A literature student grows up
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”
T.S. Eliot- “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
When I was younger, I eagerly devoured writing (in a variety of forms and genres) that was personal, confessional, and revealing. I loved to read about an the personal demons and private struggles of authors, both famous and obscure. If I identified with the author’s revelations, reading such stories was a comforting experience: it assured me that I was not alone in my experiences and struggles. But even if I couldn’t relate, I preferred personal and confessional writing, and reading it and emulating the style in my own writing (both private and public) became an act of defiance, a proclamation, a rebel yell. I saw it as a form of activism. I stubbornly clung to the idea that the world would be a far better place if writing was more intimate, revealing, and confessional. A self-proclaimed crusader for the demolition of traditional and modernist notions of the value of authorial expertise and authority, I flippantly dismissed transpersonal writing, perceiving it as an outdated and oppressive relic of the past. I dreamed of a future in which every author’s voice carried equal weight, and believed that this future would come about only when the personal had fully destroyed the transpersonal, and when the experts and the authority figures had been knocked off their perches. I committed myself to bringing about that future.
That’s not the entire story, though. During that period, I was studying literature, first in college and then in graduate school. And I had a secret: I preferred modernism and the transpersonal. I deeply respected earned authority and expertise. I felt quite ashamed of this. To admit it would be to sell out, to betray my principles. How, I asked myself in exasperation, could I let literary merit get in the way of my cause?
It took a few years, but I eventually grew up. I realized that my crusade was selfish, silly, and childish. I came to understand the ridiculousness of the idea that personal and confessional writing is inherently more valuable than transpersonal writing. I was mortified when I realized just how immature I had been. I understood, at last, that if I (or anyone else) truly respected and loved literature (and I do, oh how I do!), I could never again use it as a tool for my own personal crusade.
Looking back, I can’t help but cringe in embarrassment. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, though. I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m extremely grateful that I came to my senses when I did.