The Role of Multimodal Imagery in Life Writing


Life writers describe extraordinary experiences that often extend far beyond the everyday lives of the readers they are trying to reach. How memoirists try to bring their pasts alive in readers’ minds goes to the heart of why they write. Moving readers emotionally requires close engagement that can often be achieved through sensory simulation. As psychologists such as Lawrence Barsalou and literary scholars such as G. Gabrielle Starr have shown, fiction-writers and poets involve their readers by encouraging them to recreate their own past bodily sensations, especially multi-modal sensations (such as vision and touch) that blend as in lived experience. In this study of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Natasha Trethewey’s Memorial Drive, I will examine how two gifted memoirists encourage readers to imagine in several sensory modalities at once. Through expert use of language, Bauby and Trethewey open their experiences to a wide range of readers to share the most acute human joys and sufferings.

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