The Personal Essay

Lopate’s introduction explains the qualities of successful personal essay. What most resonates with me is self-knowledge and sincere humbleness. If an author is genuinely humble when writing the personal essay, intimacy–“the hallmark of the personal essay”–is created. No reader wants to hear (or read) someone they do not even know ramble on and on self-righteously and arrogantly about personal details of his/her life. humbleness is critical for the personal essayist because it is the mother of companionship between the reader and writer. This intimacy opens doors to the other important qualities, like self-discovery.

Self-belittlement in personal writing is endearing for a reader. Not only because the reader’s trust in the writer comes form learning their own faults and uncertainties, but also because it leads to self-knowledge. It might seem like this lovable, sincere, self-deprecation lessens an author’s power, but it is quite the contrary. By confessing his/her own faults, and “[submitting] voluntarily to the reader’s censuring handcuffs,” the author can then assert his/her power and metaphorically”[slip] them off with malicious ease.”

An author can speak with moral conviction and still avoid avoid seeming self-righteous and arrogant if only s/he reveals “a frank, shaded account of [his/her] own feelings.” By this Lopate means that the personal essayist should provide a bit of background and reason for what s/he preaches. An example is author George Orwell presenting himself as somewhat of a fascist even though he stands for worker’s rights and equality. This humble self-knowledge serves to get the personal essayist off the pedestal, bringing him/her to the same level as the reader–making the author more relate-able and thus likable. The author is no longer a paternal, righteous entity but an ordinary person no grander than the reader.

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2 Responses to The Personal Essay

  1. klucenko says:

    I like that you bring in Orwell here as an example, Parandis. It’s a real challenge to be frank and sincere and open about one’s flaws (in order to do so, one must be self-aware, a whole other struggle!). I wonder if cultivating a sense of detachment helps here. Not in terms of being out of touch or emotionless, but rather as an attempt to have a sense of humor about oneself, to temper the feelings of shame or embarrassment, which might make clear-sighted introspection more difficult. Anyway, thanks for the post!

  2. cjchumas says:

    Very agreeable blog post. I too think that it’s is very important, as a writer, to immediately display a sense of humility, in order to connect to a reader right away. I especially liked your wording is saying that humbleness is “the mother of companionship between the reader and writer”. I thought this was a really eloquent way of emphasizing the importance of humility. I agree with you that it’s imperative as a personal essayist to gain the readers trust through self depreciation. Additionally,on a side note, I think it’s also important to distinguish between lighthearted self depreciation and outright self-loathing, which can sometimes be a turn off for a reader. Nice job.

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