The New York Times published an interview with John Ashbery recently in which Ashbery said, “My own autobiography is so uninteresting to me I have always thought it surely wouldn’t interest anyone else.” He went on to explain that he always thought “other people would find it boring.” This disinclincation to write about the personal, to view the personal narrative as a kind of hubris, seems to underline many of my own concerns in writing. I’m drawn to narrative, both in my reading and my writing, but I struggle with how to make narrative compelling and not just an exercise in narcissism. So much narrative (my own included, though hopefully not always) seems to have a loud and strident I at the center of it, clamoring for attention, “wearing out its welcome,” as Ashberry says.
And yet – and yet I love stories. I love a huge, long chunk of complicated narrative with multiple characters and twists and turns. Though I’m embarassed to admit it, I’ve sometimes chosen among books based on the solid weight of a longer book, hoping that greater length will offer a more complete fictional world in which to immerse myself. I’m drawn to novels (this, this, and this, for example, and even this, surely the first truly deliciously trashy novel in English) and television (like this, this, and dear heaven am I excited for the return of this) that offer complex characters and narrative. If loving you is wrong, Dr Jack Shephard, I don’t want to be right.
I realize, of course, that I’m conflating narrative and personal narrative – but I do think they’re united by their unhipness in the current literary aesthetic. I often feel a certain guilt over my interest in narrative, as if it means I just can’t get over myself and look around at the rest of the world. And I do have hobbies other than navel-gazing, though they all have to happen before my 9PM bedtime. If there’s anything more unhip than staying in Friday nights to watch a show about a race of robots attacking our human ancestors, it’s a job that requires me to get up so early I can’t stay up past 10PM for the life of me.
None of this, of course, is meant in any way to malign John Ashbery, who could certainly kick my ass, in both a literary and a real-life brawl.
It’s meant, I suppose, as a kind of explanation to myself and to you, dear Interweb, for the birth of this blog. I come to most technology late, but I’ve been reading several blogs for over a year now – a random collection that will soon be listed here, just as soon as my computer-idiot brain can figure out how – but have been resisting the occasional interest in starting my own, feeling perhaps that the gods might smite me for my insistent hubris. My lovely friend H. and I had a conversation over Christmas that persuaded me to look at blogging differently, as a way of joining a kind of conversation that it’s increasingly difficult to have, in our harried and geographically-inconvenient lives.
And so, dear Interweb – into the fray.