In this article, Emily Van Buskirk uses archival manuscripts to peel back layers of Lidiia Ginzburg's palimpsestic Notes of a Blockade Person. She finds in Notes the fragmentary, distanced, and carefully contained traces of Ginzburg's “A Story of Pity and Cruelty,” an intense narrative about guilt and remorse. Relying on Ginzburg's own scholarship, Van Buskirk argues that the author's transformations of experience across multiple texts were inspired by Aleksandr Herzen. Herzen provided a model for developing—out of a family tragedy, personal failure, guilt, and remorse—an elevated memoir that would serve history. Yet Ginzburg's notion of character, her ethics, and her documentary aesthetic were born of a different era and gave rise to different kinds of narratives, written in the third person about a slighdy generalized other, in a single situation. In Ginzburg's attempts to represent the typical Leningrad intellectual's blockade experiences there are tensions (characteristic of documentary literature) between desires for universality and specificity. Self-examination battles against self-exposure, while a commitment to literature of fact withstands an aversion to autobiography.