There’s something happening with the personal in writing, and Jason Guriel’s highly circulated Walrus essay “I Don’t Care About Your Life” wants to warn us about it.
“I Don’t Care About Your Life” isn’t as polemical as it sounds. For one, its title doesn’t so much reveal Guriel’s hand, as lampoon precisely the under-achieving self-referential voice that the essay goes on, at greater critical distance, to critique.
Then the actual argument is relatively light: Guriel advocates for the suspicion of “personal” writing in criticism, where personal is defined stylistically by conventions like the first-person pronoun. Yet, as he further historicizes and theorizes “confessional criticism,” the path toward a coherent and consistent sense of personal writing feints and digresses. In focusing on critics, Guriel implies that writing “about” a cultural product and writing about oneself are distinguishable and potentially mutually exclusive modes. Taxonomically, it’s unclear where personal writing ends and the “confessional” begins—or if, according to this framework, they overlap entirely.
This particular slurring elides the point that the writer of personally inflected criticism is not composing a diary entry. She’s choosing to refract personal anecdote or revelation through the investigation of an object or text (though fellow lapsed Catholics might interject that it’s all the more “confessional” to disclose, as it were, through a partition). This refraction may obfuscate both writer and object; it may alienate the reader from both. Or it may bend light in both directions.