‘The Light of the World,’ by Elizabeth Alexander – NYTimes.com

It is the reviewer’s comments that I find interesting here. I had no idea that there was a term for these books, let alone that it was a growing trend.

 [I]t is what’s become known as a “grief memoir.” Its points of overlap with similar books lead the reader to a conclusion: Without secular rituals to guide us, such memoirs have become our primers in the logic and ethics of mourning. They are what we turn to when we are not sure where else to turn.

One might argue, of course, that the recent swarm of grief memoirs is just another manifestation of our confessional culture of self-disclosure. I’m biased — I wrote one of these books myself — but I think what we’re seeing here is something deeper and more useful: a desire to understand and give shape to an experience that defines us, an experience that is ethical and social in nature. How we grieve alone tells us something about who we are together. These books teach us that grief is not something merely to endure, medicate away or “muscle through,” but an essential aspect of life — even a kind of privilege. “What does it mean to grieve in the absence of religious culture?” Alexander asks, devastated by her seemingly unbearable loss, searching for meaning where none initially presented itself.

Source: ‘The Light of the World,’ by Elizabeth Alexander – NYTimes.com

It makes me rethink whether I will have anything to contribute. [mfn]As an aside, I think I actually agree with those who suggest that this is part of “our confessional culture of self-disclosure.” I am not utterly opposed to some of this in culture, more the confessing and less of the “this is my lunch” self-disclosure (as much as my Facebook feed would attest to the latter in my life). [/mfn] Then I read that the poet’s question is “What does it mean to grieve in the absence of religious culture?” Odd that apparently the book is filled with references to Christian holidays of great significance (they bury her husband “two days before Easter,” isn’t that Good Friday?) and yet the challenge before the author is apparently how to carry on in the absence of faith (on that Easter she wrote, “I call out, to no one. Will I remember everything? What am I meant to keep?”

So perhaps there is room for another “grief memoir” or two, particularly ones that affirm that there is one to whom we can call out.


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