My Name is Ned and I’m an Addict
May 3, 2011 § 2 Comments
TriQuarterly Online, which has done a quality job of moving to the online format, is printing a series adapted from the panel “Status Update: The Personal Essay in the Age of Facebook,” presented at the 2011 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference. Usually, we like to come up with funny titles for our blog posts, but Ned Stuckey-French’s title is too good to alter, so we’re going with it. Here’s some of what he has to say, followed by a link to his full essay, and a link to the entire series:
Yet as the title for this panel suggests, we are in the age of Facebook and there is no going back. The toothpaste is out of the tube. We need to learn to live with it. So the last question to address here is, can personal essays and Facebook peacefully coexist—and perhaps even fruitfully coexist?
First of all, how are essays different from Facebook? Alfred Kazin wrote, “In an essay it’s not the thought that counts, but the experience we get of the writer’s thought; not the self, but the self thinking.” William Gass said something similar: “The hero of the essay is its author in the act of thinking things out, feeling and finding a way. It is the mind and the marvels and miseries of its makings, in the work of imagination, the search for form.” And finally, in a similar vein, Edward Hoagland argued, “Through its tone and tumbling progression, the essay conveys the quality of an author’s mind.”
A personal essay offers us the tumble of the mind and is, at least potentially, a work of art. It may be brief by comparison to a memoir or a novel, and in its brevity more akin to a lyric poem, but it is longer, more sustained, more revised, more substantial, and more artistic than anything on Facebook. If an essay gives us the story of a mind thinking, Facebook gives us isolated thoughts. It gives us updates; it gives us fragments.