Distance of First Person Plural

For some time we’ve been thinking of addressing the blog’s use of the first person plural. Are we a group blog, or command central for some multiple personality? Are we looking for safety in number?

At St. Anthony’s in the early sixties we lined up outdoors in front of our classrooms following recess, shortest in the front to tallest in the rear, boys stage left, girls stage right. Reverend Mother called out “Distance: 1, 2, 3.” On 1, we placed our left hand, extending our arm, on the left shoulder of the student in front of us; on 2, we extended our right arm, the line pressing backward and up the hill as we distanced ourselves from each other, so the tallest in the back became taller still, and a kind of order overcame and stilled the playground. The unruly mob dissipated; the shouts on the street diminished. And on 3 we dropped our arms to our sides and stood silently at attention, individuals now, each responsible for I. We disappeared from view. Deviations deserved detention; no one wanted to be a you. All was still, until a whistle blew, and we marched into the classrooms.

Readers familiar with The New Yorker may recall the editorial “we” of the early “Notes and Comment” section of that magazine, to which E. B. White often contributed, writing, against his intuition, in the first person plural, the required editorial voice of the section. White apparently thought the practice silly; nevertheless, we recommend you try writing in the first person plural as a writing exercise.

You might enjoy the distance of the joke, a kind of detachment that comes from not taking yourself too seriously, though some suggest that’s just non-committal. You can get trapped in we, and that’s not good. But losing yourself in we might make for a good writing experience, might even improve your writing. The assumption that most academic writing of course should stay out of it altogether, whence the “one” of the formal academic style, as in “one wonders what this is all about,” ignores the results – often directionless and unfriendly prose. One wonders who this one is too, and if there might be a more clear and concise way to identify oneself and one’s view. It’s a question of distance.

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