Sean O’Casey was the first writer to provoke me to think that memoirs might not only be in unreliable, but might not even approximate to the truth. The six volumes of his autobiography raised questions about the exactitude or otherwise of some of what he wrote. It was not the biographical details, the truth of his claim to have had a poor Dublin upbringing being challenged by later writers. One could not have doubted such details oneself without being familiar with the circumstances in which he actually did live, or knowing details of the places and events described and being able to identify discrepancies. Niggling doubts arose from his exact recall of conversations, years, or even decades, after such conversations took place. O’Casey felt a particular sense of animus towards the writer and critic AE, George Russell, and recounts exchanges in impossibly exact detail. O’Casey does not shy from attributing words to himself and his adversary, although he must have known that the dialogues were little more than a piece of creative writing. O’Casey shapes a memoir that serves his own purposes, that casts himself in a particular light and those whom he disliked in another.
Every recall is subjective, shaped by individual perspective, but recall by those known for polemical views is going to be particularly subjective. Polemic can colour views on many and diverse subjects, an extreme perspective on one matter can create a predisposition toward equally intransigent views on other questions. Assertions made by a polemicist might reasonably be met with the question, “why would they say that? What agenda is being pursued by the claims?”
Reading reports of Steve Bannon’s descriptions of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, of Trump’s disappointment at the inauguration, and of the apprehension of the new president on his arrival at the White House, there must be questions as to why Bannon would make such claims. Even if Bannon’s account of the events was the full and untarnished truth, something doubtful in a postfact world, the question remains as to what is his agenda.
Bannon comes from a hard right-wing background, his perspective is one of extreme polemic. Steve Bannon is not telling the story merely to ensure the public record is correct; he is not telling tales in a seeking after transparency. If stories highlighting the faults and weaknesses of Donald Trump are being told, then it is because such stories serve the purposes of the person telling the story. Bannon has his own object in making the disclosures he has made. Delight in the discomfiture of the worst president in United States history should not distract attention from asking what Bannon hopes to achieve.