Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Voicing, blogging, working and recovering

One of those weird mornings, today, given the recent non-disclosures of the Chaucer blogger, in that I found myself lecturing on Chaucerian voice and constructions of authorship. How could I not close the lecture with a viewing of the Chaucer blog and his guest spot on In the Middle? I was talking about questions of genre, of course, and medieval contexts for authorship, and the odd temporality of Chaucer's relationship with the so-called renaissance 'authorship' of Petrarch and Boccaccio. There is such pleasure in thinking about the mystery of Chaucer as a medieval writer and his fascination with his own modernity. This is another reason for the Chaucer blogger's spectacular success: not only does he seem a kindly presence (even the vitriol against Gower seems to have subsided, much as Gower's own blog has [Update: Gower is Back!]), but he offers a perfect suspension between the medieval and the modern.

But lecturing about voice and authorship (still in a very part-time guest appearance kind of way myself) made me think again about the distinctive blogging voice we all adopt, and the extent to which it's conditioned by the genre, or influenced by the blogs we read; and the nature of the differences, if any, between an 'authored' blog like mine, and a scrupulously pseudonymous one like Chaucer's. There are lots of in between possibilities, too: the group blog of In the Middle, the third-person voice of Whitebait, the semi-pseudonymity of Pavlov's Cat, who names herself on her profile, but comments on other blogs in her feline voice (so to miaow). I also read a fair few academic blogs by graduate students and early career scholars who are very careful about revealing their identities.

At first blush, a blog looks like a very personal piece of writing, yet the fact that the majority of bloggers use a persona of some kind underlines the affinities of blogging with the kind of alternate universe of Second Life. Pavlov's Cat and I discussed this in Adelaide in February, and she reminded me that most bloggers were much younger than we are. There are a handful of blogs I read regularly (note to self: must update blogroll soon), but sometimes in moments of inability to work — and no, I'm not going to say how often they recur — I'll trawl around the blogs and follow a link from each blog to another. This takes about five minutes before even my own blank screen looks more interesting. I'm just not of the right demographic for most bloggers, I think. Occasionally I come across a gem of a new blog, but mostly I'm happy just following the threads of a few lives and discussions.

Oh, but I did feel for one of the commentators on In the Middle who said how much he/she was loving the discussion about Chaucer's blog, but felt too intimidated by the senior scholars debating it back and forward to offer any more in the way of a comment. What a lovely thing a pseudonym is for such an occasion. And what a good reminder of the capacity for academic hierarchies to cut across the democracy of the blog.

In my own case, I never thought of making my blog pseudonymous. Partly as a result of my great age, and longevity around the university, I don't feel that blogging puts me at any risk. This means there are lots of things I don't write about, though. I was struck by Jeffrey Cohen's picture and description of his first-born reaching double digits today; and was momentarily tempted to write about my own son, who is as gorgeous and clever and lovely as anything. But this is one of the constraints I put around my own blog, to limit mention of him and my partner. And I'm completely superstitious about posting his photo, though I really wanted to post a picture of my nephew, in London, in his surplice. I'm not saying I'm consistent; I'm saying it's complicated.

Anyway, in the spirit of the mixture of the personal and professional this blog is trying to celebrate, I'm proud to report that today I gave a lecture without paroxysms of nerves beforehand; and even hung around the department a while without feeling anxious or teary. I saw the psychologist linked with the breast clinic for the second time and was happy to agree with her assessment that while there was still a fair way to go (at least a year, she said, no matter how difficult or short the treatment), I seemed to have most of the bricks in place for a gradual restoration of equilibrium and the finding of a new path in the utterly changed university (of which, more another time). I then saw Mitchell for my monthly injection and the six-monthly questionnaire related to the drug trial I'm on. He examined my breasts and reassured me, by poking and pushing till it hurt or didn't hurt in various places on both sides, that the tenderness and aches I was feeling are all within the area affected by radiotherapy (Meredith, you were right!). He also said the magic words, "no focal points". So, seven months since diagnosis, and ten months since starting the blog, things are looking .... just very good, today.

12 comments:

J J Cohen said...

Thanks for another great post.

Even though I blog under my real name, I'm certain I have a "blog persona" -- I think a much more gregarious version of myself.

As to blogging family, that's a tough one. For me, when it comes down to it, my private life is so connected to my life as a medievalist that I decided to let readers know that maybe, even though I am an established scholar, I still have a life outside of the library and classroom -- and that that life connects intimately with my scholarly obsessions.

Spouse and child also read the blog regularly -- and sometime second child has portions read to her. She loved seeing her picture on it a while back.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Ah yes, the cat voice. You wait -- I'm learning LOL-Kitteh as a Second Language (LKSL-101) in Five Easy StepsLolkitteh!

I began pseudonymously, mainly in order not to look like a complete doofus while I was teaching myself the finer (and indeed the coarser) points of blogging, but there came a moment, during a rather heated discussion at one of the big group Australian mostly-political blogs, where I began to fear that someone would out me, and not in a nice way. So I got in first and put my name on the blog.

This is a terrific post, as usual. Very glad to hear the health report, too.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Stupid links.

Works, though.

meli said...

Wow, you got a comment from the real Chaucer on your blog. Did you tell your students that? Maybe you should frame it, it might be worth something in a few years.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Jeffrey, I think the way you talk about your family is both discreet and good: all your kids seem lovely, too! I also think it's great that a man, in our profession, will talk so openly about family life. As we know, it often signifies something different for a woman. I used to feel this when I took my baby into the department, comparing reactions to those given to my male colleagues who took their kids in... And I agree absolutely about the inseparability of work and family and all the rest of it.

I just have a real thing about posting photos of my boy. He reads the blog, but for some reason my partner doesn't. Not yet, anyway.

Dear Cat, I have a lot to learn about this strange new language of which you speak...

And ... Mel ... "the real Chaucer"??!!

ThirdCat said...

'no focal points'...they are truly beautiful words. I hope you sleep well with them ringing in your ears.

meli said...

Oh, don't you go spoiling the illusion too!

All this talk of anonymity is making me nervous (I had a look at Ancrene Wiseass's thoughts on the matter - would it really damage your job prospects?). I just jumped into the blogging pond without really thinking about it. I guess I'm such a long way from Australia (and, often, from England) that I feel pretty anonymous anyway.

J J Cohen said...

Stephanie, I agree about the gendered difference in bringing kids into the work milieu. Sadly, in my observation as department chair, it is often female faculty with kids who are most disparaging to other female faculty with kids who might bring them around the department with them. When I bring the children in, it's sweet; when some others do, it's using the office for daycare. Ridiculous!

I also meant to add: good news on your health. I'm happy to hear it.

Zoe said...

Glad to hear you're going well.

Meredith said...

Congratulations Stephanie. Every clear test feels like a coup to me. Yes!! (punches air)

WhatLadder said...

I love hearing people's ideas about how they manage identity vs anonymity.

Also very happy to hear the good news health update.

Re the lolcat: i writed essay about lolcats langwidge.

Elsewhere007 said...

This is a really interesting post.

I began writing pseudonymously & cryptically for work-related reasons. I continue to write pseudonymously because I don't want my students reading my blog (particularly any stuff on Indig issues).

Regardless of what you say about your position in academe, I think you're very brave to put details of your experiences with a disease in a public space.