Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lopate ♥ confessional writing

As for the influence of psychotherapy on my writing, I would say that it has confirmed and deepened tendencies already inside me. From adolescence on, I was attracted to the confessional mode in literature and, with it, the whole dynamic of confidingness, rationalization, unreliable narration, and self-aggrandizement versus self-disgust. I ate up Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, Gide's The Immoralist and his autobiographical writings, Saint Augustine’s Confessions, Rousseau’s Confessions, Svevo’s The Confessions of Zeno, DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Celine’s oeuvre, Henry Miller’s, Kerouac’s. . . . I eagerly read the work of the so-called ‘confessional poets,’ such as Berryman, Plath, Sexton, Lowell, and disagreed with their detractors who found something unclean about their self-revealing verse, just as, some decades later, I could not agree with critics who lambasted the memoir genre for being too narcissistically self-indulgent. It seems to me that if anything, what is wrong with many memoirs and autobiographical poems is that they are not confessional enough. They do not go far enough. I am endlessly interested in the wormy little thoughts and regrets and excuses that people have for their behavior. "Confessional" is a descriptive, not derogatory, term in my eyes. (My first novel was called Confessions of Summer.) It was inevitable that I should be drawn to the personal essay, the form with which I am now most identified, because of its conversational and confessional attributes. So, too, psychotherapy, which gives one the chance to confess and converse at the same time. 
Phillip Lopate, “Couch Potato: My Life in Therapy,” in Jason Shinder, ed., Tales from the Couch: Writers on Therapy (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), essay at 75-87, quotation at 85. (Ellipsis in original)

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