Friday, May 23, 2008

Let it all hang out? Not here.

A comment to the previous blogpost urges me to make public the intimate details of my recent spinal surgery. To which I can say only: It might amuse you to learn that I now have the world's longest butt-crack, but is either of us ennobled by that knowledge?

Didn't think so. That's why as a blogger I've tried to limit myself to subjects that are truly revelatory even if only to me, like the May 13 entry about lipreading and diversity, hoping others will find them agreeable to read about. Who needs a banal laundry list of drugs and their effects on the digestive system?

The young will, of course, disagree, and continue to spill their tasteless secrets all over Facebook and MySpace and the ilk. What they haven't yet learned is that unfettered self-revelation is puerile, unless that self is truly sui generis. And that's very, very rare. Even so singular a confessional writer as Augusten Burroughs must resort to the tricks of fiction to keep his "memoirs" interesting.

Two generations before Burroughs, Anais Nin's orgasmic intimacies may have titillated readers of her "diaries" -- the diary, once sheltered and secret, was a prototype of today's let-it-all-hang-out public blog -- but her appeal depended mainly on the "shock of the new," and today her writing just seems dated and quaint.

The Victorians were on to something when they perfected the art of reticence, focusing their energies on external events and the internal ideas they spawned. Reticence is not necessarily repression -- it often simply reflects good taste and what used to be called common sense.

If you are inclined to explore this subject further, you might read "Exposed," an article in this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine, in which a narcissistic young blogger named Emily Gould reveals the consequences of what she naively calls "oversharing." It is fascinating, if only for the astonishing number of times she employs the first person singular. And who could blame her ex-boyfriend for their breakup? I wouldn't have put up with her, either.

[LATER FRIDAY: The Times cut off reader comment on the Emily Gould article after 727 mostly snarky responses -- and apparently has restored it. At 2:51 p.m. CDT the count had climbed to 890. And the Sunday paper hasn't even appeared yet.]

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