I call it the pederasty of autobiography; the older self actually loves the younger self in a way the younger self never could have felt or accepted at the time. There is a kind of lapse in time in self-approval. One is filled with self-loathing at sixteen but when one is forty one can look back with this kind of retrospective affection at the younger self—which is very curative.
Edmund White interview at the Paris Review (long time ago), the rest here
White goes on to say:
Piaget makes a very good case for the fact that the language, and even the concepts and the thoughts we have as adults, really don’t fit with childhood experience. There is a radical discontinuity between childhood experience and adult experience. We complain of a kind of amnesia, that we don’t recall much of our early childhood, and Freud of course said that this was because we were repressing painful or guilty desires. But Piaget argues this couldn’t be true, because otherwise we would forget only those things that were painful but remember everything else—which is clearly not the case. We have an almost blanket amnesia, and Piaget argues that the terms in which we experienced our childhood are incommensurable with the terms in which we now think as adults. It’s as though it’s an entirely different language we knew and lost. Therefore I feel that any writer who is writing about childhood, as an adult, is bound to falsify experience, but one of the things you try to do is to find poetic approximation; an elusive and impossible task. It is like trying to pick up blobs of mercury with tweezers—you can’t do it. You nevertheless attempt to find various metaphorical ways of surprising that experience. I think you oftentimes feel it’s there, but you can’t get at it, and that’s the archaeology of writing about childhood.
It seems a lot less complicated to me. I was given a diary for my 8th birthday, and I decided to write in it, because I thought from what grown-ups said that they forgot. I thought that I would grow up and forget how miserable I was, so I was going to write it down to make sure I never forgot.
I don't think I do now think of my childhood in terms incommensurable with what I felt at the time, because many of my memories are linguistic memories, memories of what people said, what I said, what I felt I could not say. I can remember adults saying things to me, announcing the death of a relative, say, knowing I was expected to react in a particular way, trying to work out what would be appropriate, sobbing and being comforted and feeling that I had acted in the appropriate way (this at the age of 7). I can also remember, a bit older, finding books on child development on adult's bookshelves and reading them to find out what the adults thought was going on. I don't mean that I accepted what I read - I read these books the way a Chinese dissident might read Mao's Red Book. A friend of mine said a while back that he could never see the point of a diary; I felt that I was embedded in a world of people who were rewriting history, rewriting events at which I was present to construct stories they thought better than what actually happened, and so felt I must have a record, what I had seen must be set down somewhere even if it was absolutely inadmissible.