Life Writing as Reinforcement of the “materialistic and narcissistic subject”

Sarah Allen addresses the ongoing critique of life writing as a genre that doesn’t actually challenge students to change their views on the world.  She notes the prevalent fear among teachers that the life writing essays only contribute the materialistic mindset of consumer society:

No doubt, this is part of the reason behind writing teachers’ suspicions about the genre of the personal essay: they worry that it not only perpetuates an overly simplistic concept of the subject but that, in so doing, the genre also risks encouraging the consumer-mentality and narcissism so many educators find at least disconcerting, if not deplorable, in today’s college students. (Allen 20)

One reason for this is likely due to the nature of the genre.  The goal of “introspection” or “critical inquiry into the self” is hardly a required component of life writing.  Students who write about themselves can simply continue being whoever they are are see themselves to be:

the whole exercise stops at looking/seeing. There is nothing in the conventions of the personal essay that requires anything more than that.  There’s nothing in them that requires students to challenge (or change) what and/or how they see. (Allen 21)

A trend I’ve noticed online (that lines up with Sarah Allen’s other points) is that many people use social media without any appearance of critical reflection.  They attempt to impose their opinions on others, and then provide no “valid” evidence when challenged (but they do provide a great deal of “evidence.”)  But this could also line up with the almost any controversy, per Richard Vatz’s rhetorical saliencies.  Those engaged in “debate” will select their definitions in order to support their points.  And so the question also becomes one of intent – do the rhetors realize that they’re are choosing “convenient” definitions?  Or do they simply choose the definitions that “feel right,” and those definitions tend to be the ones that line up with their primary arguments?

One example: illegal immigrants versus undocumented immigrants.  It’s not a “small” change – even those it’s simply semantics (these are immigrants who have broken U.S. law by entering the country without documentation), that choice of semantic articulation speaks volumes regarding connotation.

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