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.