I’m Associate Professor of English and Media Studies at Pomona College, in Southern California, where I’ve taught since 1998. My first book, The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television was published late this summer. I’ve been blogging at Planned Obsolescence since mid-2002, and have used blogs in my teaching since Fall 2003. This semester, I’m teaching two senior seminars (one in English and one in Media Studies), and both are blogging. The English seminar, entitled “Writing Machines,” is also working on a collaborative wiki experiment, attempting to use the dynamically editable form of the wiki for the production of a multi-threaded, multi-vocal narrative. (They’ve just gotten started on this project, so there’s not much there yet, but it promises to be exciting.)
The paper that I’m presenting at BlogTalk — “The Pleasure of the Blog: The Early Novel, the Serial, and the Narrative Archive” — has, for better or for worse, morphed into the beginning of a book project (now tentatively entitled The Pleasure of the Blog: Authorship in the Age of the Internet). The more I researched, the more research I wanted to do, and the more I realized that the argument I’d hoped to make was too large for a single article. I’m still madly at work on the segment that I’ll be presenting in Vienna, but will hope to be able to post a paper-in-process soon.
I begin my journey to BlogTalk on Thursday, September 28, arriving in Paris on Friday, September 29, where I’ll be staying with a friend for two days. I travel to Vienna on Sunday, October 1, arriving in the evening, and then return from Vienna to Paris on Wednesday, October 4. (Then home to California on Friday, October 6.) I’m staying at the Strandhotel Alte Donau, so I’ll look forward to some late night conversations there.
The Pleasure of the Blog: The Early Novel, the Serial, and the Narrative Archive
Blogs have in the last couple of years loomed large in the western imagination, but the ideas about blogs that have circulated both through the mainstream (particularly U.S.) media and through academic circles have been extremely limited in scope. In the first place, there is a common distinction at work in the U.S. imaginary between “blogs,” which are assumed on some level to be doing public work, whether political, technical, academic, or journalistic, and “online diaries,” which are primarily personal, if not exactly private. The personal blogs often mistakenly labeled “online diaries,” as well as the more apparently diaristic forms such as LiveJournal, are too often dismissed as the narcissistic rantings of teenage girls and other hysterics, a nonsensical — and, not incidentally, hyper-feminine — form of oversharing. Such a dismissal, however, overlooks the important work that such personal blogs are doing in helping to construct what might be morphing into a new literary form.
In fact, western literary history can shed some important light on the current state of personal blogging. As Nancy Armstrong has argued, the English novel has its roots in the domestic practices and personal writing of middle-class eighteenth-century women. Such early fiction, moreover, was frequently structured in ways that seem familiar to contemporary blog-readers, mimicking the forms of exchanges of letters or of diaries. These two factors combine to suggest that blogs that are interested in the ongoing production of a personal narrative are in fact poised to become a literary form with all of the resonance and sophistication of the novel.
But of course, such comparisons to traditional print literature only go so far in attempting to account for the aesthetic potential of the blog. Theories of digital media must come into play, as the authors of personal blogs create, through a diachronic series of postings, not simply a narrative but rather a first-person narrative archive of the self. Such an archive, or database, bears certain things in common with other serialized media forms, such as television, in which the viewer’s interest is obtained and maintained through the delay of resolution and the ongoing production of conflicts and complications. But the fact that the narrative here takes on a non-linear, database-driven form, suggests that ideas of seriality in the blog must be complicated through their intersection with the notion of the “database narrative” explored by Marsha Kinder and Lev Manovich. Such a meshing of notions of seriality with an understanding of the database, particularly as combined with a willingness to approach the blog as an incipient literary form, may help deepen our thinking about the blog as an aesthetic production — and, in particular, about where the pleasures in reading blogs originate.