The personal blog as an archive of the emerging self

Hannah Mueller's picture

To explain the proliferation of personal blogs as a new genre, it has been suggested that "the generic exigence that motivates bloggers is related less to the need for information than to the self and the relations between selves" (Miller, Shepherd). In other words, people write personal blogs because they are interested in getting to know themselves by writing and by communicating with others through writing. The blog, then, is an antidote for two different kinds of alienation. On one hand, the blog brings diverse people together in conversation, expanding what Kate Thomas described to us as the "Incredible Shrinking Public Sphere." On the other hand, the blog brings writers closer to their own writing by allowing for instant publication; the years-long disconnect between writing and publication in the academic realm suddenly disappears. The personal blog allows anyone to publish informally and instantly; this intimacy and immediacy cures the alienation people increasingly feel from others and themselves.

Precisely because of the personal blog's unique intimacy and immediacy, however, this genre re-problematizes the intrapersonal relationship between bloggers and their own selves over time. The development of a personal blog is an emergence story mirroring the development of a person over the course of his or her life. Emergence denotes change, and the genre of the blog is unparalleled in its ability to archive change. While the personal blog is a solution to the alienation of people from their writing in the short term, then, it also becomes an archive of the changes a writer undergoes as time progresses. The blog's immediacy and intimacy may allow for the best personal expression at the time an entry is written, but over time it serves to illustrate to the blogger how the "I" of one blog entry is not the same as the "I" of another written a year, or even a day, later.

Argentinean poet, essayist, and short story writer Jorge Luis Borges explained this shifting "I" and the alienation he felt from his own writing in his famous short piece, "Borges and I." He writes about Borges as if he is another person, the one whose name he sees on the title pages of books and on lists of professors. He is constantly trying to interest himself in new topics in order to keep ahead of Borges; which is to say, in order to keep ahead of his own writing: "Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him." The division of the self through writing is a sensation that bloggers can experience as they read back through their own postings. The tone of "Borges and I" suggests that for Borges, this inability to identify with his own writing was a never-ending frustration. For bloggers, it may simply be fascinating to observe how their own writing becomes more and more alien to themselves as time progresses.

One example of this phenomenon that we observed in class was when Laura Blankenship talked about a blog entry that she had posted over a year ago. In her "Meta-blogging..." entry on her blog Geeky Mom, she writes: "Someone also asked me about the time when I said I was going to step away from the blog for a while. I had forgotten about that. Those of us that have been blogging for awhile have doubts every once in a while. But it made me think about the balance between my online life and my ‘real' life that I have to maintain." Laura's own post had become unfamiliar to her between the time she wrote it and the time I mentioned it in class. When she wrote the post, she was having doubts and questions about the blog, personal feelings that she decided to blog as they arose. The post was both intimate and immediate for these reasons. Upon remembering the post more than a year later, however, these feelings were no longer with her; like Borges, she was remembering a writing of her own with which she did not identify. Although Laura may have had these feelings of alienation, remembering the post gave her a new insight into how she balances blogging and her "real" life. Over time, her own thinking had emerged so far that she could revisit her own writing and gain new insights from words she herself had typed.

A personal blog, then, as an archive of many different writings by one person, displays the formation of a plural subject. The entries can be displayed chronologically or, as on Laura's blog, by subject, or one can search for particular writings. Viewing a blog using the last two methods of navigation creates an achronological web of the writings of one person, or as Borges might say, a "labyrinth" of multiple selves. A cinematic illustration of this plural subject formation is the film I'm Not There directed by Todd Haynes. In the film, six actors play Bob Dylan and represent the folk singer at different times in his life. The varied spectrum of actors, including a young black boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) and a woman (Cate Blanchett), portrays a single man. The action of multiple storylines is simultaneous, not chronological. At one point, even, the oldest Bob Dylan encounters the youngest for a moment. One person, many selves, all contemporary and "linked" in multiple ways: this film is a personal blog. As all six Dylans exist together in one film, many different versions of Laura reside under one URL on Geeky Mom, and the same can be said of anyone who keeps a personal blog.

This analysis of how blogs archive an emerging self focuses on personal blogs, taking Laura Blakenship's Geeky Mom: Fearlessly blogging the intersections of technology, education, and life as the best example of a blog displaying both intimacy and immediacy, both personal writing and conversation between writer and readers. Laura's blog is primarily an archive of her own writing but includes dialogues. So, as an archive of her writing it clearly displays-to her own eyes more than anyone's-how she has changed over time in conversation with others. Although the personal blog creates the most complete archive, any web forum has same effect, since wherever there is the ability to post instantly, there is "the ability to combine the immediately real and the genuinely personal" (Miller, Shepherd). On Serendip, for example, I can read forum and blog entries I wrote for Paul Grobstein's Biology 103 class in Fall 2006. When looking at my own writing from over a year ago, I feel alien from it, largely because I am no longer living in the context under which I originally composed these posts. Samuel R. Delaney's writings on discourse help to explain how this context is all-important because it gives meaning to the very words we write. For example, to write "America" now is to mean something different from what the word would have necessarily meant a year ago, simply because the country has undergone changes in the space of a year and is no longer what it once was.

Among the bloggers who came to speak to us in class, there was consensus or near-consensus that, from personal experience, academic writing seems alien to the writer when it is published, sometimes years after having been written. This alienation actually takes place slowly as the discourse around a writer changes and the self emerges over time. Looking back at blog posts from years ago, Laura, myself, and others who blog feel an alienation that must be similar to the alienation that academic writers feel upon reading their own published papers in a scholarly journal. Because the blog is so intimate and immediate, in fact, the disconnect may seem even larger to bloggers; for me, the more personal posts I wrote on the Serendip forum were stranger to me than the more general and thought-out, essay-like blog entries. Feelings, in other words, are more fickle than generalizations based on facts. But even these more impersonal observations, of course, are influenced by personal opinion and the surrounding discourses of the day, and from these environmental factors is born all writing.

Environmental factors, in the case of blogging, include the commentators and interlocutors who help to shape the discourse, inflating the "Incredible Shrinking Public Sphere." Between writing a blog entry or an academic paper and re-reading it years later, emergence of the self occurs largely due to interactions with other people. When looking back on old blog entries, archived right along with one's immediate and intimate thoughts are the similarly candid views of other people. The blog's archival function, then, serves to display the dialogue in direct relation to the personal writing, making the impact of the conversation on the emergence of the blogger's self much more obvious than if all conversation had been verbal, as in the academic world outside of blogs. The personal blog is an experiment in, and a literal archive of, the ways in which discourses and dialogues change how people look at and think about the world. It is an experiment that anyone can do, an archive that anyone can make, simply by writing, listening and waiting.







Works Cited and/or Mentioned
Blankenship, Laura. "Meta-Blogging about talking about blogging." Geeky Mom: Fearlessly blogging the intersections of technology, education, and life. <http://geekymom.blogspot.com/> 22 April 2008.

Borges, Jorge Luis. "Borges y yo." El hacedor. <http://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~fabianb/borgesandi.html>

Delaney, Samuel R. "The Rhetoric of Sex/ The Discourse of Desire." Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & The Politics of the Paraliterary. London: Wesleyan University Press, 1999. 3-40.

I'm Not There
. Dir. Todd Haynes. Perf. Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale. The Weinstein Company, 2007.

Miller, Carolyn R. and Shepherd, Dawn. "Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog". Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. Ed. Laura J. Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff, and Jessica Reyman (2004).

Serendip's Exchange. <http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/>

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

"I think, therefore I can change who I am"

Hannah—
This project follows beautifully from your last, in which you explored the ontology of how we all make meaning of the world: by generating categories that self-deconstruct in their own making. Now you turn that process onto the making of self, as it is highlighted and exacerbated in the act of blogging.

Your postings on this topic in our on-line class forum really generated a rich conversation last week, one highlighting the fact that the self who blogs is under construction, changed by (the endistancing act of) its own writing; that perhaps this happens more quickly via blogs than in conventional writing, because time speeds up on-line; and perhaps it happens more efficiently than in face-to-face conversation, because there's also time to think.

Just lovely, that line of thinking. What I see you adding to that argument here is a sense of the blog as a “literal archive” of the changing self, as well as an increased awareness both of the multiplicity of the self (Borges’ “labyrinth”), and the sense of self “alienation,” especially from the more fickle feelings that one possessed when one wrote earlier.

Thanks for being willing to testify out of our own experience in this case. You know, though, mine was just the opposite from what you describe. Re-reading Stranger in a Strange Land for our recent class discussion, I totally grokked. It was as though I was meeting myself, walking back from the past: I knew me, liked me, was pleased to be re-making my acquaintance, to be reminded both of my rich trove of experiences in Central and South America and of its written record.

So, out of that juxtaposition: two questions for further thinking (should you wish to go on in this direction). The meanings of words change, not just because the things they reference change, but because words never, even or especially @ the moment of articulation, encompass what it is they reference (Derrida again). Does the sort of immediate writing that is blogging accentuate or diminish that alienation effect?

Secondly: I happened to re-read “Borges y yo” while I was in the midst of a conversation with a friend about depression: what causes it, how we might help ourselves, or one another, out of that mood state. In that context—and as you’ve shown, context is all!—we were both very struck by the negative language the experiencing self uses to describe his dissociation from his writing self: what Borges-the-writer calls his “perverse custom” of “falsifying” and “magnifying.”

This made me curious about the possibility of a different kind of self divided from itself, one that sees and can make good use of the division, something less destructive than the “deliberate chameleon”  of Christina’s essay. Something more constructive, more, perhaps, along the lines of "I am, and I can think, therefore I can change who I am”?

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