The First Person
A problem has become apparent to me in one of my stylistic choices for writing. I write in the first person. This was a choice I made deliberately in opposition to all of the advice against using the first person, because the principal value for me in writing is honesty. If I was writing in the third person, it creates the illusion of sloughing off my observations and beliefs onto some imaginary person who then has responsibility and accountability for what I believe. So I say “I” to take responsibility.
However, what has happened is that the perception which has been created is that I say “I” to define the field of my interest. Specifically, if I make an observation that something seems to be wrong, I am provoking responses that are appropriate for a person saying “some bad thing has happened to me.”
I don’t feel or believe that any bad things have happened to me. Or to put it differently, I don’t believe that I should be subject to anyone else’s sympathy. I appreciate others care — I am sincerely glad that others would care about me — but if all I had to say in my writing was that my feelings were one way or another, and I hoped for some kind of response to make me feel better, well that just wouldn’t be worth writing about. I could call a friend and complain and they would tell me I was right, and we would go get a cream soda and everything would be better in the way that everything can shift and slide in personal perception with the introduction of cream soda.
So I am considering sacrificing the first person — because the illusion of personal investment is apparently too great to overcome. But that puts me back in the place of apparently dodging responsibility for my subjectivity.
Choosing the first person for writing about objective truth, while being an obvious choice for eliminating problems relating to the subjective nature of experience, can create confusion in the reader as to the intentions of the author. It might feel more honest to relate an experience as it actually happened, but the tendency to perceive the intent of communication as being the solicitation of sympathy and support is so great that the true import of the communication is likely to be lost. A reader who is sympathetic will say “The poor author!” — and convey sympathy and move on, where the point of the communication might have been more subtle — to illustrate the structure of the situation which provoked the emotion, and the emotion itself was a byproduct of the experience and should never have been communicated in the first place.
The creation of a fictive narrator elevates the conversation above the level of personal concern, although then the temptation to create fictive situations which have no significance must then be addressed.
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