Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More On Writing

Ok, so that post last night worked wonders and I'm feeling all chatty and like I've got ideas again. So, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself because this means that the advice that I always give to my students about writing about why one can't write actually helping one to write is not just crap I spout but actually true.

But so on the writing agenda today and in the coming days is a conference paper. And so this evening I've been glancing through the proposal I wrote an age ago, making many notes, refreshing myself on the theory that I'm piecing together in order to make my argument - you know, all of the basic pre-writing stuff. This is my process for academic writing: I start with the bare bones, the scaffold, and then from there I choose the specific passages that I plan to discuss. (That will happen tomorrow.) Then I flesh out my reading of passages, hammer out the theory, and then deal with critical fleshing out. Once I've done all of that, I then move into, "let's make this a complete draft" mode, and then there are usually one or two revisions from that point before I have what I'd call a "final draft" which isn't really final, but which would suffice if there were some sort of apocalypse and I had to give the paper as is without further tweaking.

You'll note that this process is very different from my process with blogging. With blogging, I start with an idea. And then I come up with a title, and usually the title is some dumb thing like the one above. And then I write. Until I feel like I'm done. And then I stop writing and I hit publish. Voila!

But what's been interesting to me as I've been doing the preliminary stuff for the conference paper tonight is that I'm really thinking about the same things in each medium. The thing that has been preoccupying me research-wise for the past few years is, to put it in the broadest terms, how we connect notions of the author or authority to write with individual texts and collections of texts that get assigned a particular author's name. I'm thinking about this specifically in terms of women's writing, and I'm thinking about it in relation to broader ideas about the canon and how some texts get positioned as within the dominant canon of literature and some texts get put into parallel, marginalized canons - and then how still some other texts seem to fall into multiple canons.

Now, what does this have to do with the stuff I've considered in terms of blog-writing and blog-persona stuff, you might be asking. Well. I'm thinking tonight that taking on a persona through which to compose texts and group them has allowed me to (in a very casual way) play around with some of the things that I'm arguing in my academic work. At the heart of each of these projects (the blog, the loosely grouped collection of conference papers and articles I've done over the past three years) is the central question: what is the relationship between author and text, and how does that relationship inform readers' responses and judgments?

I started thinking about this tonight as I was looking over Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge. Consider this passage:

"Generally speaking, it would seem, at first sight at least, that the subject of the statement is precisely he who has produced the various elements, with the intention of conveying meaning. Yet things are not so simple. In a novel, we know that the author of the formulation is that real individual whose name appears on the title page of the book (we are still faced with the problem of dialogue, and sentences purporting to express the thoughts of a character; we are still faced with the problem of texts published under a pseudonym: and we know all the difficulties that these duplications raise for practitioners of interpretive analysis when they wish to relate these formulations, en bloc, to the author of the text, to what he wanted to say, to what he thought, in short, to that great silent, hidden, uniform discourse on which they build that whole pyramid of different levels); but, even apart from those authorities of formulation that are not identical with the individual/author, the statements of the novel do not have the same subject when they provide, as if from the outside, the historical and spatial setting of the story, when they describe things as they would be seen by an anonymous, invisible, neutral individual who moves magically among the characters of a novel, or when they provide, as if by an immediate, internal decipherment, the verbal version of what is silently experienced by a character. Although the author is the same in each case, although he attributes them to no one other than himself, although he does not invent a supplementary link between what he is himself and the text that one is reading, these statements do not presuppose the same characteristics for the enunciating subject; they do not imply the same relation between this subject and what is being stated" (93).

Now, this is an incredibly dense passage, and I'm not going to provide a careful reading of it here. But I think that this is what I'm really trying to work out - the relation between the subject and what is being stated, how duplications and "authorities of formulation" work on what the reader (or even writer) might perceive as "meaning." Is it possible to separate out the different levels of discourse within one collection of words? If it is, what do we find when we do so? And how might that compromise our desire to see writing as that which expresses and communicates, even as writing necessarily does express and communicate, but what if that's not all it does?

And if that's not all it does, is there any such thing as "personal" writing? Sure, there can be writing that feels personal or that we respond to as personal, but what if the act of writing, any writing, is a public act? And if it is, then doesn't the pose of "personality" work only as a pose - isn't there something impersonal about all writing? And if that's the case, then that really has the potential to throw a wrench into certain critical desires to link writing with the expression of the personal as a political act because, really, there's no such thing as expressing the personal in language. Writing the personal (or the body, or emotions, or whatever), is only another form of publicity. Which has the potential to bring us back to a pretty conservative notion of the what constitutes great writing (think T.S. Eliot in "Tradition and the Individual Talent"). And that seems like a step backward, so what if there's a way for us to reconfigure how we think about the "personal" and "writing the body" and all the rest that allows us to think of such writing in another register. What if it's no longer personal vs. impersonal or private vs. public but something that moves in and out of the two?

Yes, these are the thoughts that are meandering through my head. And I don't know if they make sense, and I don't know if the way that I'm thinking about this has the necessary level of complexity in order really to make an argument. But. This is the crap I'm working out both in my research and in my blog-writing. Now, it may not seem that way when you read my silly posts about my cat and stuff, but I think that it is at the heart of working in this medium for me - this is the experiment, ultimately, and I've always conceived of it as an experiment. Now, there have been times when I've veered away, lost the thread, but in working on other stuff today, and after posting last night, I'm feeling less of a split between the blog and the work than I've felt recently. I'm feeling like I'm coming to something in both forms, though I'm not sure what that "something" is.


Sisyphus said...

Interesting .... I've been wondering if the whole concept of the "personal" is going away, or transforming, or something .... what with Butler's notions of gender (or identity in general) as a performance and the increased emphasis on celebrity and public culture, and with the body replaced by the cyborg in theoretical models, or even the "rhizomatic" (guess which theorist Sisyphus hasn't actually read!) .... perhaps the whole sense of the "personal" or "individual" is being exploded into some new sort of thing.

Having written that I see it's long and makes no sense, but this was what was in my head as I read your post.

Horace said...

Of course all of this is contingent on how you define the subject, and how that subject comes into being within discourses of power--In History of Sexuality I, Foucault suggests that one enters into subjectivity at the moment of confession--a moment in which the confession is already (dare I say always-already?) shaped by the discourses of power...

So to say anything is purely, uniquely personal, at least in a Foucauldian framework, is a naive fantasy.

But, BUT! Just because utterances are produced and inflected by discourses of power doesn't mean they can't reciprocally inflect those very discourses. We remember that "there is now outside of culture," but this doesn't mean we are powerless within it.

In this way, writing is part of the static noise of culture, and is itself static noise, full of all kinds of resonances, patterns, and intentions, some of we we can pull out now, some of which we'll be able to articulate later, with new vocabularies, new perspectives, some of which are both artifacts of culture and interventions into culture.

Aw hell, I've just blathered on with no real point, but keep talking. I'm with you (and happy to return an old favor of reading anything in progress).

Horace said...

Just to contextualize the last comment--this directly connects with my own book project...so disregard as the ramblings of someone lost in his own labyrinth...

Kjerstin said...

Although I'm one of those people who feel heavily alienated by words like "discourse", I find this post interesting because it reminds me of why I gave up keeping a diary after having tried for a year or so as a teenager. I started it because I needed a place to vent (being a teenager and all), and in order to make sure I would write things as they came out of my head, I promised myself that I would never read any of it. Still, after a while I realised that I was nevertheless keeping up a pose when writing - I was writing as if someone would read it, trying to make myself look better than I was. That realisation took all meaning out of the project, and I've never kept a diary since.

I think this is why I've never considered blogging under a pseudonyme, too. I think the diary experience made me want to go to the other extreme, by always trying to construct a clear sender in my writing, and that's why I knew from the start that I would blog under my real name.

Being far from familiar with your field of research, I'm not at all sure this has anything to do with what you were talking about. Still, ever since the failed diary project, I've found these mechanisms interesting.

Dr. Crazy said...

S: It's like you're inside my brain, as all of what you note is the context in which I'm working - totally. And I've been having a minor flirtation with Deleuze and Guattari, but I've not yet figured out how they fit into it all :)

H: No need to provide the apologetic context! One of the things that I find interesting about Foucault's account of subjectivity in HS v. I, though, is that there is an alternate possibility that he only briefly discusses - yes, the *modern* subject comes into being through confession, but F. also talks about the ars erotica, which offers a model for the subject to emerge through practices rather than discourse. Now, at the end of HS v. I, Foucault offers the possibility of a "new" version that would combine or take parts of the ars erotica and scientia sexualis, but he doesn't develop it. I think that this is crucial to what F. says about biopower, and I think it may be the key to trying to think about the subject in the 21st century. Perhaps there's something about bringing confession together with performance and practice that carves out something that is both personal and impersonal at the same time - that is rooted in a discourse of the body but that doesn't pathologize that body or mark it as the other (esp. in the case of the female body) through which the subject emerges. (Not sure if that makes sense at all - I'm pretty much thinking out loud here.) And we should talk about your book! I feel like we're coming at the same thing but from slightly different angles. And thanks for the offer to read the work in progress! Depending on the progress in the next couple of days, I may take you up on that!

K: Thanks for your comment! You know, it's interesting, I'm not sure that your project is entirely different from mine - only for me I suppose the pseudonym brought the need to project a clear sender to the forefront for me - when I write as "me" I think that the sender is obvious (which it isn't, necessarily) but perhaps that's because I've kept diaries in various forms since I was 12 and was comfortable with the form? Writing publicly, with an identity that I had to construct, forced me to think about that identity as a projection in ways that I don't when I write as "me." That's then translated into my writing as "me," though, because now I do have a clearer sense of the mechanics of developing a voice, which before I only understood subconsciously, if that makes sense. And don't be alienated by the word "discourse" - it's just a fancy way of saying talking or writing :)

Virtually Actual said...

I'd be interested to see what you're thinking about w/r/t/ the "other stuff" of writing that isn't expressive or meaningful or whatever. It brought to mind Denise Riley's Impersonal Passions: Language as Affect though I'm not sure "affect" is what you're aiming at.

Noontide Songster said...

Great post...It makes me think that perhaps a "persona" can actually be something liberating. Sometimes I find other people's diaries not particularly interesting to read (unless these are people who are already interesting in some other ways--in other words, people who have already projected themselves into the public world), because in a strange sort of way, when given the chance to talk about ourselves freely, we talk in remarkably similar ways. I think it is because when I write as "me," I tend to fall back on some sort of basic, undifferentiated "humanness." It's a little like the skin and what lies under it. The skin may seem superficial, but without it we are all essentially the same animal. So, in a way, it is appearance that makes us interesting. I also thought of Blanchot's "The Narrative Voice" when I read your post. I wonder if what you are saying here has to do with the voice as well...