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Personal Pronouns

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Personal Pronouns

We’re born into a Ptolemaic world. Galileo, Copernicus, Brahe and Keppler notwithstanding.

For the first years of life, each of us is the self-centered focus of a personal universe. I am Ptolemy; hear me roar! Meanwhile our arsenal of pronouns grows; it shifts from me (the object of all attention; of gifts bestowed by parents, siblings, caregivers) to my (as possessors of all that comes within the tender but tenacious grip of developing motor skills) as it slowly grows into the difficult adult maturity of I. Gradually we become just one of many agents active in the ever growing Copernican world of others, everyone and else. The infantile barrage of “Bridezillas,” “Jerseylicious” and worse–our me-oriented, so-called reality TV–speak against my premise. But they also reinforce it.

Someone recently passed a manuscript to me–a work-in-progress that I’ve been asked to review–which also depends upon personal pronouns. But it is their absence, not their presence that sets the work apart from the few autobiographies of my experience. My friend has begun an autobiography, a self-referential accounting of the writer’s own life, but has chosen to exclude those most personal of words: I, me, my, mine. Reading the author’s strange intention in the foreword, I wonder how such a thing is possible. Could I narrate the story of my life without mentioning myself? 

Lives can be reflected, indirect, obtuse, self-evident; mirrored in others, seen through the lens of family, neighbors, colleagues, mentors, co-workers, enemies and friends, heroes and passers-by. Lives are seasoned with experience, with rhythm and routine, wrong turns and accident. They are told with accomplishments; opportunities lost and found; accoutrements, things and just plain stuff; with failure, loss and waste; with admiration and disdain. Aspiration, desire, belief, regret, despair; grace (both with and without a capital G). What we know or don’t or thought we did; what we hope, hate and haven’t got a clue–all can be acknowledged, admitted, and allowed. Must be, in fact, if we’re to tell the Truth. Auden says that every autobiography “is concerned with two characters, a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self.” Can a life be told one more step removed? Without any direct reference to itself?

It’s not about me. 

That’s the working title of the manuscript on my desk. I know the author, not well, but well enough to make some distance, a measure of objectivity between text and reader. What should we expect?

I’m anxious to explore.


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