Lejeune's "How Do Diaries End?" Sunday, February 26 9:34 PM
The choice of material is tied to an apprehension about death. The size and thickness of the notebook selected do not merely correspond to practical constraints. If it's too big, I'll never finish it. The excess space is the silence of death. If it's too small, I'll run up against the final word. (102)
There are two schools of diary-writers. There are those who write each day out of discipline or habit, who suffer when they skip a day and "catch up" when they're behind, filling in omissions. And there are those who write, more or less regularly, when they need to. In the latter case, the most common one, how do you know if a journal is "finished"? (105)
Meanwhile, the long tail of weblogs with few readers will become conversational. In a world where most bloggers get below average traffic, audience size can't be the only metric for success. [...] Publishing an essay and having 3 random people read it is a recipe for disappointment, but publishing an account of your Saturday night and having your 3 closest friends read it feels like a conversation, especially if they follow up with their own accounts.
Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.
In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.
Given the ubiquity of power law distributions, asking whether there is inequality in the weblog world (or indeed almost any social system) is the wrong question, since the answer will always be yes. The question to ask is "Is the inequality fair?
There is no A-list that is qualitatively different from their nearest neighbors, so any line separating more and less trafficked blogs is arbitrary.
Once a power law distribution exists, it can take on a certain amount of homeostasis, the tendency of a system to retain its form even against external pressures.
The performance of blogging is based on the assumption that experience congeals around a subject, and makes a subject who can be written and read, even when the discourse that seems to support this subject threatens to undermine it. (166)
What is at stake here for these researchers who must compare an electronic discourse to a non-electronic one, even when points of comparison evaporate? I suggest that this is an instance of what Jacques Derrida has said about genre, that it is made thinkable by means of a law which simultaneously marks the limit of inside and outside, even as the excesses of the law demonstrate the impossibility of setting such a limit (59-62). The problem with reading blogs as diaries, and with the accompanying decision to forge on with this kind of reading even when it does not work, shows how powerful the need is for autobiographical genres to work as forms of classification, even as the objects studied must exceed that attempt. (168-169)
Foucault has said that the practice and theory of contemporary psychology depended on a construction of sexuality as a "new" object of inquiry for the "new" science of the mind, which meant that scientists had to overcome their own senses of doubt about the subject matter, and discipline the subjects themselves as part of the construction of their own discipline. Something similar, I suggest, is happening in the developing area of life writing or auto/ biography studies as some of its researchers encounter blogs and try to explain how they work in terms of older forms of life writing. (169)
. . . the uneasiness and even queasiness about online diary scholarship depends on the constitution of weblogs as online diaries in an atmosphere of doubt, and then certainty. The field constitutes itself in the delineation of its new object and the sublimation of doubts about the object, and the problem is ultimately seen to reside in the indeterminancy of the object itself, an indeterminacy which the analyst must overcome to "understand" the new phenomenon and rationalize it. (170)
I begin with an assumption that weblogs are not a continuation of diary writing in a new form. Weblogs are better understood as an internet genre with a history as long as the history of the internet itself. (170)
The major difference between online journals and blogs is, according to Blood, the labeling decision of the site maintainer or publisher (7). But there is still some insistence that length and subject make the difference between online journals and blogs. (171)
But even as the corporate use of blogs and the corporatization of the materiality of blog writing have grown, and blogging itself changes, most blogs rhetoric still adheres in some form to a version of liberalism which was part of early internet culture. In this form of liberalism, freedom of expression is important, particularly when it occurs outside of institutional attempts to control the flow of information. (172)
Most blogs, therefore, work within what I call a semi-private environment, where private aspects of a person, such as habits, relationships, living arrangements, and economic status, are made public so that other members of the blog community will stay interested in the blog. (173)
This role of the internet as public and private at the same time appears in blogs as the constant crossing between private experiences which can be revealed because the blogger is interacting with online people. (173)
blog rhetoric depends on something that belies the many discussions of internet identity: an idea of the subject that does not shift, is not multiple, and most significantly, does not lie. (174)
It does not matter as much that bloggers cannot ever approximate face-to-face communication, or that representation cannot approximate who they "really" are, as it matters that blog rhetoric be made to approximate what the real "feels" like. Blog rhetoric is an instance of Jean Baudrillard's "strategy of the real," a rhetoric that derives its urgency from a sense that the real is lost and must be simulated (174-175)
Bloggers do not "post" their material on blogs, but "publish" it (Stauffer 311-14) (175).
Blog identity involves a recouping of strategies of the real, which include the use of offline experiences as a guarantor of identity, to reconstitute liberal subjectivity in a public space. (176)
Although blog software such as Blogger states in its instructions that a writer can write anything at all in the composition space, and many blogs say that they are random collections of thoughts, blog entries are not random. As a genre, blogs create a specific type of social space, and are constructed to attract specific types of community based on similarity rather than differences. (176)
An "adaptation model" implicitly constructs a temporal hierarchy of formal and cultural elements in which, by virtue of their essential "natures," successive "new" media usurp their predecessors. (49)
Instead, I would like to propose an approach that pays much closer attention to the material and experiential conditions of self-documentation, and to the manner in which those conditions are integrated into the much wider phenomenon of material "complexification." In constructing this approach, I am drawing upon the insights of Jean Francois Lyotard, Walter Benjamin, and more recently Mark Hansen, who each explore the interplay between technology and the structure of human experience. (49)
For written and for online diaries, what we need is a critical or analytical perspective that can recognize and work with the broader "cosmological" shifts that alter not only experience within the medium, but also the nature of experience itself within the "universe" of embodied, conscious materiality.Identity
The specific conditions explored in this essay are identity, privacy, reality, and time. While hardly exhaustive, these four conditions are arguably key with respect to their being reoccurring biographical and literary preoccupations. (51)
Indeed, to make the self modern is to make it the center of attention: to reflect upon and articulate one's self as an individual, as one capable and perhaps even destined to determine one's fate and future. The place of the page thus becomes the place of the future, of the self made man or woman, of the isolated, focused and internally driven agent of history, will, and power. I write about myself, therefore I am. (53)
The written diary thus functions as a memorial, an avatar one could say, that literally stands in place of the individual who wrote it. The slightly voyeuristic thrill (or feeling of guilt) that comes from reading someone else's diary arises from this fact, that one is potentially entering a secret and highly private world. (54)
as Jeff Weintraub notes, "despite widespread use of public and private as organizing categories," the terms are "usually not informed by a careful consideration of meaning and implications" (2) (55)
At its most basic, privacy can be defined as "the measure of control an individual has over 1) information about himself, 2) intimacies of personal identity, or 3) who has sensory access to him" (Schoeman 2). In essence, privacy here is an issue of access: to be private is to control or regulate the level of access that the "outside world" has to one's personal property, body, or thoughts.
For the Web diary writer, and indeed any Web self-documenter, the audience is not only anticipated, but expected, and thus influences and structures the very manner in which the writer articulates, composes, and distributes the self-document. (56)
When considering the differences between written and online diaries in terms of private and public space, it is therefore necessary to consider how the technology itself makes possible and even naturalizes certain practices and experiences unique to its particular "nature." (59)
In keeping with the work of Jean Baudrillard, postmodernity is said to have rendered the real obsolete, as distinctions between reality and unreality have blurred to the point where the artificial may seem even "realer" than the real. The concept of the original and the copy, which one could take as a foundation of the real, has been lost. There are only copies and derivations of simulations — pure simulacra. (59)
That diaries and autobiographies, both handwritten and electronic, are grounded to a significant extent on real, authentic individuals is a common enough assertion. Philippe Lejeune has famously described an "autobiographical pact" that underlies readers' expectations of autobiographical works. By violating the terms of the contract, writers who deliberately fictionalize their autobiographical accounts are said to have betrayed the trust of the reader, and in my interviews with diarists and Webcammers, a few acknowledge having been hurt and outraged by deliberate acts of deception. In fact, Web-based forms of self-documentation are so concerned about such violation that "reality" has been almost fetishized: proclaimed as a kind of value, especially in terms of "liveness." (59-60)
What is at work here is not a simulation, but instead a mutation of the much "older" mechanism of mimesis. (60)
[. . .]
Online self-documentation, and indeed most autobiographical representation, assumes that human actions and thoughts are actually being represented rather than created or simulated. (60)
Dialogue, or more accurately "multi-logue," is the preferred mode of discourse: Web diarists write for themselves, and for others who also write for themselves and others, creating "Webrings" which encourage nearly constant interaction. This discursive environment clearly privileges the present, the moment within which material is created and exchanged. (62)
However, I would argue that remediation remains more or less a theory of adaptation, because it still implies that existing cultural practices or traditions have the upper hand, still guiding or shaping the nature of the practice within each new media encounter. New media or technology functions as an empty vessel waiting to be "filled up" with cultural content. (63)
Hansen thus seeks to establish what he terms a "physiological basis for human interaction with technology that is not based primarily on language" (viii). Within such a mechanism, technology is emancipated "from its reductive metaphoric function," and properly recognized as "an agent of material change" that is inseparable from the "real that it produces" (65). (63)
Bypassing the commercial, aesthetic, or political interests that dictate access to traditional print media, and that decide whose life stories deserve to be told, online diaries can be read as assertions of identity, and arguments for the importance of an individual's life. Even as their authors retain a degree of anonymity, these texts make very personal connections to a reading audience that recognizes and confirms these individual life assertions. (26)
the long-held popular assumption that the diary is a private, for "oneself alone," genre. Web diaries' public nature but private — that is, personal, often intimate — content confounds traditional distinctions between public and private writings and functions. (26)The relationship between blogger and reader:
In a contemporary print diary, that confessor would typically be an imagined or projected addressee; in cyberspace, however, he or she actually receives the confession, and often responds. The reader of an online diary therefore actively participates in constructing the text the diarist writes, and the identities he or she takes on in the narrative. Though active and even intimate, however, that participation remains virtual, disembodied. The confessor stays behind the "grille" of the Internet, allowing the diarist — and the reader — the illusion of anonymity necessary for "full" self-exposure. (27)
Online participation in this genre allows writers to carry on diary conversations that will no longer be monologic, where the response will not be just imagined but actual. (28)
Despite [veteran web diarist] Steve Schalchlin's belief in the Internet diary as a "new artform," its practitioners in many ways reproduce the traditional diary, upholding instead of resisting the genre both in form and content. (30)
Many of the accessories found in an online diary reflect its nature as a public document, meant for readers other than the diarist. (30)
Of course, writing a text to suit an imagined reader is hardly a new concept, even for the diary. (32)
[Some] entries fulfill the diary's traditionally personal functions of logbook and memoranda, but when written on the Internet, diarists give these functions a public purpose, presuming that others will want to read these records, and even comment on them. (32)
A reader from or visitor to New York may feel a sense of identification with Nora because he or she also frequents the "Morning to Midnight" store, or is familiar with "11th and third ave." These diarists' use of proper nouns, place names, presuppositions, and explanatory asides are traditional strategies by which both on- and offline public diarists create intimacy. Web diarists, though, also have the option of adding links to external sites to help the reader feel a part of their personal lives. (33)
...online writers extend the invitation to read not only to intimates but also to the reading public at large. They post their diaries in the hope of reaching a wider audience, an imagined community who, by reading and responding, will become an actual community. Writers who create online diaries express their desire for acknowledgment, perhaps praise, for their life or their writing — some assurance that their voice is being heard. (35)
For online diarists, who write explicitly to be read, the absence of an (active, responsive) audience would be a significant blow. (36)
To attract and maintain engaged readers, online diarists must anticipate and meet audience expectations. But since bloggers write in a familiar genre that predates the Internet, they must also satisfy that genre's requirements even though they have taken the genre into a new forum. (37)
Even in a public diary, Schalchlin extends the promise of total and unmediated honesty: "Part of the 'deal' we have together — as diary writer and diary reader — is that I do not hide the times when I am an ass or a fool" (26 Apr. 1997). [...] Schalchlin's "deal," so reminiscent of Lejeune's autobiographical pact, underlines the popular concept of autobiography as requiring some kind of participation from, or even communion with, the reader, who accepts the writer's claims of identity and facticity, and believes in the autobiographer as a "real" person. (37)
Unlike the players in MUDs and MOOs, who take on the identities and characteristics of characters in a larger game, diarists play "themselves," but in a venue that seems disconnected from, if based on, their offline lives. Though these readers do not know the diarist outside of the context of her text, they believe her textual representation is "real," the flesh made digital. (37)
Although many online diarists use blogging software and hosting for their work, blogs and online diaries are not necessarily the same thing — at least not to purists in both camps. According to Ryan Kawailani Ozawa, the founder and lead editor of Diarist.net, "a traditional weblog is focused outside the author and his or her site. A web journal, conversely, looks inward — the author's thoughts, experiences, and opinions." (1)
Because online diarists themselves determine the criteria for excellence and select the award-winning sites, the Diarist.net Awards provide evidence of what writers of this genre value, as well as a useful starting point for critical interpretation.
although online diaries do not exist materially in the same way as print diaries do, they may in fact be more permanent in the sense that they can be copied and stored in an archival database. There is, in other words, a "technological rhythm" for online diaries that differs from the "biological rhythm" of paper (5)
An "about me" or "bio" page is a standard feature of online diaries, used by writers to provide autobiographical background in a more linear, narrative format than the diary entries allow. (6)
The "random facts" motif represents a database model of identity, a non-narrative model in which discrete pieces of information are collected and stored. In fact, the diary as a genre, particularly in its online form, constitutes a database of sorts, with information entered in discrete, chronologically-coded units (7)
Although a print diary is also structured like a database of entries, the self-representation it contains appears to be more continuous and unified by virtue of its being chronologically continuous, bound together in a book or notebook, and read linearly. For online diarists, writing on the computer and publishing on the network, the database form more thoroughly infuses self-representation. (8)
Sven Birkerts has pointed out this fundamental difference between print and electronic texts: "The print engagement is essentially private. While it does represent an act of communication, the contents pass from the privacy of the sender to the privacy of the receiver." In the electronic order, however, "engagement is intrinsically public, taking place within a circuit of larger connectedness" (122-23). Online diaries therefore not only challenge our current conception of diary writing as a private act, but also compel us to reconsider the boundaries of the private self in a culture characterized by connectivity via cell phones, email, pagers, and other communication technologies. (9-10)
...modify what they write in direct response to their awareness of the specifics of their multiple audiences. (10)
as Hogan puts it, "there is no subordination to suggest that one idea or event is more important than another; the clauses are 'equal' in grammatical structure and rhetorical force" (101). For Hogan, the parataxis at work in the diary represents the writer immersed in a flow of events, recording everything (or many things), and only later (if at all) reflecting on certain events and assigning greater significance to them than to others. Parataxis also engages the diary reader in assigning significance, and in the absence of transitions, making meaningful connections within and across entries. This paratactic structure and style distinguish the diary from typical narrative autobiographies. (13)
because parataxis is also the logic of the database, diaries translate or transcode well into the computer medium. (13)The function of links:
in contrast to a retrospective, linear narrative that leads up to an ending, a paratactic form doesn't have a logical reason to end, aside from running out of space. For online diaries, this constraint is even less significant than for print diaries. (13-14)
Links can establish connections between entries, and between one site and another; in Manovich's terms, links can provide the narrative that connects different elements in the database of the online diary. (14)
the most common method among regular readers of online diaries and the diarists themselves is to read across diaries — to move from one online diary to the next, reading only the most recent entries of each (15)
Although the Internet has been regarded as a medium more accommodating to men, most online diarists are women. (20)