Nothing is quite so false, in writing, as the heartfelt confession.
It’s a good reminder that you don’t have to indulge in a goopy confessional mode to write a personal essay—you’re more mysterious than you know, more naked than you imagine, and whether you intend it or not you’re going to be exposed.
You’re always kind of there and not there, sitting in the room but also watching the room, alert to some other, less innocent possibility. That distance feels safe, but it also stirs up the most intense feelings of loss and longing, the dream of making the distance go away, of ditching the divided self and all its tensions and simply being there…
I can’t imagine absenting myself from the story. It’s not possible, so I don’t waste my time. I’m there, I’m witnessing, I’m thinking, I’m struggling to understand, I’m making connections or failing to make connections, I’m excited by errors that then, somehow, usher in a little truth, and all of that influences, distorts, and colors the material.
I’m not convinced the personal is all that unique, anyway. It sometimes seems immoderate to claim really exceptional personal experiences, even though some of those experiences, particularly the painful ones, leave you with the worst feelings of isolation, feelings that have all the character of an absolutely individual, completely unprecedented experience—but you always find out that you aren’t alone.
The personal isn’t by definition false, nor is confession, but in writing both have to meet this other demand, the demands of language. // That dual allegiance, to the truth of the thing and to the truth of writing, inevitably takes you away from the merely heartfelt, it seems to me. In a way, writing maps a path out of the self. Instead of sobbing, you write sentences.
The New Yorker, Leslie Jamison, interview with Charles D’Ambrosio, 26 november 2014