"Confession doesn't just allow – it incites."
July 10, 2014 12:29 PM   Subscribe

...if it felt like an author had already come into your life, already seen some aspect of your experience then it would be natural to want to extend this intimacy into conversation. The impulse to contact a confessional writer – whose writing has already revealed something private – is something else. Perhaps it is still a desire to translate one kind of intimacy into another, but the terms are different. With confessional writing, the disclosure has already happened – now the reader wants to confess something back, make a reciprocal exchange. So whenever people talk about confessional writing as navel-gazing or self-involved, I think about those voices, and their offerings.
Author Leslie Jamison (previously, previouslier) explains why confessional writing is not self-indulgent.

  • Stacey May Fowles, In Defence of the Confession:
  • No women's studies degree is necessary to conclude that writers like [Marie] Calloway bring discomfort because they're subverting both the traditional male gaze and literary form in general. It is regrettably still considered "groundbreaking" to access female lust through female eyes — we are riveted when a woman's desires become the subject of the story and not the object, when she is not performing in the narrative but rather dictating it.

    So why is it that while we quest for and applaud authenticity, we have developed such a distaste and repulsion for "sharing," as if it is a filthy word spat at writers who lack experience or craft?
  • Hanna Kyllönen, Blurring Gender Boundaries – Masculine Confessional in Celebrity Auto/biographies:
  • According to Kuhn (1990) conventional biography has traditionally been a male domain. Autobiography, on the other hand, has been viewed as a female enterprise. Hence autobiographies have come to be seen as feminine texts lacking the rationality of masculine biography. As Jelinek (2003: 51) puts it, historically, 'the very idea that one's domestic and emotional life constituted an appropriate subject matter for autobiography was, at least in the English tradition, essentially a female notion.' In patriarchal culture men enjoy the privilege of conceiving of themselves as the 'universal subject': rational, self-determining, transcendent and disembodied, whereas women are seen as the exact opposite, the embodied 'Other.'
  • Bravery and Gender in "Confessional Writing": an 87-minute talk presented by Guernica, featuring Benjamin Anastas (previously), Trisha Low, Anthony Swofford (previously), and Agata Tuszyńska:
  • Why are confessional narratives penned by female writers so often deemed "brave," "sticky," or "opportunistic," when the same material addressed by male writers is called by its name: art?
    posted by divined by radio (5 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
    I think the current cultural fashions play a big role in this. It's tempting to look for some universal underlying gender-driven dynamic to account for the phenomenon (as I definitely think it's true at this particular cultural moment in the US), but I'm not so sure it goes so very far back in time.

    During the height of the modernist period in literature, some of the most celebrated literary figures were women writing in a confessional mode (Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker, etc.) and I don't recall too many contemporaneous critics dismissing those confessional works at any faster rate than their male contemporaries (like John Berryman and other male authors also working in that mode). But then, it's really only the criticism of poetry from that period I'm especially familiar with, so maybe I'm not fully informed.
    posted by saulgoodman at 12:50 PM on July 10, 2014

    It seems to me that sharing any aspect of your personal life with people is risky and easily perceived as self-indulgent in most contexts these days. It's seen either as weakness or as social posturing to publicly reflect on who you are and how you got to wherever you are, and it's seen as self-indulgent and tedious to talk about your life story, whether you're male or female. I always thought the good life was supposed to be all about sharing stories with loved ones and rooting for each other as those stories played out, but the world seems especially hostile to that POV these days, even at the more immediate level of people's personal lives.

    No, we have to be constantly reminded that none of us matter one jot to anyone important. Or else we might get ideas.
    posted by saulgoodman at 1:02 PM on July 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

    The version written by a German hasn't aged well either.
    posted by squinty at 4:06 PM on July 10, 2014

    Yeah, I think "Mein Kampf" is less confessional literature than auto-hagiography. Writing in a confessional style requires the touch of an author with at least trace amounts of humility.
    posted by saulgoodman at 6:42 PM on July 10, 2014

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