If every sound you emit is a scream

I recently came across this older piece from Phillip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, in which he makes the case against the use of present tense narrative in literature. A couple interesting excerpts:

 … [I]f every sound you emit is a scream, a scream has no expressive value. What I dislike about the present-tense narrative is its limited range of expressiveness.

...There's a close parallel here with the increasing use of the hand-held camera in cinema. Just like the present tense, the hand-held camera is an expressive device whose expressive power is being drained away by making it the only way of shooting a film... I dislike it partly because it makes me feel sick, and partly because the camera never seems to be looking where I want to look, and partly because of the sheer monotony of texture that it brings, but mainly because of its falsehood.

Pullman suggests that the handheld camera, and by association present-tense writing, is a shortcut used to impart realism and immediacy. And in many cases, he's probably right. Horror films in particular, since the Blair Witch Project, have embraced the format as a means of hardwiring claustrophobia and vulnerability into their narrative. What I find intriguing is that in cinema, I find the handheld camera negatively affects my ability to identify with the person holding the camera, even though I'm observing the world almost literally through their eyes. I don't think that's the case with present tense, first-person narrative, but I'll allow that it can be a crutch for an author to convey a sense of immediacy.

One member of my writing group is not a fan of present tense, and has called me out on its usage every time I've employed it in a story. It seems to inspire a negative aesthetic reaction in some readers, just as some people simply cannot bear to watch the jumpy, grainy footage of a handheld cam. (I have to wonder if the intellectual arguments for and against both are merely justifications for people's visceral reactions.) Every time I've used it, I've done so for a specific reason, but now I take fair warning that this is a narrative method that may put off a subset of the audience. I don't think it's an "abdication of narrative responsibility," but a tradeoff between competing costs and benefits, and a decision that's worthy of more thought than I might have given it at one time.