The personal blog as an archive of the emerging self
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.
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/>