Self-Absorption

looking-in-mirror

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?

Comments

  1. Hey Jocelyn, I enjoyed your post and I have to say that I agree with you. The article by Koa Beck really got under my skin and I give her credit for a thought-provoking and well-written piece. To take your questions one step further, is all writing not an act of narcissism? Some works simply wearing a more eloquent disguise?
    How about Cleaving by Julie Powell. Self-indulgent? Of course. An example of high literary merit? Probably not, but a good story? Yes (even if one had to skip parts). The self-indulgent style of writing in that case, one might say, so accurately captures the narrator’s state of mind that it becomes a part of the story itself, wittingly or not.
    What about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig? The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty Moore (whose post at Brevity’s non-fiction blog, I didn’t originally realize, started this whole diatribe – see http://brevity.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/eat-pray-obsess/
    Let’s turn up the heat: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler? The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan? Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro. Would anyone dare call those self-indulgent? Not in this lifetime. And yet. What is underneath all of these stories? A wish to share one’s view of the world, one’s experience perhaps, nothing more. Is that narcissistic? Self-indulgent? Just wondering aloud. Sorry for the length of the comment!
    Cool blog you have!

  2. Jocelyn,
    Oh, boy. I absolutely loathe when someone says what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do, including when it comes to what shelves people should linger or pass by in a bookstore or online. Puh-lease.

    It doesn’t sound like Beck has read either Eat, Pray, Love or Committed because if she had she would see that a ton of research and guidance is within the much smaller bits of introspection by Gilbert. Yes, I’m a Gilbert fan. Women by our very nature share our selves (both literally and LITerarily, and in so doing become a better community for it.

  3. Lisa,
    Never apologize for the length of a comment…especially when it is as well thought out and beautifully stated as this one. Thank you so much for weighing in!

    As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

  4. Malena,
    I am a big Elizabeth Gilbert fan, as well. I met her a few months ago and was literally star struck! She was as cool in person as she comes across on the page.
    Thank you so much for weighing in! I am a big fan of your writing. Loved Dating Da Vinci!

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