Do We Self-Deprecate from Security Or Insecurity?

I’m to my chin right now in David Foster Wallace, returning to some of my favorite interviews with the late novelist as I research a pair of projects. Once on air he was asked to explain why he was so quick to self-deprecate in his non-fiction essays (e.g. quick to remind the reader that he’s not a specialist or a journalist, just an observer of the given topic). This trend of self-deprecation now in social media is a pretty common one, and I don’t think they are disconnected. Here’s DFW’s explanation to radio host and lit critic Michael Silverblatt, a fragment from May 15, 1997:

“When it comes to the constant self-consciousness and apology in my essays, it is how I head off criticism from you [a critic] by acknowledging that I can get there first, and deprecate myself so that you don’t get a chance to do it. It’s very much of a piece with a certain kind of insecurity — what to me seems like a very American insecurity that I have fully internalized — where I am so terrified of your judgment that if I can show some kind of hip, self-aware, self-conscious judgement of myself first I am somehow defended against your ridiculing or parodying me. To the extent that I don’t think I’m the only person who suffers from that, it may be effective, but a great deal of it is expressive stuff, a tic about my own psychology. I think my work would be better if there wasn’t so much of it in there. Because it really is manipulative. It’s acting out of terror of another’s judgment and so trying to look as if no one can possibly come up with a criticism of me, of how I appear, that I haven’t gotten to first.”

One thought on “Do We Self-Deprecate from Security Or Insecurity?

  1. Fear of man is a snare for sure! Wallace is letting us peak behind the curtain of what most of us are doing when we cut off criticism at the pass by criticizing ourselves. How free to be able to say with Paul, “I don’t even judge myself… God is my judge.” (my paraphrase 1 Cor. 4:3).

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