Ana Marie Cox on Emily Gould (and me on the future of writing?)

by Nav

Ever since Matthew Battles left this comment – in which he suggests (beautifully) that magazine writing often displays “a tran­scen­den­tal melan­choly that feels not so much inap­pro­pri­ate as unearned” – I’ve wondered about the future of prose style.

Because we’ve talked a lot about the future of knowledge and the future of print – but not so much style. So for months now, I’ve had a post kicking around in my head with a title that would be something like “Style, sous rature: The Future of Prose”.

And the silly idea at the core of this imaginary post is that the leaders of at least one shift in prose style are, well, women writers like Emily Gould or Moe Tkacik (and in Toronto, Kate Carraway and Chandler Levack) who engage in a kind of confessional, self-concerned writing in order to engage ideas and the world.

I think this has something to do with my emerging shtick about the thing after postmodernism and the need to actually posit stable statements without returning to a kind of thinking that relies of unquestioned assumptions like truth, objectivity, presence etc. Writing in the first-person that attempts to speak about external reality through acknowledging its own subjectivity seems to be a way of doing this – though, given the style of A Room of One’s Own, it isn’t a new phenomenon, just perhaps a concentrated or slightly changed one.

So, that’s why I found Ana Marie Cox’s review of Emily Gould’s new book interesting. In it, Cox asserts that Gould offers little in the way of insight, instead offering a kind of raw, open ‘confessionality’ as a substitute:

Gould is special, she is talented, but there is something hugely interesting, as well as disturbing, about the generation she represents and its ability to narrate its experiences without understanding them.

Candor is not the problem, but to reveal something—cheating on your boyfriend, your feelings about bums—is not the same thing as a revelation. Gould has, in fact, piled up experiences as though in the pages of a novel; she’s just left the main character incomplete. Maybe she doesn’t allow herself to stand before the reader as either of fully formed or of fully compromised character because she prizes the ability to insulate herself from that sort of risk or exposure.

Yet, when you read Emily’s beautifully written blog, you get the sense that she is altogether too aware of the implications of her narrations, as in this smart, poignant piece.

What I guess I’m wondering is this: is our interpretive context so overdetermined that non-fiction prose has to become like its fiction counterpart, full of spaces so that insight has room to breathe?

P.S. Yes, that picture of Cox up there is gratuitous. I’m only human.