Carmen Bugan: Secret Police Records and The Language of Memory – Nieman Storyboard
Here’s an account of a writer’s reaction to reading her secret police files. I suppose I can say “been there, done that“, as can many others, but I never tried to analyse the experience like this.
Reading my personal “biography” in the secret-police speak of the files sends me back to a self I both recognize and don’t, creating another place of writing, which I could not have imagined before. I am caught in the conflict between the free, fluid language of memory and the shackled, impersonal language of surveillance reports. The Securitate portrayal of my youth writes over my memories and into my memory gaps, turning me into a palimpsest that combines the public voice of documents with my private experience. The “official” narrative in the records illuminates at times the past with details I had forgotten (it does not represent my own memories) and at times obfuscates the truth, or outright fictionalizes major events in my life, using a language that seems factual. In this sense it complicates the process of creating literary work out of personal testimony/history.
What struck me most about that was that it was such a different way of looking at it.
In reading my SB files I never thought in terms of it making me a palimpsest. Is that just because I’m unimaginative, or is it a personality thing? Is it because I’m an INTP type, and tend to be more objective and analytical about such things, at least according to this description ACT Now Team Development: MBTI Personality Types: INTP, The Analyst:
You tend to be highly logical, analytical, and objective, and approach everything with detached scepticism, seeking to form opinions and standards based on the information available. You will then rigorously apply these standards.
So when I saw my SB file my first thought was not to wonder what it said about me, but rather what it said about the SB. It was an opportunity to analyse the “total onslaught” mentality, and see what made them tick. Of course being under surveillance did affect me, and I’m sure many other people. It made me suspicious, for one thing. Could this or that person one knew be an SB spy? So it tended to undermine trust in friendship.
If course the SB files that we got hold of did not name the spies. Perhaps the Romanian ones were more explicit, but ours just referred to “a sensitive source” (‘n delikate bron). But of course reading the context makes it possible to get a better idea of whether the people were actually spies or not. But then again, there was nothing in my files that clearly emanated from one guy that I knew was a spy, because he had confessed to being one.
So now I will be reading Carmen Bugan’s story again, and perhaps it will lead me to see things in my own story that I had not seen there before.