Bracketed self

[bracketed self]

Turbulent Velvet has argued emphatically regarding one of my favorite issues in the blogging debate: audience. He revised out some of the great bits about the loss of control one feels writing for an indeterminate, generalized audience, i.e., how can you selectively invite in those we feel most comfortable talking to, allowing a higher amount of disclosure and less back story, but left in the core conflict: writing for an audience that could be anyone.

I got caught in this sort of weird writer’s thing a while back, where it seemed like I was continually writing an introduction over and over and over ad nauseum. Finally, I stopped. Well, sort of. Just a few days ago I attempted to explain my philosophical position (a sophistic world view) in order to provide some sort of underpinning to my rejection of certain aspects of postmodern, structure-free, conceptions of self. Reading several essays by Ricoeur today, the distance between text and conversation, between blog and real world persona, became clearer to me. I have not constructed a utilitarian persona to combat the problem of writing for any random surfer that might happen by, nor attempted to develop a focused “blogging identity” so that consistent readers might get an intended impression of me. I have chosen instead to just write.

And writing is what it is. It occasionally resembles conversation, because I react and respond to things I read in blogs that I follow, but ultimately, it’s still writing. I think about writing a lot, not just because I am a writing teacher, but because writing has gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past. I made the mistake of thinking that I knew someone, because of what they wrote, and believing that they knew me, because of what I wrote. It’s a dangerous error. Perhaps that’s ultimately why I became so interested in rhetoric. I paid a big price for believing in writing as a reliable vehicle for the expression of inner states.

My favorite two sentences in I.A. Richards’ Philosophy of Rhetoric are these:

Words are not a medium in which to copy life.

Their true work is to restore life itself to order.

My appreciation of this role reversal was increased by reading more Ricoeur. One of the attractive parts of immersing myself in the study of literature was the impression, however misguided, that if I read deeply and passionately enough I could see the author back behind the words: their good points, their failings, and most of all their struggle to understand this world. Ricoeur labels this a romantic fallacy in reading, and finally years later I’ve finally come to a place where I agree.

Previously, the choice seemed fairly simple. A text can be read as an artifact, self-contained and separate from its author (the “New Critical” approach) or it can be read as a socially and historically constructed artifact which is inseparable from the context of the author both in terms of power relations (Marxist approaches), psychological state, and demands arising from genre considerations. I had always opted for the latter group of plural responses, seeing works as a conversation between the author and his time. Ricoeur offers a third choice. The choice is somewhat similar to “reader-response” criticism, but not exactly the same. The tenets of reader-response suggest that what is important in a text is what a reader’s reaction is. This is problematic, because no two people read a text the same way, so it lacks the capacity to promote a generalized reading. However, Ricoeur places the choices on a continuum that is very interesting. We can look at the surface of a text, try to look behind the text, or, focus on where real interpretation happens: in the “possible world” created outside the text, as it is placed in new contexts.

This is where the postmodern view of texts really shines, I think. Attempting to communicate through texts effectively eclipses not only the author, but the reader as well. What is formed when we read is a possible world where we impose an order, based on words, to our conception of the ideas behind those words. It’s an imperfect thing to be sure. That’s why I really love Richard’s conception of rhetoric: “the art of avoiding misunderstanding.” Ricoeur makes another distinction which just rang with me, regarding the difference between speech and writing:

Conversational speech presents; writing represents.

Think about that for a second. The prefix re has two functions. One is to do something again; this would of course be the Platonic view of texts, to be sure. However, re also means to go deeper. That’s why I write in this blog mostly. Not to join the global group-hug conversation (though I do admit that it is fun) but instead, largely for myself, just to go deeper into those ideas inside my head.

I am my primary audience. Period. To share with others is a great thing though, and I confess that I often strive to be entertaining and engaging. But this is secondary, and must remain so if this blog is to be useful to me. Otherwise, it’s just another trip back to high school, without the drugs and sex. I don’t think that would be nearly as much fun.

But the “I” of which I speak will always remain a sort of bracketed self, the self who writes. It is not identical with the self that sits alone, and lives with the choices it has made. It is only this bracketed self that is in play in the panopticon of web discourse. Those who have access to my physical self, have displayed absolutely no interest in my bracketed, blog self. My situation is a bit different than some; in my local, physical world, as BB King says “nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving too.” So I write freely, and at ease with this scattered mess, because I know that there is a big difference between the real world, and the world that lives in texts. With work, texts can help make the real world make sense; but they constitute possibilities, not actualities. I quit selling myself a long time ago; now I concentrate more on avoiding misunderstanding.

1 thought on “Bracketed self”

  1. Uh…
    I started blogging at a job (still do, or the libes: I don’t own a computer) so I started with a fake name so nobody would fire me. Also, I didn’t tell anybody who knows me (a considerable majority in Portland) about MMO because I wanted to feel free, not trapped by the expectations of others. When my blog turned up in a popular music mag, though, the cat was out of the bag. Even my fucking parents read it now! So, no more naked ladies, much less gratuitous cussing, in short: restrictions on the freedom of anonymity. So I have other blogs now that nobody fucking knows about.

    I blog for an ‘audience’ that I only dream of: it will be composed of the people who, clicking my links, like what I like. I notice that you, AKMA, duemer & the whole blogerati, while being sufficiently (sometimes startlingly) erudite and sensible, make an awful lot of statements. I think it may be the reason for all yr ambivalence and hair-pulling and not-sleeping!

    Six ounces of love

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