Saturday, March 24, 2007

Blogging and identity ...

"In any net interaction we can pretend to be somebody else. Interactivity is now spreading through all media. The ontological transformation involved is seldom noted. Interactivity extends the self and offers alternatives. I, for example, recently started a weblog, thinking it was just another form of writing. It isn't, it is a performance in which the performer is constantly in flux, modifying himself with each response. I have begun to feel that Bryan Appleyard the blogger is not I. Or perhaps the flesh-and-blood I has become the blogger I. My Singularity is, indeed, near; it may already have happened."
- Bryan Appleyard, How to Live Forever or Die Trying

I wonder, though. Isn't writing also a kind of performance? Are we ever not performing? Of course, as I have frequently pointed out, I am myself a blissfully shallow individual.


  1. Anonymous8:13 AM

    Yes but which I are you, Frank: the blissfully shallow one, the one who frequently points this out, or perhaps a third- silent but scornful of these play-actors? Though perhaps there is another I; silent but pitying of the silent but scornful. And ......

  2. Yes, it does go on, doesn't it, Andrew? I think my most authentic self is the "I' who writes poetry, but that I's principal skill lies in taking dictation accurately and precisely.

  3. When I was studying anthrology and folklore in grad school in the 1980s, I came across performance theory, and the writing of Victor Turner. Although it turned out to be one of those academic theories that has only limited application, in real fieldwork, I found the ideas in it to be very compelling. One principle idea of performance theory is that any mask you present as a public face to the world, in ceremony, in public speaking, in reading a speech, is a performance.

    Some years later, in talking to some gay friends about performance theory ideas, one man turned to me and said something along the lines of, "Look, it's ALL drag. Everything you wear is drag. Girl drag, boy drag, school drag, uniform drag, naked drag, work drag, play drag—it's ALL drag." What I take from that is that all clothing is a presentation, a performance of self. You wear different clothes on different occasions, and thus present different selves to the world at different times.

    So, any presentation of self is a performance. However, and it's a big however, there are difference scales of authenticity within performance. So, I can on one day be presenting my post authentic self. (Frank, I feel very close to what you say about taking dictation when writing a poem; I also feel that way when creating music.) On another day, I can

    I think one of the keys to this, and it ties into what Jung said about the authentic self, is that the more consciously one presents one's various selves, and the more consciously one engages with others, the more integrated and authentic one tends to become oneself. We grow into our true selves by always paying attention to the process, perhaps.

  4. By the time I am done writing this response, I will not be the same "I" who is now beginning, or the one who began it some words ago now.

    I went to see Mark Doty in Newburyport a couple nights ago--where, by the way, he said that for him, writing became a meeting ground of people's interiors--as he spoke of his new memoir "Dog Years". One point he brought out during the Q&A, was that the book would have been different if it had been written while the occurrences were going on, that memories are soaked--I don't know what word he used--or seeped in feelings.

    On the way home, I was thinking how there was a lttile kid of me, who was 5-years-old once, whose memories I have as if they are mine, which seem to have some continuity with my life. But, he is not me. He had other priorities, could not have fathomed this blog post I am writing now, nor any of the directions my life has taken--although I fathom them just fine. In fact they are very natural and are givens for me.

    When I read this "Blogging and identity . . ." post, I was thinking how in my psychology training, we studied the "I" several times, and how there was a book, "The Minds I" that I enjoyed. I thought maybe I should jog my memory into some of the thought patterns that I learned, in order to both process this subject studiously through my "I"-ness, so that I might add to this conversation. I decided that would be like asking the 5-year-old me to be represented in this conversation instead of the "I" I am, or have been most recently.

    I thought of the blog post over at Clattery MacHinery, The Ella Wheeler Wilcox Top 30 Countdown, how I had her poem "The Ship and the Boat" well into the top 20, then when I was readying to post, moved it down to number 30, just making the cut--and how after that, I thought maybe I was right in the first place, that it has a lot to it to make it place higher than #30. Who was that, who decided it should be #30? It wasn't me, I assure you.

    As I write this, I am not 100% sure that what I have written is representative of what I want to say. Thinking these thoughts in just this way is new to me, and I may soon find that either I did not express myself just right, or that, once again, I will sooner or later become someone who will disagree with whoever I am now.

    If I ever were to become a stable "I", will I agree with myself, or will this have been someone else's thoughts? Or, is there a stable "I" trying to get through to you all through whomever this "me" is writing this blog?


    Art slipped in--I loof forward to thinking about his comment later.

  5. Anonymous12:07 PM

    In a bit of a rush so just to add a recommendation for the mercurial writing of Victor Pelevin, particularly Clay Machine Gun or Buddha's Little Finger as I think it's titled in the US. The I seems a creation of the mind or Mind, so we're inevitably directed towards the mystic territories of experiencing mind in order to experience pure I. I think therefore the I that I think I am appears to be.

  6. Anonymous5:21 PM

    In my rush, forgot to mention that this kind of area where Pelevin is extremely sparkling.

  7. I don't know Victor Pelevin's work, but it sounds intriguing.

  8. Don't know what you are all talking about. "I" was made redundant as a concept following cutbacks in the second half of the 20th century (or rationalisations, as they were euphemistically called). In fact, "I" was one of the first to be let go. Sadly, it now spends its time in the garden of authenticity smoking roll-ups and pruning roses. It occasionally visits other out-of-work concepts, like moral norm (among friends its just plain old norm), class and, the most recent casualty, democracy.

  9. And here I thought, Neil, that "I" was still employed - or at least looking for work. If what you say is so, "I" is (am?) just another slacker.

  10. Anonymous4:12 AM

    In another rush, but if you want to dip your toe in Pelevin's waters, some stories from The Blue Lantern are excellent. The title story of A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia superb also(what a title!).One often sees books or writers described as hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny, whereas I rarely if ever find this matched by the reality; Pelevin, however, a real exception.

  11. One needn't make reference to "performance theory" to understand the issue. Anyone read "Borges and I" ("Borges y Yo") lately? It's only one of his most famous short essays. It appeared in "Labyrinths" (1962) and "Dreamtigers" (1972), but I can't find when it was originally written in Spanish (probably much earlier).

    In it, Borges posits two people named "Borges" ("The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to") -- the writer created by his writings, and this Borges, the personal one, the "real" one. Borges being Borges, he playfully confuses things ("I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography" -- a good trick when you're blind). But then, theirs is a complicated connection, one with certain tensions: "It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me."

    Utlimately, it's even a tragic relationship, a trap, the writer and his writing, even human consciousness or self-awareness itself -- just another one of Borges' impenetrable labyrinths: "Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

    "I do not know which of us has written this page."

  12. "Borges and I" appeared in 1970, in "The Maker," which is one of Borges collection of Fictions. Speaking of uncertainty about what is what. Is it an essay, or a fiction? With Borges, you never really know, and he doesn't always tell you, hence some scholars call his work "meta-fiction." Certainly "Dreamtigers" contains wonderufl prose-poems.

    Even more appropriate to the discussion is the story "The Other" from the 1975 story collection "The Book of Sand." In that story, the narrator, Borges, tells how he met his younger self on a park bench overlooking the river. His younger self is dreaming the encounter, and so forgets it, while his older self is waking, and so remembers; and further, when first sitting down on the bench experiences a moment of strong deja vu, which begins the encounter.

    In all this, here's something to think about: It's very easy to follow the ego's lead and assume that "I" is the label of the self, and the Self. But in fact that's an error. The "I" can get all tangled up in self-reflexivity and mirrors, but if it is not rotted in a sense of being part of a larger self, it has no ground and cannot get its bearings.

    In fact, the "I" is not the self, or the Self, but only a part of it. The ego-personality "I" is the self's interface with the world, like that computer screen you're looking at right now. It's easy to think that the screen is all there is to our computer, and cyberspace, because it's the visible part that you actively interact with—that you interface with. In fact, it's only a two-dimensional process created by many layers of hidden working, that you as the user never see. The screen can only look outwards on the world, furthermore; it cannot turn around and look inside itself. It's a necessary interface, and a flexible and powerful one, capable of changing colors and presenting different selves. But none of those "I"s are the totality of the self. The useful concept from performance theory is about choosing to present which screen you present consciously, knowing that it's a screen, and a performance, and that there is a lot more going on, unseen, behind the projection screen, that nobody sees. Including, for most people, themselves.

  13. According to James Woodall's biography of Borges, "Borges and I" appeared in "Dreamtigers" in 1973, yet bookfinder lists an EP Dutton edition from 1970.

    Just to indicate what a labyrinth all of this is: Woodall lists no such Borges collection as Mr. Durkee's "The Maker" and neither does any other reference I can find -- but then, "Dreamtigers" was originally translated from "El Macador" which, of course, is Spanish for "The Maker." "Borges and I" does appear in "Labyrinths," an earlier selected anthology, which Woodall lists as printed in 1970, but I have a New Directions edition from 1962.

    Woodall prefaces his bibliogaphy with the five-page long "A Note on the Texts Used" in which he briefly outlines what a mess Borges' published writings are in ("In English, unfortunately, the problems deepen"). I am not citing Woodall here as any sort of supreme authority (note the discrepancies with his dates and those of the editions I've found); he's just a convenient one and one that explicitly acknowledges the problems.

    My larger point still stands: I don't see this question of identity as necessarily pertaining to blogging at all. It's a literary one. Appleyard borrows wholesale, consciously or not, from "Borges and I."

  14. Quoth:

    The making of poems does not a poet make; there is more to it than that, though what is hard to say. Something sets the poet apart from other creative artists, something ideally recognized as deserving of special consideration even by the philosoper-king of yore. But what in an ancient mode was both misdirection and too close an approach to logos has become in the modern view an investment of self in its projection, not merely of voice or of the linguistic matrix fashioned by the poet, but of some spiritual relict as well. What had been ascribed to some daemon now has biographical consequence; inspiration is drawn not from without, but from somewhere within. The poem retains its creator in imago, as the poet is seen to be composed largely of words.

    This is classic self-justification. Painters say almost exactly the same sort of things about painting. (And usually, in their next breath, say something negative about photography, printing, etc.) Dancers say almost the same thing about dancing. Musicians have been known to say the same thing about music-making, although perhaps not quite as often as poets do. (After all, musicians don't use words to describe everything, the way poets do.)

    Poets, who are so dependent on language for all things, tend to be very self-justifying about their art. I have to laugh when I hear a poet claim that "poetry is the highest art form," or greatest, etc.—because pretty much everyone else in the arts says similarly self-justifying things. It's a habit that says more about self-esteem than it does about any putative hierarchy amongst the arts.

    There's no mystery about it: A poet is one who writes poems. There's no secret handshake, or non-poetic cachet or aura, that "something else" that's required. That's a lot of baloney. It's like saying you have to wear black to be an artist, or wear a tweed jacket and smoke a pipe to be an English professor.

    Now, that is a performance, if you think you have to "dress the part" in order to be the person. In terms of the ceremonial presentation of self, via performance theory, this makes my case for me.

    There doesn't need to be any mystery about it, either. A musician makes music, a poet makes poems, a painter makes paintings. Why complicate it so?

    Now, if you want to get into the issue about self-described poets who write really bad poems all the time, well, that's another issue.

    I wouldn't say that Rod McKuen was a good, or even great poet, but he did deserve the label of poet. The fact that we, as critical readers, might disparage his work, doesn't mean he wasn't a poet. Again, quality is another issue entirely.

    With reference to Borges, I was referring to "El hacedor," or "The Maker," published 1960. (Sorry, I meant to type 1960 but typed 1970.) One of my sources is the Collected Fictions, but I also have the English edition of "Dreamtigers," from 1964, which is the first prose-poem in the collection, in which of course "Borges & I" also appears. (Sorry I didn't include the Spanish in all instances as well as the English. Je suis desolée.)

    "El hacedor" is a collection that contains both prose-poems and traditionally lined and metric poems It's complete Spanish text can be found at:

    Considering that "Borges & I" appears in an anthology of prose-poems and more traditional poems, and not a collection of essays—even given Borges' usual cross-pollination among genres, and his deliberate blurring of boundaries between genres—coupled with the fact that most editors have seen fit to anthologize "Borges & I" in such anthologies as Collected Fictions, I would never label "Borges & I" as an essay. A prose-poem in essay form? Certainly. But not purely an essay.

  15. In a Solomonic compromise, shall we put "Borges and I" -- as the editors of "Labyrinths" did -- among his "Parables"?

    Actually, one of the prose forms that Borges, it could be said, "invented" is the short story that takes the shape of an essay or reflective inquiry. And vice versa. That's one reason many of his medium-short pieces are so hard to type. Some of the stories don't really "conclude their narratives" because, it turns out, Borges wasn't really "telling a story" all along. By the end, he's trying to make a philosophical point, and the inconclusive story was just part of his argument.

    As for the blunder of "el macedor" for "el hacedor" -- Je prie votre remission.

  16. Here's an interesting and post-Borgesian bit of meta-fictional hypertext: