Friday, September 08, 2017

The Blogger Function (1)

Jonathan raises a key issue in the comments to my last post. He points out that he does not consider my writing on this blog "bloggy" and considers me instead an "essayist who happens to use the blog form". But I want to insist that the questions I'm raising are not really matters of style or form. I want to say that they are questions of structure and function. To blog is not to write in a particular style, or publish in a particular form. Rather, blogging is an experience that is structured by a particular functionality.

If Barthes is right to define writing as "the morality of form", then I want define blogging in terms of a kind of functional ethics. (Wayne Booth called his ethics of reading The Company We Keep; I'll pick that thread up in part II.) This means that style doesn't really enter into it. You can blog as essayistically as I do here or as aphoristically as I'm now writing over at the Pangrammaticon. What makes it a blog is a structural coordination of the blogger and the audience.

Indeed, I want to say that I'm not blogging at the Pangrammaticon at all these days. I'm writing aphorisms and self-publishing them. The important difference is the lack of a comment field and my (relative) lack of interest in my daily views.

Blogging, in my experience, reduces writing to the short-term effects you have on your readers and they have on you. You try to have an immediate, essentially real-time impact on the discourse, which makes it much more like speech than writing. Jonathan makes an important observation in this regard:
[In] Laura Riding's essay on letters ... she tries to make a case for letters as a different sort of writing than literary writing, because of that social aspect. // Many forms of written communication have their quirks: letters, emails, texts, blog posts, face book entries, tweets, etc... Their particular ways of engaging with the interlocutor and the way in which responses can come. They are all written communications, though, and thus writing.
What I want to say, and I think here I'm following Barthes quite closely, is that you can't define "writing" simply by way of "written communication". It is possible to write a tweet in the formal sense I want to insist on and some writers have in fact tried to do this. But most tweets and a great many emails are much more like speech than like writing. Think of the way we end an email chain when we're arranging a meeting with a short message sent from our phone: "OK. See you then. / T." I don't want to call that writing. It's speech in another medium.

Writing requires a structural displacement in time and space. When you read a novel, you are reading something in a time and place that is completely distinct from the time and place of the writer. When writing it, you are immersed in an experience that is very different from what the reader will experience.

This is much less often the case with online writing, and I want to say that it is distinctly not the case when blogging. The blogger, like the reader, is online, often engaging with something that is happening in the moment. Though that moment of course reaches beyond the mere instant, it is nonetheless the sort of thing that passes, and often passes before the blogger manages to press "publish", causing a misfire in the discourse or simply a dud.

The blogger works, essentially, under that pressure, with that possibility in mind. This does affect the style of the writing, but not in any essential way. I worked for years in a style Jonathan correctly describes as essayistic, but my mood was "present" in way that is not typical of the essayist. Every other morning I got up knowing what I wanted to say to readers that I expected would read me within a few hours. I hoped that some of them would take the time to engage with me in the comments. It was relatively important to me how many hits I got in the first 24 hours and whether any of them came from Twitter.

With a tip of the hat to Michel Foucault that's the "blogger function". It's a particular kind of subjectivity that is established in the discourse. It is not a way of being an "author" or, like I say, even a "writer". Or that idea, in any case, that function, is what I'm trying to explore in these posts.