Experience v document

One cannot both experience and document something at the same time. This crisis, of having to choose either experience or the document of it, has been one that surfaces throughout my life in art. As a photographer, do I ‘experience’ less because I ‘document’ more? Is the experience more valuable than documentation? And how do we understand the experience of making documents?

Eric William Carroll, ‘The Crisis Of Experience’, 2009

I found this first at Jacob Sam-La Rose’s tumblr blog – one I’ve been following for a while. I think it’s appropriate to writers too, or at least it seems that way to me. As an almost life-long diarist, I often get the feeling that I’m only doing, saying or watching something so I can write about it later. The recording becomes, or has always been, much more significant than the experience. I don’t notice any ‘crisis’ the way that Carroll reports. When given the choice, I’ll take the diaries, the documents, the keyboard and the pen and the editing over the experience every time. Is that bad? It’s so natural to me it’s a question I’ve never really thought about before, until I read this and realised the question caused a crisis for someone else.

I have very vivid memories of writing about experiences that I can’t actually remember happening. The experience of writing is more vivid and meaningful than the experience of living through the things I write about. Experience is messy and disordered and almost meaningless until it’s been put into words, arranged and narrated. I know it’s impossible to narrate reliably – just as it is impossible to speak reliably, or remember reliably – but for me, the written down life is many times more trustworthy than the lived life – is it that way for everyone?  

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