Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Personalised blogging

This question of blogging voices is obviously a pesky one. I'm going to try and untangle a few more threads.

Blogs clearly intersect with a whole bunch of other genres: logs, diaries, journals, confessions, chronicles, advice columns, gossip, home pages, my spaces, second lives, journalism, rants, letters, listserves, and so forth. I like the idea that people are writing so much, and playing with language and voices. Blogging as an expressive medium is clearly conditioned, though, by the discursive constraints of the form and the dominant and most influential voices: if you took away the graphics, colours and photos, it would be a whole lot harder to distinguish many of the voices that crowd the internet. I read somewhere recently that about a thousand new blogs are started up every day. It's easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by this; but luckily, you can just read the ones you like!

It's hard to tell in my case how it happened exactly, since news of my cancer spread just as my blog was starting to develop its own modest readership, but around the end of last year my email and mail correspondence underwent a dramatic flowering. People I hadn't seen for years (domestic partners, housemates, students, colleagues, friends of my parents, parents of my friends) wrote or emailed me to send their good wishes. Another lovely thing to happen was that friends read the blog and emailed me: sometimes heartfelt stories about their own struggles with illness, work or family; sometimes long cheery missives about family fishing trips and sports days; sometimes their own accounts of balancing writing and living; sometimes long and thoughtful responses to issues I'd raised on the blog about teaching, Piers Plowman or other issues. Strangers have also read the blog, directed thither by the wonders of the web, and tracked down my email and written to me. And then there is the joy of finding comments on the blog, from people I know, or used to know, or am coming to know via their own blogs.

There has been a blossoming of words, then, around the blog and perhaps around illness, too. The instant readership of a blog is strangely gratifying. Perhaps this is especially so for academics, given the very long lead time between writing and publishing in many areas in the humanities.

A couple of folk have commented recently (on line or in person) that my blog is brave. I'm guessing this is either because it talks about personal things like illness, body parts, menopause and anxiety; or because it exposes the vulnerable soft and squishy interior behind the professional facade. But one of the things about having cancer is a changed understanding of what there is to be afraid of. (Personally I think it was braver to make the early drafts of my grant application available last year!) From what I have read, people who've faced serious illness (customary acknowledgement here: my own situation was nowhere near as scary or difficult as many cancers, ongoing disability, sick children, etc.) do come through with an adjusted sense of priorities. In my own case, I'm fired with the mission of showing that breast cancer isn't always as terrifying or as difficult as you might think.

A couple of correspondents, recently, have expressed doubts about the advisability of blogging under their own names, especially as graduate students. I guess it depends on what you're going to say, how personal you're going to be in the blog, and how critical you might find yourself being of your department, in which case you might indeed think twice. And there is comfort in a mask or avatar, I guess. But I don't think there is ever complete anonymity. Even Chaucer, who manages this better than most, has declared him/herself to Jeffrey Cohen!

The final question I'll raise here is whether it's different for men and women, the question of academic blogging, that is, and the relative dangers of the personal voice in this context? Is it related to the changing vogue for the confessional voice? Once the preserve of feminism, then male new historicism, and now...?

7 comments:

WhatLadder said...

I chose to make my blog anonymous for a number of reasons, some personal, some professional, and some to do with the freedom and fun of playing around with online personas.
The idea of anonymity is kind of fluid, though. Some of my online friends, who know me from a different online persona in a totally other context (nothing to do with work or real life, or yiffing on Second Life) read my blog. So am I anonymous to them?
It was one of those people who encouraged me to start my blog, and she told me (and I read about her journey from being totally anonymous to fairly easily identifiable. Maybe that's where I'll end up, maybe not.
I haven't told anyone I know in real life about my blog, though.

Actually, that's not totally true - I know Stephanie in real life.

Rick said...

Stephanie raises some good questions about anonymity and blogging. As a graduate student looking toward the job market (perhaps) this Fall, I'm worried about blogging under my own name. I'd have no intention of being overly critical of colleagues or of my department, but I have learned too much from reception theory: you never know how your words will be interpreted!

There's another question concerning anonymity though, which speaks indirectly to Stephanie's last thoughts. I've been reading several articles and discussions lately online suggesting that internet incivility, specifically rabid anti-feminism, has been growing, and some writers think it may be due to the anonymity of the web. We're not held accountable for our words when we write under an assumed name.

So the darker side of anonymity might be: what will anonymity free me to say that I might otherwise not say?

meli said...

Interesting thoughts, Rick. Stephanie, I'm with you on the joys of instant publication! I find it quite addictive. I've decided not to worry about the anonymity thing - I don't think I could manage it anyway as my research topic's fairly obvious. There's always some degree of manufacturing identity anyway, you can't help it. A blog and a person will never be identical.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Well, I know for sure who one of these people is; I'm pretty sure about another; but have not really an idea about the third. Tried to trace it through the blog but was cunningly thrown off scent by the lolcats.

WhatLadder said...

Hur, hur. Well, perhaps, in July, when I am staying with my best pal who lives around the corner from you, I will drop by and say "hi".

Stephanie Trigg said...

Ooh er, whatladder, I've worked it out! Looking forward to July...

Eileen Joy said...

Stephanie--I've just written a post at In The Middle, "Au Revoir Nos Vie Prive?", which links up to your post here and also plugs your blog as a whole in relation to a program that aired this week on National Public Radio on the supposed "end of the private self" [thanks, again supposedly] to Internet blogging, live-journaling, etc. Cheers, Eileen