Self-absorption and Contemporary Writing
What happened to serious writing and living, to discretion? As God shrinks, the self expands. As God-consciousness moves to the margins, the supposedly sacred self moves to center stage. As theology goes into decline, spirituality ("my spirituality") advances. My wife has a perfect term for this: "being precious." It is akin to the flirtatious woman (or man, perhaps) who never says, but always acts out, this imperative: "Look at me! Aren't I pretty?" The flirtatious writer, says, "Read the silly, little details of my precious life! Aren't they fascinating?" No, they are not. If I want autobiography, I'll consult a life of greatness.
The personal pronoun should not to be forbidden in the writing of philosophy or history or film criticism. But it should be used sparingly, sparsely, and with great care. Once again, Elements of Style was right. Just as we should "eliminate unnecessary words," we should eliminate unnecessary personal pronouns. The basic rule concerns whether or not a personal reference contributes something solid, something worthwhile to the piece of writing. If not, eliminate it. The Apostle Paul refers much to himself in some of his letter, but never to no effect. His life was poured out to his readers; it was not on cutesy display. Similarly, a brave and wise Christian from Sri Lanka, Ajith Fernando, uses quite a few personal anecdotes in his many wonderful books. By by so doing, he is more like the Apostle Paul, than the many mirror-gazing, self-stroking writers that clutter the American scene. Francis Schaeffer's books reveal the character of the man without any posing or posturing. They are all meat, no fluff. His anecdotes usually narrate noteworthy apologetic encounters.
What is the antidote to the precious and pointless anecdote, the anodyne for the promiscuous autobiography? Read the Bible and serious writers, mostly from the past: Augustine, Pascal, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, A. W. Tozer, and Francis Schaeffer. And read a serious contemporary social critic, such as Os Guinness or David Wells. With the self out of view, there is just so much more to see.