Sunday, February 24, 2008

PostSecret

PostSecret.com is popular; its message is powerful: If secrecy alienates, then vulnerability unites.

It also attracts humans in hordes, including me.

In fact, I may have to eat my own words. I once publicly decried the rise of reality-based television as marking the end of collective reason that would have us wandering around like incoherent halfwits while civilization around us slowly declined.

Now, I see that it is the hope of glimpsing the unedited that is so compelling to an audience whether that glimpse be in a staged photograph, a carefully written celebrity interview or a tightly produced reality show. At least, that is true for me. So, when I first read a blurb about PostSecret in a magazine, I was interested.

After downloading the site, I wanted more -- much more -- so, I immediately bought the first two books: PostSecret and My Secret. At first, I was embarrassed by my interest in the lives of other people, even as I asked the clerk at my local bookstore for the copies. Then, it hit me: having secrets makes us uncomfortable because it reminds us that we're human; having access to other people's secrets makes us comfortable because it reminds us that they're human, too.

I think it is this uncensored honesty of the project's content that I found particularly moving. It also helped me with my writing. Winburn, in my weekly course readings, suggests searching for "emotional truth" in producing narrative and this now makes sense to me. The more the author gives of himself, the more willing the reader is to contribute, or to commit, to the text because he sees himself in the story.

The project also raises questions about relationships: reader and author, reader and text, author and text. Who authored this work? Certainly, the nameless public contributed the content, but did Frank Warren edit in even the slightest way? Was there purpose behind the order in which the postcards appeared? For example, was he trying to, or, did he subconsciously, elicit different emotional reactions?

My immediate impression was that there was no intention behind the sequence of secrets. The only way in which he could have removed himself from the work would have been to lay out the book without first having read the cards and, in the introduction to the book, he suggests that he did, in fact, read the secrets.

At any rate, Frank Warren seems to have achieved a significant goal of mine: He has produced a narrative that has dictated its own compositional form to the degree that this is actually possible.

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All the books in the series are available on the website for purchase.

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