Monday, January 28, 2008

Three Excruciatingly Personal Blog Entries, No. 1A

Two days ago, I posted an entry that began like this:

The new academic year is about to descend upon us, and all kinds of cycles are drawing to a close. I'm now into my second year of breast cancer treatment, and settled into a routine of monthly injections and daily tablets. The blog has also seen me through an entire cycle of applying for a research grant (this was one of its initial aims), through first-time rejection to second-time success. I've finally made the breakthrough of making the Garter book my highest priority, the first thing I do on a good day, while I'm also just about managing to juggle the several other projects I have in hand, as well as fulfilling my teaching and administrative obligations.

It seems to me that the Humanities Researcher blog may also be winding up this phase in its life. Before I make any big decisions, though, I have in mind to write three long posts. Each will be full of embarrassing personal revelations, and each will test to the limit the territory I think of this blog as inhabiting, as space in which I attempt to reason my way through some of the personal and emotional vicissitudes of intellectual work in academic and familial communities. This first entry takes its spark from a recent event, and will become a second-order meditation on privacy and the personal in the poetic text: the relationship between poetry and life, if you will. The second will be the long-promised Menopause Post. Third will be the most embarrassing of all, when we move from emotions and the body to the world of spirit.



The entry then launched into a long post that did indeed test to the limit my sense of how personal a blog entry could be. It was about a poem written by a former partner that seemed to refer to me by a mole on my shoulder. I might not even have seen the poem, except that my beloved spoke to me about it. The blog entry then tried to untangle the knot of emotions about poems (and blogs) that seem to refer so closely to people's intimate lives, and the way poems (and blogs) can be read as personalised messages, while seeming to be impersonal or intellectual or artistic exercises. I wrote about how uncomfortable, even angry, I had felt previously (sixteen or seventeen years ago) when people would ask me about the poems the poet had written about me after our break-up, even though they could be read perfectly well without knowing anything about me (or him, for that matter). Despite our best formalist reading practices, we still love a good autobiographical reading. And how much more so with blogging.

I wrote, as I say, to test the limits of what I felt my blog could do; and I still plan to write the next two entries in the series. But if the test of this is "how do you sleep at night?", the answer is, "very badly indeed". That's two nights, now, I have been awake between three and five, anxious about the potential for damage and hurt and the infringement of others' privacy. So I've deleted the bulk of that post. (Of course, I've kept a copy for myself. You never know!) I'm keeping the comments box alive there, because part of this process is rehearsed there, in the remarks of some of the bloggers I admire most; and as usual, Pavlov's Cat has helped me articulate how I feel. And of course I'm glad they got to read the post. But now I'm glad its potential for emotional damage has been restricted. I must also thank the blogger who wrote to me off-line (I had you in mind as I was writing, I hope you realise!).

If you missed that post, you haven't missed any great or scandalous revelations; heavens, the poem in question is far more revelatory of whoever that woman is than my blog entry was about the poem's readers!

I wonder, though, am I cheating the blog genre, by putting out my post and winning such lovely engaged comments from my readers, and then withdrawing it?

I remember being very struck by reading Ross Chambers' Story and Situation, in which he distinguished between narrative and narratorial authority. Narrative authority belongs to the story-teller at the beginning of the narration, and is gradually passed on to the reader as the story is told, as they take possession, as it were, of the story. But by giving their attention, and hopefully, their admiration for the way the story is told, the reader or listener gives back narratorial authority. It seems to me that this episode is in large part about narratorial authority. Who gets to write about whose body, and publishes it where? And who reads that text, and who gives that text to someone else? And in the case of a blog, who gets to post, and who gets to delete?

But in terms of my three Excruciatingly Personal Blog Entries that test the limits of the blog, this has got to be a definite strike. Two more to go.

5 comments:

meli said...

I don't think you're cheating the blog genre, just exploring it, and reflecting eloquently on the process.

Meredith said...

Poems go through many drafts and can take years to write. Poets have a long time to reflect on what they're "putting out there". Blogging though, is so much more immediate. And part of its beauty is than an editing process can take place after publication, as you have demonstrated so beautifully here. Last year I deleted all mentions of cancer from my own blog because they made me feel so vulnerable.

Kathleen said...

There's an authority to the lapsus, but it seems to consist in curiosity, or the idea of self-control - like those comments that say "This comment has been deleted by the author." I don't think of them as a form of self-censorship, but rather as a form of self-control.

I think about how much of my academic work, when I am editing a document, involves thinking around the lapsus, wondering what's been left out, what sense I can make of it by patching it back together...which in some ways contradicts what I think about self-control and blogging. The Chambers' reference is really interesting in that regard - I'm off to read that, thanks!

This comment doesn't make a lot of sense yet - but thanks for this two blog entries. They have really got me thinking.

Stephanie Trigg said...

You know that expression about human emotions? "I don't know what I feel until I hear it from my own mouth?" Or the perennial expression of lots of humanities scholars, "I don't know what I think until I've written it."

What's the equivalent for blogging? "I don't know how I feel about what I've written until I've posted it"?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Heh. My version of the former has always been 'How can I know what I think till I see what I say?'

In the case of blogging it might be more that you don't know how you feel about what you've posted till you've posted it.