Friday, June 23, 2006

Reflection, affinity, and self-cultivation

Jodi points to a thoughtful article adapted from a talk she gave last year on the nature of blogging. She is talking specifically to an academic audience about theory blogs (incidentally, a number of the blogs I read fairly regularly are steeped in theory, and it's a little overwhelming; I've read almost no theory, and I'm interested but not sure where to start), but her thoughts apply generally, as she notes here:

...theory blogging, as and with personal blogging, involves a kind of experiment in writing, in writing with others one may not know, in working through a sense of self through presentation. To be sure, the self that emerges, may not be the one that the author intends. Combinations of posts, over time, can produce the sense of a self that one might not have expected or designed.

At the moment, this blog is just about the only practical outlet I have for writing. In addition, though I do talk about things with my wife and my friends, and conversation is great and occasionally intellectually rewarding, it is nevertheless difficult to truly articulate, to work through, my own thoughts if I am not writing them, writing about them. And I think this is interesing, too, the idea that, based on what I manage to post about, a different self might emerge than the one I've projected to people, different than the one I might think I'm projecting while writing. Jodie goes on to say:

I’ve been arguing that theory blogs belie three assumptions about blogging in particular and networked communications in general, assumptions about speed, punditry, and self-indulgence. In contrast, my experience with blogs is that they allow for slower reflection, the emergence of spaces of affinity through specialized writing, and the experience of a presentation and cultivation of a self. And these three attributes of blogs—reflection, affinity, self-cultivation—necessarily traverse the old liberal division of the world into public and private spheres. This division does nothing to explain or express blog patterns. Most bloggers are not speaking to some kind of infinitely large audience that could mistakenly be deemed a public. Rather, they are speaking to strangers, to ones they do not and may not ever know.

Reflection, affinity, and self-cultivation, whether done in direct conversation with others via the comments feature, or less directly via responses to other blogs that one writes in one’s own way, on one’s own blog, are necessarily exclusive. This is obviously true when we recall the issues of language and access to technology. It is also true when we think of the topics and terminologies, the terms of art with which one thinks, the contexts to which Fish draws our attention. And, it is true when we recognize that one does not have time to read everything, respond to everything, link to everything, explain everything, to debate every single point. To offer one’s thoughts, one’s reflections on one’s life, then, is not enter into a discussion forum where one expects to have to defend every utterance or event from attack, to give reasons for everything one thinks or does. At the same time, it is also not to expect simple acquiescence, agreement, or praise from one who might happen on one’s post and decide to comment. The writing, the thinking, is rather different—more an exposure, invitation, or gift, an offering of one’s vulnerabilities in the hope that the one who accepts the offer will not simply respond, but will be responsive.

I agree with her general point here. Mainstream media attempts to characterize blogs and blogging tend to be oblivious to the kinds of blogs that I most appreciate. Which I guess is fine. My favorite blogs are not the ones that are necessarily updated multiple times a day; there are plenty of those that I do like and look at frequently, but they are often more glib and tossed off than I prefer. The ones I get the most out of tend to be updated less frequently and at somewhat greater length. Nevertheless, the speed of the internet weighs on me. So much appears online that I find edifying and thoughtful, that I am unable to respond to much of it. This is inevitable, of course, and the particulars of my own life--a full-time job, a lengthy commute, a young marriage, commitments to family and friends--mean that, for now, there is very limited time in which to compose my thoughts. I am frustrated with this lack of available time in which I may write and post. And now that it's out there, I feel a responsibility to the blog; I don't want it to lie fallow for too long. I feel like the world's slowest writer. In part this is because I spend too much time on each post, fretting over details (you may not have noticed), when, as Jodi says, in no way am I expected "to give reasons for everything" I think and do. This will, I trust, only get better with time and practice.

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