When I write I'm struck by that weird tension between the act feeling crucial and the act feeling solipsistic. A fundamental dilemma for autobiographical essayists is how exactly to navigate between the necessity to write and the sinking realization that it may not really matter to anyone else. All writers, all artists, deal with this problem, of course, especially at this point in time, when via the blogosphere and social media literally millions of autobiographical missives are launched weekly, each voice clamoring for an audience of careful, sympathetic readers. We're past the trendy 25 Things About Me and Tweet-As-Memoir memes, thankfully, yet the amount of personal writing on the Internet is still staggering, and growing.
What are the implications for autobiographers? Is experience (however ordinary, however extraordinary) what matters, or is it the treatment of it? Content, or form. I'm less likely to move the moving parts in a way that distorts reality; I'm interested in verisimilitude also, but not at the expense of the actualness of actual events. A sincere voice is important in the essay, but again, who cares about your rite-of-passage, no matter how sincerely rendered? Writer and painter Max Jacob says, "What is called a sincere work is one that is endowed with enough strength to give reality to an illusion." But I'm more interested in the reality than the illusion. Is freshness of vision the answer? Proust: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
Back to Wallace Stevens and his invaluable definition of metaphor, the magic act of re-presentation: "The absolute object slightly turned is a metaphor of that object." It seems to me that this slight turning of the absolute object is required in an essay, if the object doing the turning is also the object itself. What results (hopefully) is the human silhouette, my private details smoothed and outlined to become personal, a place where you might fit, where the people, places, things, and events of my remembered experiences might speak to yours. It's a tough act. Who cares?
Netherlands Silhouette 3 by Mechanical Turk