Media Studies (Pomona)
Social media, blogs, Early printed books, Serialized fiction
Blogs have in the last couple of years loomed large in the western imagination, but the ideas about blogs that have circulated both through the mainstream (particularly U.S.) media and through academic circles have been extremely limited in scope. In the first place, there is a common distinction at work in the U.S. imaginary between "blogs," which are assumed on some level to be doing public work, whether political, technical, academic, or journalistic, and "online diaries," which are primarily personal, if not exactly private. The personal blogs often mistakenly labeled "online diaries," as well as the more apparently diaristic forms such as LiveJournal, are too often dismissed as the narcissistic rantings of teenage girls and other hysterics, a nonsensical — and, not incidentally, hyper-feminine — form of oversharing. Such a dismissal, however, overlooks the important work that such personal blogs are doing in helping to construct what might be morphing into a new literary form.
In fact, western literary history can shed some important light on the current state of personal blogging. As Nancy Armstrong has argued, the English novel has its roots in the domestic practices and personal writing of middle-class eighteenth-century women. Such early fiction, moreover, was frequently structured in ways that seem familiar to contemporary blog-readers, mimicking the forms of exchanges of letters or of diaries. These two factors combine to suggest that blogs that are interested in the ongoing production of a personal narrative are in fact poised to become a literary form with all of the resonance and sophistication of the novel.
But of course, such comparisons to traditional print literature only go so far in attempting to account for the aesthetic potential of the blog. Theories of digital media must come into play, as the authors of personal blogs create, through a diachronic series of postings, not simply a narrative but rather a first-person narrative archive of the self. Such an archive, or database, bears certain things in common with other serialized media forms, such as television, in which the viewer's interest is obtained and maintained through the delay of resolution and the ongoing production of conflicts and complications. But the fact that the narrative here takes on a non-linear, database-driven form, suggests that ideas of seriality in the blog must be complicated through their intersection with the notion of the "database narrative" explored by Marsha Kinder and Lev Manovich. Such a meshing of notions of seriality with an understanding of the database, particularly as combined with a willingness to approach the blog as an incipient literary form, may help deepen our thinking about the blog as an aesthetic production — and, in particular, about where the pleasures in reading blogs originate.
© 2007 Kathleen Fitzpatrick
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Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. "The Pleasure of the Blog: The Early Novel, the Serial, and the Narrative Archive." In Blogtalks Reloaded: Social Software-Research & Cases, ed. Thomas N Burg and Jan Schmidt. [Vienna 2006 www.blogtalk.net]. Vienna: Social Software Lab, 2007. Print.