Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Essay on the Personal

The personal over the ages has changed definitions and come to signify many things, for example the personal is political – the rallying cry of 1960's-70's feminism. In fact, the Twentieth Century is widely referred to as 'The Century of the Self'. 

With the advent of social media we are now the product and the consumer all rolled into one. Quite like the snake eating its own tail. With every change in online privacy laws what once was marked personal is now increasingly becoming the property of a domain much wider than our insignificant circle of influence. 

By the time we are able to separate the snake from its tail what would have become of the personal? What would be its definition? And significance? Sociologists, psychoanalysts and neuroscientists among others have been discussing this issue. As have writers and poets. Here's a poetic look at the personal and its inherent limitations.

Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses—
until we’re ready. Always
it’s a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn’t read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone’s.
We’re left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.

– Essay on the Personal by Stephen Dunn, New and Selected Poems, 1974-1994

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