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.