The writer Koa Beck posted an interesting criticism in today’s Huffington Post. It was on the writer Elizabeth Gilbert and her most recent memoir, Committed. The piece by Beck can be seen as a feminist rant on what she considers to be Gilbert’s self-absorption. Beck takes aim at women’s fiction by comparing Gilbert’s work to the sea of pink covers at your local bookstore chain.
The neurotic female protagonist perpetually on the hunt for a man and who finds solace in an array of Gucci purses has always been safely contained by the chick-lit genre, a shelf that can be ignored in a bookstore and clicked past in Amazon.
Beck goes on to say that Gilbert’s phenomenally successful memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, reads like “one long Seventeen magazine spread, the appropriate title perhaps being, ‘How I Traveled for an Entire Year and Still Managed to Only Obsess About Myself and My Problems.’”
I am all for literary criticism and this is not the first time I have heard criticism of Gilbert’s work reminiscent in tone and content. However, I wonder if Beck believes that women coming to terms with their own identity and spending time on self-reflection is a negative endeavor. I visited Beck’s site and her writing is extremely strong. However, as a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, whom I met a few months ago and is as cool in person as she appears on page, and women’s fiction in general, I take issue with her quick dismissive attitude towards entertaining books that offer glimpses into the lives of women. Yes, not all women’s fiction succeeds in telling succinct, interesting stories, but then again, not all literary fiction succeeds either. I have found that a large portion of literary fiction titles leave me feeling depressed and hopeless, not exactly the ideal reaction to art and creativity. What’s wrong with being entertained? And to be entertained while looking at your own life choices, even better! Can’t you enjoy literary and commercial fiction without having to choose on over the other?
Another question Beck’s post raised for me is about the issue of self-absorption. Is it wrong to be self-absorbed? Isn’t it smart to fully understand your motivation and actions? Aren’t we always being told that the strongest relationship you ever build should be with yourself? I have said before that I tend to put others first and that I need to start putting some quality “me” time into my daily routine. So self-absorption is not a problem I face. However, I don’t think it is an action that should be condemned. Yes, if you are ignoring everyone else for the sake of your own wants and needs, that could lead to a detrimental problem. But we all could stand to be more connected to our inner guides, our thoughts and feelings, and overall individual comprehension and appreciation of life.
Is self-absorption a bad thing?
Is self-reflection the same thing as being self absorbed?