Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Isn’t it odd that an off-hand comment buried deep in an article can throw the doors open on your mind, while the article itself is much less meaningful?

Such is the case in Home-schooled writer’s second”, a review of Jedediah Purdy’s book Being America. The review is quite good, actually, and I appreciate reviewer Philip Gold’s bewildered honesty.

Partway through the review, Gold describes Purdy’s first book:

In “For Common Things,” Mr. Purdy critiques the ironic style of his generation and his country, and finds it unavailing. We hide behind ironic detachment because we know that so little of what we encounter is real, and because we’re also terrified of encountering something that might be. We assemble our individual uniquenesses out of endless prefabricated parts provided by the market and the media, knowing that their variety does not make up for the fact that they’re prefabricated.

We hide behind careers and consumption patterns, never quite making contact beyond ourselves for fear of revealing that there’s less to us than meets the eye. And by our ironic detachment, we become complicit in the enormity of the smallness of it all.

I was struck square between the eyes by the idea of pervasive ironic detachment. And now that I open my eyes and read everything around me — newspapers, blogs, magazine articles — I realize how true it is. People write as though at least they are emotionally detached from the issues of the day; at least they can see things clearly. And then there’s that touch of irony, which can be wonderful but has become so common it’s banal. The whole thing has become so common it’s banal. It’s the same lip-curled, sarcasm-loaded tone used by self-righteous preachers when they lecture about public policy. I heard one Monday night, his breath reeking of ironic detachment as he intoned, “The Founding Fathers were secular? Surely not.” Even if he was right, his delivery was offensive.

I’m seeing it in my own writing. My style has that little ironic twist to its phrasings, that sense of detachment. In fact, two major characters in the fantasy work I’m writing exemplify ironic detachment.

I don’t want it. I want nothing to do with it.

And I don’t know how to get rid of it, except by consciously rejecting it and seeking other ways of expressing myself. All I can do is hope that I’ll find some ways of avoiding this style in my writing.

I wish I had an easy little truism which would solve this, some gem of writing advice that would make it crystal-clear how to make my writing beautiful. But writing’s not like that. It’s a perpetual state of loneliness, of being lost amid the participles, and of desperately seeking a better way to express yourself.

And that’s where I am right now as a writer: Lost, confused, and questing.

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