Have you ever analyzed what blogging means to you and how it influences what you write? You could learn a lot. Recently, I did just that for Esther Prokopienko, a grad student at the College of Saint Rose. Researching both the act and platform of blogging, she incorporated the following answers into her research and posted the resulting paper, The Scholarly Writer/Blogger: A New Discursive Space, on her own blog, Esther’s Space.
1. How long have you been blogging? Why did you choose to begin? Do you notice any changes in your writing/thinking process from before you were a blogger to now, as an active blogger? Do you use blogging as a way of thinking through ideas? How do you use the different mediums (journals, blogs, livejournals, etc) for thinking and writing?
While spending a great deal of time overseas as a flight attendant (1997-2001), I had begun a blog of sorts, The Lincoln Street Chronicles, to keep friends and family updated on my personal activities and observations. I’d also share pre-digital, scanned photos of my layovers. That primitive HTML site was hosted by Geocities and I would add entries to the top of a free, single and static web page. There was no mechanism for readers to enter comments, but I sometimes posted interesting email replies under the main post. I certainly wasn’t the only person doing this, but I suspect that blogs, as they are known today, stemmed from this type of “web logging.”
I have been blogging officially since January 2007 when required to do so for a college literary theory class. Transitioning to a more sophisticated data entry system and the access to an extensive, searchable catalogue of Google Images added for multi-layered meaning was quite exciting. After I resigned from flying, my writing had become private again, hand written within various small, decorative journals. I had forgotten how much I missed my online interactions until assigned my first class task, to write an introduction about myself, a task that included a carefully selected picture of a toilet.
I thought, initially, that the informal style I used to record thoughts and feelings about places I had visited would not translate well to academic theory analysis. I was wrong. I quickly realized that it was the perfect tool to express my frustration with my lack of quick and easy understanding. In fact, while venting about how difficult Bakhtin?s theory was to grasp upon first reading, I had a bit of fun creating dialogue as if I were speaking with him. His picture looks down upon my own as he encourages me to take another look at what he has to say. When I do, I gain more understanding and share that understanding with my classmates. In this and later posts, I draw parallels between the material and various pop cultural phenomena such as Madonna?s affinity for sparkly things and Star Trek’s arch enemy of assimilation, the Borg.
Creating written content, through blogging or any other kind of writing, forces me to engage more thoroughly with the material. Fleeting thoughts must be carefully molded into cohesive ideas. In my mind, because blogs are designed for a wider audience than that of a private scholastic paper read by a single professor, the inherent design infuses an added responsibility to entertain (or at least engage) a larger audience. It also adds importance, when presenting interpretations publicly, to ensure accuracy. To get sloppy is to risk public humiliation on the world stage. This is the additional pressure of academia in the blogosphere, a place where unknown professors are looking for lesson plans, students are looking for clues in order to grasp difficult topics, and, in the case of a particular international literary journal that pirated one of my posts, editors are looking for material to publish.
2. Describe what you write. What makes the blog an appropriate avenue for exploring your topic? Do you have a separate personal blog and a more academic blog, or are they one? Do you think of your blog as a personal space, or as a space to engage in discussion with others?
The majority of my blogging tends to focus on class discussion topics or to stem from assignments. As my collection grew, I decided to make this a repository for all my academic writing. I have since added and back dated assignments from other classes in order to keep a mind-expansion record of sorts.
To talk of academic writing alone would only portray half of the story. At some point, after talking with two friends about the first and last time I ate haggis, I pulled an old journal entry from that day, posted it to my blog and shared the link. When I first did this, I knew that classmates would also be able to read about my adventure. This was the day I discovered a use for categories and tags, an easy way to delimit the personal from the scholastic within the same blog. From then on, Daily Drivel became the category of choice for anything personal.
The terms “personal space” and “blog” are incongruous to me. The fact that readers from all walks of life and from all over the world have the ability to comment make this space public. In fact, I have learned to limit the presence of my personal snippets, or at least writing that is meaningful to me, thanks to the advent of Google AdSense. It seems that the new trend for “entrepreneurs” is to steal posts from other blogs, post them to their own site, sign up with Google AdSense and have Google place topic specific advertisements in their sidebars. When people land on these sites and click the sidebar ad, the blog thief capitalizes on writing that is not their own. This has happened twice, putting the onus on me to prove my identity by sending a copy of my passport as well as the original site of authorship prior to Google shutting down the culprit. Apparently blogging is no longer enough. Now one most police their posts as well.
3. When writing a blog post, how do you imagine yourself as the writer? How much of your writing is “real you” and how much is a portion of you- writer you, blogger you, academic you?
I have heard this question asked before and still don’t know how to reply. I do not picture myself compartmentalized in such clear terms. My humor almost always enters into my academic writing, for better or worse, so that could probably be read as “the real me” shining through. Since the academic scope of my writing is based in deep-seated curiosity, even that is “the real me.”
What I can say about writing, in any format, is that I am far more confident using the written word than I am with engaging in the messy act of unleashing my ideas verbally. I am more apt to express my actual thoughts in writing than when under the gun to speak in public, a task that strikes terror into the depths of my soul. In fact, when speaking, I often cannot find those words most important to conveying my idea at all.
4. When you are writing, do you imagine an audience? Do you know your audience personally? Has your blog provided opportunities for you to meet others with the same interests? Have you ever consciously chosen to write/not write something because of concern over your readers? possible responses? Do you ever use blog feedback to generate new blogs?
My audience, beyond my classmates, is typically envisioned as a big, black void. Brave confidence in writing only goes so far when I never know what is coming at me from the dark recesses of the internet. Some expert can come along and tell me I?ve got it all wrong, which I would actually welcome, but I am careful not to write much about politics for fear of a giant slamfest. My political opinions are only now becoming part of the majority point of view. The past eight years have been a different story.
I broke this political silence recently when I received a friend?s response to my Facebook tagline that sparked a political discussion. Moving the discussion from one platform to another, I transferred it to my blog and kept my correspondent-in-crime anonymous. This would be the closest I have ever come to generating new posts from blog feedback.
Post inspiration is most likely to come from my in-depth comment on other blogs rather than blog feedback. When I receive a comment, of course that sparks conversation. I simply tend to keep topic conversations confined to a single post, sometimes replying with as much as an essay-length response rather than breaking out a new post.
5. What are your blog stats? What is an average number of visitors to your blog per day? What areas of your blog are the most popular? Are there particular topics that elicit a higher readership? How has your readership changed over time?
My most famous blog post of all time is called “Foucault, Foot Lickers, & 7 Foot Sex Symposium.” This post is a Foucaultian interpretation of a college faculty reading in which one essay examined how wrong the fetish of foot-licking seems to be while another explored the ways housing a seven foot tall painting of a bikini clad couple for a friend changes one’s life. Both essays had, in my mind, proven Foucault?s point that in all the ways we try to avoid talking about sex, a discourse is thus created.
Search terms for this particular post are less than academic: foot lick, foot licking, lick foot, licking feet, lick feet, feet lick, feet licker, sex foot, sex feet, feet sex, foot sex, footsex, and so on. 2008 has yielded 2,736 hits for this post alone, up from a measly 300 from May-Dec. in 2007.
Close seconds include posts on Cindy Sherman and Linda Hutcheon, both of the postmodern persuasion.
Oddly, political posts get the fewest hits so perhaps it’s time to shelve that unfounded fear of a slam fest from folks who disagree with my views. Good to know.
Taking stock, a reflective exercise often assigned at the end of a class, is also a graduation requirement. This is my first draft. Tweaking to follow… although?references to?”navel gazing” and “mental masturbation” are definitely keepers.
The Collegiate Experience and My Intellectual Cosmos
This reflective essay has been assigned to help connect my Senior Seminar experience, with its focus on pre-romantic poetry, to the greater Saint Rose experience and thus my intellectual cosmos. To be honest, I find this task rather difficult. My trouble stems from the Senior Seminar portion of this ponderance. Let me first say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual, in-depth conversation every class has offered and that I find significant value in the exploration of early literary theory and the ability to measure today?s ideas by comparison. Still, I struggle to kindle some sort of greater passion for the subject matter in a present-day application that brings new awareness to light.
In my ideal world, Senior Seminar should be more than an entertaining intellectual exercise. I had hoped for a topic that would engage my passion, inspire me to action in righting some contemporary wrong and raise my own awareness as well as the awareness of those who read what new discoveries my research has to offer. Instead, I am reminded time and again, as we jest about the many ways in which poets have continually pondered their navels, that the struggle of the human experience merely shifts at a snail?s pace. Looking to history offers little more than greater historical knowledge of humanity?s slowly morphing circumstances, faulty attempts at understanding through overly general categorization, and constant repetition of these mistakes. While history is a fantastic place to begin, traveling back in time is not necessarily the best place to finish, at least in the opinion of this Saint Rose senior.
Available on Amazon
Having selected Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000) as my ?Writers in Motion? film of choice, I watched it twice, first to take in the entire story and again to take notes. For further insight, I watched the DVD extras on screenplay writer Doug Wright’s commentary, costuming, setting and casting, searched for the text of the screenplay to read for sheer literary value, and hit JSTOR for some scholarly direction. I also found accounts of the Marquis de Sade?s real life on the Time Warner True Crime site and discovered another devoted to PVC fetish wear designed in the Marquis? name. Before I knew it, I had shoved so much material into my feeble little brain that my ability to create a single thesis ground to a screeching halt. I screamed, ?TOO MUCH INFORMATION!? and took a break. This is how I roll.
Reading Barsam?s last chapter of Looking at Movies offers the perfect springboard for this paper I have yet to begin. With graduation looming just 15 days away, that?s what I call salvation in print. One method Barsam suggests is a tracing of dualisms or binary oppositions. In Quills, that could include things such as:
- freedom of speech/censorship
Available on Amazon
The audience is left to believe certain conventions about the life of writers in films like John Madden?s Shakespeare in Love, James Lapine?s Impromptu and Brian Gilbert?s Wilde. There is often a love interest, one that inspires passion and thus story (or, as in the case of Oscar Wilde, self awareness), yet this passion tends to reside outside the institution of marriage. The writing is always done?following the passionate living that inspires it ?and this passion must include sex. We see art written for the solicitation of money rather the romantic notion of art for art?s sake. To be productive, a personal, quiet space (often in the country) is necessary but an artistic community is also essential for inspiration and critique. And, of course, every writer does the bulk of his or her writing through the far more boring process of revision, which is sometimes portrayed and sometimes simply referred to. Success comes when art imitates life and life is worthy of such imitation. Each of these conventions, or some variation on them, are also incorporated into the fictional authors in the Coen Brothers? 1991 film, Barton Fink.
Charles Baxter?s Defamiliarization: A Summary
In Burning Down the House, Baxter addresses the issues of stale character and meaning in fiction. Avoidance of overdetermined characters and events is achieved through what he calls defamiliarization. Only when this idea is employed does a piece of fiction become interesting.
To create fictitious people in the same way an elegy is written about the deceased is to create something flat. ?Such a recital is all overdetermined. All the arrows point in one direction? (31). A limited scope of the whole of the person is neatly packaged and presented as deemed fit by societal expectations. The result is a staging of what Baxter calls ?the show business of every day life? (29). This predictable approach, where characters are created according to form, is what detaches them from memory. They are ?overparented? by the author. Characters must be comprised of more than one side. A reader identifies most with interesting details of struggle and failure; otherwise a character has nothing to distinguish him or herself from the norm. As Baxter says, ?the difference between fictional art and public rhetoric is that in fiction, the arrows point in all sorts of directions? (32). In essence, the character becomes an identity with which the reader is too familiar.
The way in which an author creates meaning in a story can fall into the same trap. To focus on one ?truth? and fit the narrative neatly within the boundaries of that truth is to deny the reader dramatic tension. There is no learning involved. Modernists felt that ?truth had gotten stale? (36) and clich? so they broke the rules and shook their audience. After they ran out of rules to break, time passed and what they had produced had also become familiar. As Baxter says, familiarity means security and the ?power to predict? (38). In this attempt at newness, what becomes new also becomes old. Additionally, the avant-garde approach of innovation and marginality offers no real solution. To throw out the old for mere novelty simply creates and adds to the confusion avant-garde artists construct. Baxter believes we need an alternative approach and offers the solution of defamiliarization.
Defamiliarization is ?a technique for finding a certain kind of detail that resists the fitting of the object into a silhouette, that is, into a ready made symbolization? (42). Viktor Shklovsky calls the silhouette concept algebrization, ?the process of turning an event or familiar object into an automatic symbol? (41). This factor which can be plugged in to mean something familiar fails to add interest. Baxter combats this boredom with an idea of Gerard Baxter Hopkins, that ?images [become] memorable when some crucial part of their meaning [has] been stripped from them? (41). Mundane, predetermined meaning must be removed from objects and images to add unpredictability. Another form of defamiliarization is misalignment or diversion from a single truth via juxtaposed contradictions of emotion. People often feel many opposing emotional reactions when impacted by a single change in their lives. These combinations represent simultaneous forms of existence within one individual and create an unpredictable outcome. It becomes uncertain which emotion will rise to the surface and influence the next action. Another tool in the arsenal of defamiliarization is point of view. This provides the framework of observation and works best when the narrator doesn?t know what their own journey means. Their position offers a picture that is moderately strange. This speaks to the idea of renormalization, where ?moderately strange in the middle of ordinary is the lens for focusing the ordinary. Without it, the ordinary has nothing against which to define itself? (49). Ultimately, defamiliarization is about ?not finding ourselves where we expected to be but where we did not expect to be found, and at a moment when our defenses are down? (49).
Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1997.
The Disintegration and Reclamation of Indigenous Identity in America (from the archives: 12.13.2006)
European settlers, civilized folk with a strong avarice for economic and territorial affluence in the New World, fought a dark and dangerous indigenous people for nearly three centuries after the arrival of renowned explorer Christopher Columbus. Offerings of Indian Territory were extended in an attempt to peacefully divide the land among both races, but the Indians resisted and violent battles ensued. Great American heroes were born out of such battles and yet benevolence prevailed as Americans generously offered gifts of English language and Christian religion to civilize the remaining savages. Unable to achieve the desired effect, the Indians have remained an unresolved problem for America, a country fondly referred to by its thriving citizens as ?land of the free and home of the brave.?
Indigenous history reveals a very different story, one of the invasion and occupation of the Great Turtle Island, genocide of the original island people, and for those few remaining, ethnic cleansing through assimilation. Forced to abandon their native identities and adopt European-American culture, indigenous people have been coerced to submit to an occupying force and are further marginalized by the power of the English language. In both its euphemistic and discriminatory capacity, English has bound Native Americans to a history and identity which is not their own, and in a way their own language could never have betrayed them.
To say these stories possess the dramatic elements of a theatrical production is a valid argument as it has already been demonstrated. The Euro-American version of history, much like Prospero?s narrative in Shakespeare?s The Tempest, offers a triumphant telling of European colonization. As Paul Brown remarks in ??This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine?: The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism,? Prospero calls to his various listeners ?and invites them to recognize themselves as subjects of his discourse, as beneficiaries of his civil largess? (P. Brown 218). Shakespeare, understanding the usurping power of Europe in America, calls attention to Prospero?s mastery of language as power of ?civility? over ?savagery.? Interestingly, the English language, as used to strip indigenous people of their culture, eventually empowered them to address their oppressors and reclaim what is left of their Native American identity. By recording the struggles they have faced, Indians have elevated themselves far beyond mere ?linguistic subjects of the master language? (P. Brown 220).
Historically, the most powerful linguistic tool employed by expansionists was the euphemistic term “Manifest Destiny.” This concept legitimized American advances into territory already inhabited by Mexicans and American Indians. As Dee Brown describes in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, “To justify ? breaches of the ?permanent Indian frontier,? the policy makers in Washington invented Manifest Destiny ?The Europeans and all their descendants were ordained by destiny to rule all of America. They were the dominant race? (8). While Americans were purportedly fated by God to expand in the name of their great experiment of liberty, ironically, this liberty was not meant for all people. Indians were rounded up while soldiers ?concentrated them into camps? (D. Brown 7), allowing for American retrieval of Appalachian gold. Brown?s naming of a recognized dominant race indicates the point at which Indians became aware of two choices. They could either fight to retain the freedom of their land or submit to relocation, making way for the American harvest of natural resources with the promise of provisions in return. When Little Crow, chief of the Mdewkanton Santee, toured the rapid developing eastern cities, he ?was convinced that the power of the United States could not be resisted? (D. Brown 9), and yet he was ?determined to oppose any further surrender of their lands? (D. Brown 9). Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyenne, trusted the American offer of provisions as payment for his lands and relocated to ensure tribal survival. Black Kettle was killed on a reservation along side 103 fellow Indians in an attack of betrayal by American soldiers. Manifest Destiny was clearing the way and ?like the antelope and the buffalo, the ranks of the proud Cheyenne were thinning to extinction? (D. Brown 174). By the late 1950?s only the terms had changed. Leonard Peltier, in Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance, describes ?the most feared words in our vocabulary: ?termination? and ?relocation.? ? To us, those words were an assault on our very existence? (Peltier 80), as was the FBI term ?neutralization.?
Another effective tactic employed by American colonists was dysphemism, linguistically painting a damaging picture of indigenous culture. ?Savage? and ?heathen? were common terms associated with Indian people regardless of the observation Christopher Columbus had made, ?So tractable, so peaceable, are these people? (D. Brown 1). During the winter of 1868, ?In his official report of victory over the ?savage butchers? and ?savage bands of cruel marauders,? General Sheridan rejoiced? (D. Brown 169) in what could be considered his own savage slaughter, although he didn?t label himself as such. Placing the words into written military record simply reinforced a long standing stereotype already in place. Still, the lasting effects of his influence are evident in Sheridan?s most famous spoken words, ?The only good Indians I ever saw were dead? (D. Brown 171) which was ?honed into the American aphorism The only good Indian is a dead Indian? (D. Brown 172). Opposition to this type of attack on the Indians proved futile as only victory mattered to the government. When ?white men who had known and liked Black Kettle ? attacked Sheridan?s war policy, ? Sheridan brushed them aside as ? ?aiders and abettors? of savages who murdered without mercy? (D. Brown 170).
Sheridan proved quite influential in popular American belief. This same accusation of ?aiding and abetting? savages was bestowed upon Leonard Peltier more than one hundred years later. He has resided in prison since 1976 with no substantial evidence supporting murder charges for the deaths of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Considered a political prisoner by many, he is suspected to be the scapegoat for a failed attempt by the FBI to exterminate more Indians, clearing the way to the reservation?s Uranium enriched soil. Former Attorney General and Peltier?s defense attorney, Ramsey Clark, in his preface to Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance says, ?There?s no question but that our own government was generating violence against traditional Indians at Pine Ridge at that time as a means of control and domination, some believe on behalf of energy interests? (Peltier xvii). Peltier himself says, ?I shot only in self defense ? I wasn?t trying to take lives but to save lives ? of a defenseless group of Indian people. That?s the only ?aiding and abetting? I did that day? (Peltier 170). Peltier has become the symbol of ?an Indian who dared to stand up to defend his people? (Peltier 14), his story bearing strong resemblance to early Indian warriors who rallied against oppression for the health and well being of their tribes. For this reason, he and they share the charge of aiding and abetting, although this phrase is no longer as damaging to Peltier as is a new legal term. ?So simple an act by the courts as changing my ?consecutive? sentences to ?concurrent? sentences would give me my freedom? (Peltier 171), a poignant example of bondage through language. Prison guards who attempted to cage Peltier?s spirit as well as his body often used degradation for provocation, talking about ?how stupid and filthy Indian people were, about how ugly our women were and how they had such loose morals, about how our children were ?defectives? and should be rounded up and shot like stray dogs? (Peltier 146). Peltier returned only his strength of silence.
This constant labeling was a large part of the language that Americans insisted was superior as they stripped Indian children of their native tongue. In 1884, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin ?attended White?s Indiana Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana where she experienced humiliation and insensitive treatment? (Fetterley 532). She would ?actively test the chains which tightly bound [her] individuality like a mummy for burial? (Fetterley 555). Bonnin?s mention of burial is telling as Americans attempted to assimilate the Indian children, a process in which much of their culture became dead to them. In 1953, Peltier attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota. He, like Bonnin, was forbidden to speak anything but English without the consequence of a beating. ?Still, we did. We?d sneak behind the building the way kids today sneak out to smoke behind the school, and we?d talk Indian to each other? (Peltier 78). Indian language, the connection it embodied to the Earth and to others, became contraband, criminalized for decades.
During their Americanization, Bonnin and Peltier found themselves ?drawn to both cultures ? spread eagle between them? nearly torn apart by the conflicts and contradictions between the two? (Peltier 79). Claiming his individual identity, Leonard embraced each name he was given. He is prideful of his connection with French fur hunters through Peltier and recognizes Leonard for its meaning of lion-hearted. His Indian names include Wind Chases the Sun, symbolic of freedom, and He Leads the People, a call to action. The Christian and American labels, which can be interpreted as an act of assimilation, are respectfully declined as Peltier says of his indigenous identity, ?I am a native of Great Turtle Island ? Our sacred land is under occupation and we are now all prisoners? (63). Bonnin, in discarding her white American names, gave ?herself her own tribal name, Zitkala-s?, which means Red Bird? (Fetterley 532). This identification provided a solid base from which all other thought flowed for each author.
A?focus on connection?between Indian people is what inspired the English writings of Dee Brown, Leonard Peltier and Zitkala-s?. Dee Brown reached back through the past collecting sources of forgotten oral history to ?fashion a narrative of the conquest of the American West as the victims experienced it, using their own words when possible? (D. Brown xviii). Hoping that these words have not been dulled, Brown explains that ?we rarely know the full power of words, in print or spoken? (D. Brown xvi). The number of books sold is testament to the clarity of the words? sharp truth. Peltier is compelled to join his story with Brown?s history because ?speaking out is my first duty, my first obligation to myself and to my people? (Peltier 9) and ?Only when I identify with my people do I cease being a mere statistic, a meaningless number, and become a human being? (Peltier 43). Peltier, in particular, is most separated from his people behind prison walls. In writing, he is able to break free like Wind Chases the Sun. Combining her award winning mastery of oratory skills stemming from Indian tradition, along with her American English writing skills, Zitkala-s? publishes accounts of her childhood for “Atlantic Monthly”, providing a realistic and softer presentation of Indian family life and criticism of assimilation practices. Her regionalist ?desire to tell Indian legends and stories in an Indian voice ? in written English ? may have created an intolerable opposition to the oral story telling tradition she hoped to ?transplant?? (Fetterley 534). Caught somewhere between Indian and white society, her return to advocacy, or ?life as a reformer may indicate that the price she paid for attaining the language? was the loss of place? (Fetterley 534). Still, her struggle is documented and what culture could be preserved is.
People of indigenous descent have joined in a great discourse with traditional white American history. Their tale, after centuries of struggle, has just recently reached a greater audience with a fairly new possession of writing skills within a much longer history of oral culture. The English language, which originally attempts to bind them, is used to set them free because people, not the language itself, defines cultures as inclusive or other. Through their history, novels and poems, each author extends an invitation to a middle ground with no retaliation for the crimes committed against their people. As Shakespeare?s Prospero eventually learns, ?The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.? (Shakespeare 75, 28)
Shakespeare, William, et al. The Tempest Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. William Shakespeare, The Tempest; A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2000, 10-87
Brown, Paul. ?This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine?; The Tempest as the Discourse of Colonialism? William Shakespeare, The Tempest; A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2000, 205-229
Peltier, Leonard. Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance. New York: St. Martins Griffin, 1999.
Fetterly, Judith and Marjorie Pryse, eds. American Women Regionalists 1850-1910. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.