The Confessors

The confessors out there do love their confessions. I don’t know who we have to blame for this shadowy development. The Romantics from whom the cult of interiority began? Or, as we come to our native soil, Emerson, who once wrote, “Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to this or that; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it”)? Or, back to the Continent, the existentialists, so taken as they were by authenticity? Or the Freudian and post-Freudian heritage of endless self-analysis? However it happened, here we are, with countless people, in private and public (what’s the difference anymore, right?), confessing what are now open secrets–revealed, broadcast, recorded, and archived.

Whether it’s the recent Kanye West disclosure of his bipolar disorder diagnosis or whether it’s former George Washington University professor Jessica Krug’s recent tell-all about her passing as Black doesn’t, for the purposes of my discussion here, make a difference. All these confessionals, I submit, are of a piece; all bare the contents of mind, or soul, in a way that indicates a peculiar combination of torment, pride, anguish, desire, vanity, supreme self-centeredness, and–dare I say?–shallowness. Perhaps, right here and lest we think the phenomenon in question is just a topic for celebrities, we do well to remind ourselves of the subtler, and more mundane, confessionals written daily on Instagram: the struggles with looking good, with feeling good, with experiencing moment by moment joy (as if such were humanly possible!), with that nebulous notion of “spiritual growth,” or, really, with whatever.

The truth is that the confessors are living in a groundless moral universe without knowing it. We are all: knowledge of that groundlessness I call “the meta-crisis.”

Blind to this groundlessness, confessors anchor themselves to the constant manufacturing and production of a certain kind of self, one that can be displayed, jeered at, lauded, envied, gawked at, whatever: perhaps it does matter, but in a way it hardly matters. The best confessors are the best performers. To them, it’s all theater.

Except that, uncannily to them, it’s not. The best confessional actors are, n doubt, the most convicted; for them, can it really be theater all the way down? Groundlessness, accordingly, is hidden by the endless theatrical performances and by the masks that, to the confessors, long ago ceased to appear in the form of masks.

When the common good and the life of contemplation were, over the long march of modernity, slowly eroded, guess what came in their stead? In therapeutic culture, the influencers, the therapeutically well-versed, the life coaches, and the therapeuticized facilitators all, likely unbeknownst to themselves, have an agenda: to get the rest of us to become confessors too. That way everyone can finally become a star.