Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I'm an inveterate ripper-out of newspaper articles, turner-down of page corners and magpie for quotes. This one caught my eye the other day: it's by the formidable American journalist, Janet Malcolm:
"The invented I of journalism" as Malcolm calls it, is not a stable entity. One of the things she realised early on in her writing career was that, she says, "this 'I' was a character, just like the other characters. It's a construct. And it's not the person who you are. There's a bit of you in it. But it's a creation. Somewhere I wrote, 'the distinction between the I of the writing and the I of your life is like Superman and Clark Kent.'"
It seems particularly relevant - hopefully obviously - to our online lives, whether it's a Facebook profile that only presents your best features, or a blog such as this: you may have noticed that parts of my personal and professional life are off-limits. I have colleagues, friends and loved ones; quite rightly, I don't want to discuss them in this forum and many of them don't want to be discussed. I also edit out the boring bits of my life unless I think I can entertain you with them (coming next: tips for ironing your socks). I don't even talk about my meagre research very much because I recognise that your enthusiasm for Welsh and proletarian 1930s literature is less constant than mine. Other people are different. LitLove and The Red Witch are exemplary my favourite online academics, whereas Blossom shares her insight into the (fascinating) life of a student divorced mother with a candidness that I admire but couldn't (and wouldn't) share.

That's partly why I use Plashing Vole rather than my actual name: not particularly to hide, but because the I of the blog is not the rather greyer I some of you see in class, the pub or at home.

And on the same subject, anyone else who writes that Prospero 'is Shakespeare', I will fail you on the spot. Biographical criticism is a blind alley. If people could only write about what they'd personally felt or seen, we'd have no SF and very little other fiction. What's more, Prospero is a very sinister individual, not the kindly old gent people seem to think he is.

Meanwhile, as I head home to do some ironing while watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I'll leave you with some wise words from W. H. Auden, a man who liked his commas even more than I do:
…one does not have to be ashamed of moods in which one feels no desire to read The Divine Comedy… among the half dozen or so things for which a man of honour should be prepared, if necessary, to die, the right to play, the right to frivolity, is not the least'.
That is all.


litlove said...

Aw that's so nice! Thank you for the lovely mention. My blog has changed a lot over the years. When I began I had very little desire to talk about my private life. And then, gradually, I mentioned this and that and found that a) I could do it without feeling utterly exposed and b) that those posts turned out to be what people really wanted to read about. I still make them read about books, however! But what makes it easier is that my husband loves being a character on the blog - I mean, seriously, he loves it. I'm not sure it's healthy.... But anyway, I completely agree with both Janet Malcolm and W. H. Auden. Playing with identity is a fine thing, and blogs are good places for play.

Blossom said...

Borges (I know he's not one of your favourite people) wrote an essay on the 'I' of the author being a wholly different entity to the 'I' of the individual. It's very interesting. The thing is, we are all made up of different 'I's'. We are perceived as different by everybody who comes across us.

But blogs are a good place to be wholly honest. In this modern world we live in it is sometimes easy to feel isolated; when people meet up they may feel the need to come across as bright, cheerful, positive in order to be popular. Very few people will just open up and express what's really bothering them, or really talk about what they feel they need to, for fear of rejection. The honesty that can be shown in the relative safety of a blog gives others the opportunity to see that what they are feeling, or going through, is not just happening to them- they are not alone and they can form friendships with people (usually who they most likely will never meet) with whom they feel able to safely express things they have until now bottled up.

Regarding my own blog, I'm extremely open regarding a lot of aspects of my private life and it wouldn't be difficult for readers of my blog who are fellow students at my university to work out who I am. I admit I do not over tire myself in protecting my identity for the simple reason of defiance. I see no reason to have to hide from what I am, or how I feel in any given moment. I am what I am (no songs, please) and there is a freedom that is attained from being open with others. It would also be very hypocritical of me to be so candid about my life but then hide behind an inscrutable online identity, I think.