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Archive for February 21st, 2009

last in a series of posts… you’ll see….

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Ah, there’s no way that you could have known, but if you just read the previous post about Dickens, you just read not simply a post but an experiment in blogging. Surprised? I bet you are! And as the title of this one suggests, just as that was the first of a new set, this is the last of an old set. Now you’re confused as well as surprised. Sorry!

Long story. I doubt you’ll read to the end, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Little known fact: I’ve been blogging longer or way longer than anyone on my blogroll with the possible exception of Kotsko and definitely (I think!) Ftrain, who barely blogs anymore, and I’m not sure he ever considered what he did “blogging” anyway. I’ve changed blog addys at least twice that I can remember. There was an original site under my real name that I got rid of when I first heard the siren shriek of the job market during, I think, my second or third year of grad school. (I believe that the google trove for my real name still includes my listing on a very early blogroll at Crooked Timber, believe it or not, as well as some snarky comments in response to a post on Judith Butler…) My second was called, er, Cultural Revolution – that’s the reason why some people still call me CR, which was my handle at both Long Sunday and during the Holbonic Wars at The Valve. Now this one, which I acquired to lose the old name (look, I’d just come back from China when I started the other, which really is the opposite of an excuse, I know…) and so that I could have a free and clean wordpress.com account.

I have, to date, posted 63 posts considering whether I should take down the blog or not, unless I missed a few or ten. Now look, it’s a form that I love, and that has won me some very good friends, and that has in fact served as a useful public notebook for coming up with ideas for work (my semi-started second big academic project, which has to date yielded me several good conference papers and served to do the job that a second project needs to do at job interviews, was wholly born on here….)

In fact, it’s safe to say – and this is a big statement, but a safe one, I am pretty sure – that my little lived existence right now, today, would be much less full and exciting if I didn’t have the blog. Let’s leave it at that.

On the other hand, and its a big other hand, I am – you may be surprised to learn – an extremely perfectionist writer in my real life. Not in some ways, ways that really matter. I’ll never send out a manuscript again without paying a copyeditor to work it through or doing it myself, I can be a bit sloppy. Not that sort of perfectionism, unfortunately, but I want things that I write to be really smart and perfect. Really really smart and perfect actually, as far as the ideas go, the articulation of the ideas, the relevance of the ideas, you get the picture. Basically, I pretty much refuse to write unless I am overturning some major received idea or preconceived notion about an issue – unless, that is, what I am writing can be considered groundbreaking work. I have broken major ground with Conrad, I have sort of broken ground with Joyce, and I have a piece still in the can about Joyce that I know breaks some serious fucking ground, but I am resistant to publishing it despite spontaneous offers to do so after verbal delivery of said piece as it’s almost the only unpublished thing in the book I’m working on, which given a summer’s work (and proper copyediting) will break reasonably big ground, I think, in the study of modernism in general. Unlike on the blog, I am also not a self-indulgent writer – in real life we’re talking. Above all, I am an exceptionally slow writer. Slow slow slow. But it’s worked for me, in some ways anyway, some very material ways, so far.

Now, maybe you can see where this is going. The blog provides a space for me to write in a way that I don’t normally allow myself to do. I can’t keep a journal – I’ve tried since I was a kid and it just makes me feel sort of schizophrenic, writing things for which I am the only audience. On the blog, I can write at speed, I can be sloppy and self-indulgent, write misery memoir bits to see where they take me, take up unpromising leads and add no value but still post them, etc etc etc. And sometimes they pan out! But, given my natural tendencies as far as writing goes, there’s a bit of grate and spark that happens after, some uncomfortable friction, when I look back at what I’ve done on here, whether a few minutes later or the next morning for a few months hence.

This makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps you’ve noticed the number of retracted posts lately. That makes me uncomfortable and is a sign of underlying uncomfortableness as well. Not good! I’m uncomfortable enough as it is – I don’t need to go looking for new delivery systems and means of self-infliction, for god’s sake!

I’ve come to realize that the problem might not be with blogging itself. I am not going to take the blog down; I probably won’t ever. I have been talking this over with people and stewing in private moments about it this week, and finally tonight I’ve come to a conclusion about what to do.

I am tempted to stick my own name up on the blog. Ooooooo. Yep I know.  I know. I know what you’re thinking: yeah, maybe, um, yeah, maybe you should think twice about that, given, erm, content and quality. I know. But let’s do a breakdown of the ups and downs:

Contra:

  • I could get in trouble with my job. Now, this is England, and things aren’t so terrifying as they are in America, and probation’s not tenure. But still, at the place I’m at, there remains a possibility that writing stuff could get me called into an office of some sort, somewhere. There’s non-blog precedent that’s rather scary etc.
  • Anxiety about getting in trouble with my job, in times like these particularly, could stop me from writing, well, not just about some things, but about anything at all.
  • The stuff that I write off-blog seems to be good. At least some have thought so. I’m going to water my corpus down, turn it to mush, front the back and back the front, all not nice!
  • I find it therapeutic and sometimes interesting to write about myself, even in a personal, perhaps uncomfortably personal way. That will certainly come to an end with the end of pseudonymity.

Pro:

  • I will feel tons more pressure to write only good things on here, things that I would be proud of in real life. Therefore there will be higher quality, if lower quantity, and I won’t (probably) feel that grating embarrassed feeling the morning after anymore.
  • I won’t write about myself anymore. Which I shouldn’t do and I’ve been told, repeatedly, I shouldn’t do. Or at least not the way I generally do.
  • My readership will likely spike. Watch. It will. I’ll report back, but you’ll see…
  • My wife’s principal argument, as she is a proper writer and blog-averse, and who gets paid for her work: that though it is properly communist or whatever to do as I do, it is insane to write without name attached, as nothing will ever come of it. I actually, for better or worse, hear what she is saying here.

There’s more to include in the lists, but I’m getting tired, so let’s wrap up. I am scared to do it, and scared to lose my pseudoblog, but I am thinking it might be best. So, here’s the deal. I’m not ready to take the leap just yet. But from the Dickens post forward, not including this one, and for an indefinite period, I am only going to write things on here that I would consider acceptable if this weren’t a pseudoblog, if my name were on the masthead. I’d love to hear what any of you think about what I’m thinking. But I figure it’s worth a trial run, at least. And at least it will clear out the mainpage before colleagues and students (and oh christ family????) start coming around and finding notes on my early-mid-life crisis or therapeutic epiphanies and so on….

(Ooof. Family. Jesus I forgot about that. There’s a chance they might not really understand google yet. Let’s hope. Maybe this will be healthy. Does wordpress.com include an IP blocker? Does anything? Oh lord…. My god, it’s one thing to write Safe for Work, another thing to write Safe for Mom and Dad…. I’ll ask at therapy on Tuesday….)

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February 21, 2009 at 1:09 am

Posted in blogs, me

fallen women and aggregate fiction

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John Bowen in the TLS on a new book about Urania College, a “refuge for fallen women” that Charles Dickens established in Shepherd’s Bush in the 1840s:

Hartley is fascinated by the lost “Casebook” in which Dickens recorded the stories of all the Urania women. They were obliged to tell him everything and, even if they sometimes lied or omitted things, it would still be an extraordinary document to read, for Dickens, we know, gained people’s confidence readily and was a deft and accurate reporter. Hartley has hunted widely, but the book probably went up in smoke in the great bonfire of his papers that Dickens lit one afternoon in the garden of Gad’s Hill. I think she overstates the case when she describes it as Dickens’s “ur-text, the book behind his other books” or posits that in filling it in he was writing “his sixteenth novel, but one he knew he could never publish”. She is on surer ground when she draws parallels between Dickens’s work at Urania Cottage and his own secret autobiographical writing. For, as he first imagined and then created the home for these young victims of bad parents or bad luck, he was also quietly exploring his own escape from childhood poverty and the street-life of nineteenth-century London. However different the successful and prosperous middle-aged novelist was from fifteen-year-old Emma Spencer, already a veteran of the Clerkenwell Workhouse and the Field Lane Ragged School when she arrived in Shepherd’s Bush, he also strongly identified with her and her kind. “A sloppy education”, he wryly confided to Miss Coutts, “is a kind of bringing up, that I think I can thoroughly understand.”

This is most clear in the dual obligation – storytelling, followed by silence – that marked the new beginning. Urania women were obliged to tell their story to Dickens but, once they had done so, were forbidden ever to refer to it again, either to each other, the staff at the home, or in their future lives. The parallel with the ways that Dickens handled his own family’s shameful secrets is striking. After John Dickens was freed from prison and the twelve-year-old Charles was released from Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, the Dickens family never spoke about the events again. His parents, Dickens wrote, were “stricken dumb upon it. I have never heard the least allusion to it, however far off and remote, from either of them”. He, by contrast, did tell the story but, like the Urania women, only to a single ear, that of his friend John Forster, who revealed nothing until after Dickens’s death. Telling the story once, then silence and a new start: for the Urania women, as for Dickens himself, a unique, taboo-breaking act of narration would act as a bridge to a new life.

All very thrilling, the proto-psychotherapeutic approach cum content-collection thing, the male author with notebook amid teenage fallen women (that he’s saving, that he’s transporting) thing.

But more pertinently, this semi-novelistic “Casebook” also would seem to provide one sort of model for the aggregate fiction (should I call it “aggregated realism”?) that I’ve been on about lately, no?

If I lived like Alain de Botton, I might might be tempted to throw myself into rewriting the Casebook as a historical novel at once accurate and blissfully anachronistic. It’s a fantastic idea, and if you have tons of free time, there – it’s yours. Credit me where the credits go. But given my lack of time (all that Dickens to teach, among many other things, all that other stuff to research), would be tempting in the shape of an updated and/or even dystopian model, that is if the dystopian genre hasn’t fizzled under the candlecap of the dystopia now were about to live through…

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February 21, 2009 at 12:03 am