Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Confessionalism a stupid plan?

Any encounter with Walt Whitman immediately raises concerns about the viability or legitimacy of confessional literature, which in America finds continuance in the work of Thomas Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, certain New Narrative writers here in San Francisco, and others who resist a purely imagined, fictitious literature. The common danger for poets is that the approach leads either to a private space that no one else is simply able to enter, or that the craft of writing poetry becomes in principle an act of self-catharsis, a therapeutic exorcism, a colonic irrigation of one's own subjectivity.

Michel Houllebecq takes a nicely reasoned, dialectical approach to the same problem as it affects novelists:

I don't have a particular affinity with confessional literature; my problem is that I like almost all forms of literature. I have happily wallowed in the writings of Montaigne and Rousseau, but I still feel a delicious visceral shock when reading Pascal's verdict on Montaigne, the extraordinary insolence of a whip full in the face: "The stupid plan he has to depict himself." I have also taken inordinate delight in the absolute antithesis of confessional literature that is fantasy and science fiction.
And above all I have loved, and finally made my own, the middle way, which is that of the classic novelists. Who borrow from their own lives, or the lives of others, it doesn't matter, or who invent, it's all the same, in order to create their characters. The novelists, those consummate omnivores.

(Bernard Henri Lévy, Michel Houellebecq, Miriam Frendo, and Frank Wynne. Public enemies: dueling writers take on each other and the world. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011, p 28.)


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