If you don’t really think they’re wrong—if you just find the idea of doing “bad” things titillating and don’t really wish you hadn’t done them—are you confessing, or bragging? Can there be confession without repentance? Admission seem to me to be very close to confession, but more often involving things you’ve been accused of doing rather than things you bring up yourself. A feeling of guilt still enters into it, though, or else you’d just be agreeing that you’d done something rather than admitting it.

There are, of course, times when confession is real, and serious, and compelling, but those are more a matter of trying to repair harm you’ve done to someone.  Since we’re generally talking in one way or another about sex here, I’m thinking more about the culturally imposed taboos that some of us have internalized but many of us have not. I have a suspicion that those who can work up some degree of guilt over “kinky” desires (and the satisfaction thereof) are having more fun than those of us who don’t see what the big deal is. It’s not fair, but then, what is?

In the context of the erotica we write and read, are characters who don’t feel guilty about their desires less interesting than those who do, or those who actually enjoy feeling guilty? I’ve come across a number of stories where confession in the liturgical sense is an actual fetish, whether the aim is to shock the priest or to seduce him or simply to have an audience for boasting about how excessively sinful the character has been or claims to have been. Sometimes I almost regret my lack of grounding in a religion that places great restrictions on matters of sex and great emphasis on the necessity of confession. Well, no, I don’t regret that, but I wonder whether it’s a drawback when it comes to writing erotica.

Then there’s the matter of memoirs. Some lean more toward the confessional than others, and a few may even show some degree of honest repentance, but the ones of a more erotic nature don’t seem to include much in the way of regret. Come to think of it, what’s the difference between a memoir and an autobiography? Does a memoir deal more with how the writer felt about things that happened? Or does the word “memoir” tip us off that events are filtered through many layers of memory without any great amount of concern for historical accuracy?

All I’ve managed to do here is pose questions, and I don’t claim to have answers. But I’ve just remembered that I do have something to confess (without much repentance.) My very first publication, many, many years ago, was in one of those “True Confessions” sort of magazines, although this one was less well-known, and I don’t even remember its name. My story was, I suppose, more along the lines of a memoir, a sort of collage combining a few true parts with enough added details to make it form a story of sorts. It wasn’t very good, and I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed, either. The only part I’m ashamed of is that I didn’t write anything else for about twenty-five years. Life got in the way, or I was too lazy, or whatever, but…

Okay. I do regret that. But otherwise, no, I regret nothing! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


  1. thanks for discussing the differences between confessions, admissions & memoir, Sacchi. i have been pondering the same thing in advance of my post :)

  2. A few years ago I was wondering about the difference between "autobiography" and "memoir," and found my way to an authoritative answer. There was, technically, a distinction in the vocabulary of publishing, I was told, though I'm already hazy on what it was. Maybe an autobiography is more or less expected to tell one's entire life story, while memoirs can be more selective snippets of memorable or noteworthy experiences?

    And now that I've played the middle-aged "I seem to remember" game, I'll look it up...

    [pause for research]

    OK, well, this Wikipedia article is a little thin on citations and a little unclear at times, but I think it offers some plausible insights:

  3. You bring up interesting directions, Sacchi. Is confession without a sense of guilt bragging? for instance. Does confession require actual guilt in a person's mind? And the thing about the fetish of the confessional should be a good tonic for the writerly imagination. Garce explored the confessional in fine form the other day, and I'll do a lame attempt on Wednesday.
    And your Piafian title sings.

    1. I'm never gonna get that song out of my head, but I'm giddy with the jouissance of infinite semiosis! I never thought to equate confession with guilt (maybe because I was never baptized and my family wasn't religious?), but I'm sold.

      And to think, all this time I've just been bragging...

  4. So today, in a waiting room at Lahey Clinic while waiting for my 93-year-old dad to have his annual checkup after bladder cancer surgery fifteen years ago (he's fine,) I was reading the Harvard U magazine, wherein a writer declared that if you use a fictional name for the central character, it's fiction, and if you use your own name, it's autobiography. He writes entirely in first person with no name mentioned, so he says he writes faction. Hmm, that doesn't sound quite right, but that's how I remember it. Maybe it was factgraphy.

    1. there's a whole genre known as creative nonfiction which blends fact & fiction & makes no apologies for it. ;)

  5. I don't feel any actual guilt over anything I ever did that was sexual. They say "youth is wasted on the young", but I didn't waste mine...I enjoyed every minute! My kids have gotten used to rolling their eyes at some of my more colorful anecdotes, knowing that I won't share the most colorful ones with them, especially my boys, because even more so than my husband, they don't want to think of their Mom as "that kind of woman". But I am...or at least I was until I met their Dad. Then he got the full brunt of all of my eccentricities, and he came equipped with some of his own, all of which we've thoroughly enjoyed for over 30 years!

    The things I feel guilty, or at least embarrassed about, all involve hurting someone else, whether inadvertently, or just because I was young and stupid and didn't know any better about how to behave. My kids used to say that their excuse for bad behavior was that at that age they were "so young they were legally stupid." So I repeat that to myself and urge forgiveness for what in all actuality has been long forgotten by those I wronged. I hope.

    And the way memoirs was explained to me, they are selective memories that were probably embellished to make them more interesting to a reader. Whereas autobiography is supposed to be totally factual, which can be dull, since so much of life is dreary repetition of sleep/work/eat/sleep.

  6. Hi Sacchi!

    I think for many people, maybe women especially, there is an erotic link between Catholic confession and fantasy. It wouldn;t surprise me if there are a lot of women who have sexual fantasies about confession. They say women are aroused through their ears, and if that weren't true many of us would be writing children's books instead. I think sitting in a small intimate place, whispering your intimate sins through a screen to a father figure, grave and wise on the other side you can't see would definitely be a turn on for some ladies. My opinion anyway.


  7. Garce, I know there are many women who have sexual fantasies about priests in general, and some who write about it. I'd guess that the the notion of sexual urges intensely repressed is a turn on, along with the somewhat adolescent pleasure for the women of inspiring lust without actually having to put out. But I admit that I'm being a bit snarky here without any real knowledge.

  8. Interesting post, Sacchi. I remember a time when almost any book by a woman which could possibly be interpreted as true-to-life was described in reviews as "confessional." Parallel books by men were apparently in a different category. I think there is actually a lot of middle ground between "confession" (which does suggest an admission of guilt) and braggadocio. :)

    If I say I was born in a particular place at a very young age and have been growing older since then, that's not a confession nor a boast.

  9. Excellent questions here, Sacchi. I'm not sure that confession (by definition) implies guilt, but it does perhaps entail some sort of reluctance. For instance, I've never confessed my second identity to many in my family - but I certainly don't feel guilty about being Lisabet Sarai.


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