Saturday, May 05, 2007

Confessional blogging

Medievalist bloggers, and many other bloggers or blog-readers with half an interest in the genre's potential will probably at some stage have come across the wonderful blog of Geoffrey Chaucer. Like me, they will have marvelled at its brilliant simulacra of Chaucerian voices and temporalities. Whoever this is, he or she has been able to channel that aspect of Chaucer's writing that addresses his own times in his poetry with an immediacy that produces the contradictory and irresistible effect of timelessness. Alternatively, it's our complex history of reading Chaucer as a writer for all seasons that allows us to "recognise" as Chaucerian the Chaucer blogger's extraordinary take on Brokeback Mountain.

But what community wouldn't love to see itself treated so kindly by its presiding spirit? Even though I've never made it to the big medieval congress at Kalamazoo in Michigan (about to start any day now), I relished Chaucer's advice to those attending, even though, since his own paper on himself was rejected, he didn't actually get there. He volunteered "thes lynes of picke vppe – sum shorte, sum longe, sum of noble caste and otheres churlishe, sum onlye vseful at kalamazoo and otheres of applicacioun more generale." This one comes under the penultimate category, I think: "Ich loved thy papere, but yt wolde looke much better yscattred across the floore of myn rentede dorme roome at dawne."

In medieval circles, speculation has been rife as to the true identity of Chaucer. Many of us refer our students to the blog, which itself links readers to a range of scholarly sites such as the Harvard Me Websyte or the Newe Me Societie. Did he or she make it to the New Chaucer Society congress in New York in July? Have we met him ... or her ... without knowing it?

Imagine the anticipation, then, when In the Middle staged the blogging coup of persuading Chaucer to post directly to that blog! But who could have imagined the curious disappointment I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling to find that the confessional disclosure is written in a voice with an uncanny resemblance to that of Holden Caulfield. As Jeffrey Cohen himself commented, "It is somewhat disconcerting, I admit, for the curtain of the Chaucer blog to have been pulled back and for J. D. Salinger to be revealed standing there. But you know, what were you expecting? Carolyn Dinshaw?" (who, for the non-medievalists, is the most elegant, clever, kind, original and famous Chaucer scholar who also works in queer studies you could possibly imagine).

Of course it makes sense for the writer to disguise his/her voice. It's clear that anonymity is important. For whatever reason, this person doesn't want to be known as "the Chaucer blogger". And the virtuoso Caulfield voice is something else; it really is. Even apart from its narrative voice, this "confession" is a remarkable document. It tells us a lot about the genesis and development of the blog, though there is little here that will come as any surprise to attentive or regular readers. But the entry has attracted only a handful of comments on what is a blog with a huge readership; and I think that's because it gives so little away, in terms of a personal voice. I also wonder how "Chaucer" will go about returning to his Chaucerian voice on his own blog... It's clear that many blogs have a finite, or natural life; "Chaucer" seems to be struggling to keep his blog going. Is this the end, or the beginning of the end? Chaucer says he has plans for the future of the blog: they sound rather earnest to me.

I'm thinking some other thoughts about this question of voicing, confessions and blogging; perhaps another post on this topic in a day or two.

5 comments:

Karl Steel said...

But the entry has attracted only a handful of comments on what is a blog with a huge readership

Well, that said, we never do get many comments. If any post breaks 10, it's unusual.

Geoffrey Chaucer said...

Ma Chere Doctor Trigg,

Ich do assure yow that the lak of postingnesse on myn blog is nat by cause of sum absence of desyre or will to continuen, or the manifestacioun of sum existential crisis, but rathir by cause ich haue been appointed Clerk of the Kinges Workes. No soonir did this promocioun come me-to than his Majestee informed me that he did muchel desyre a water-park wyth al maner whales and liones of the see and also grete watir-slydes that spelle out "RICHARD II OF ENGELONDE RULETH." Trewely, of late ich have been busier than Hoccleves therapist.

Yet it peyneth me soore that ich have naught y-poostid in such a gret spanne of tyme. Soon ich shal put fingres to keyboard oones ayein.

Comme touzjours
le vostre treshumble servaunt
G C

Geoffrey Chaucer said...

"they sound rather earnest to me"

Ich must ask. Mene ye ernest as in "in good feyth" or ernest as in "boringe"?

Le vostre
GC

N50 said...

For me the Caulfield voice was just as exotic and amusing (and more impenetrable) that GC's middle english prose. GC's comment on Santa Claus was spot on for me - imagination really can be so much better than knowing. Please stay anonymous Mr Chaucer, please never spoil things by telling us who you are. We don't need the context, just the text.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Karl, point taken: I guess I was expecting more of a chorus of responses. Bet people are still intrigued, though!

And Chaucer dear, we all understand about the pressure of work. We are grateful for all your postings, no matter how infrequent. The water-slides sound fun, though. And ... "ernest"? You know, it's a funny thing about irony and tone: sometimes the precise meaning of a text just slips, undecideably, between a couple of possibilities. Or a text can hold two meanings in suspension. But I fear becoming boring myself.... It is but game, after all.

La vostre
ST