April 24, 2003

Weblogs and the Body

Jill set the cat among the pigeons in the greater Scandinavian weblog cluster, evoking lots of discussion about weblogs, writing, honesty, candor, and authenticity in the pages of weblogs all over the world and, if my mailbox is representative, giving rise to a flood of correspondence as well. One of the many sidepaths Jill raises is the question, "How personal should professional weblogs be?" When should we write about ourselves, not about things and ideas?

In my ten rules for weblog writers, I treat this as a matter of taste and sensibility. That's the consensus, too, of this years' weblog books. I think that consensus may be wrong.

Bernstein's 11th Conjecture: When blogging about things and ideas, injecting yourself is distracting. It adds unnecessary words, and blurs focus. But, when writing in your weblog about the body, the realm of the senses -- about sensation, feeling, and experience -- write about yourself as directly, vividly, and candidly as you can.

Consider food. Flat declarations about food -- "Bordeaux is the noblest of wines" -- easily seem ridiculous. Perhaps you like Burgundy, or once shared a perfect glass in California meadow with your first lover, and that vintage (of course) can never be equalled. But nobody can fault you for saying, "I had a wonderful wine last night!" We can only hope you'll tell us more.

We see the Eleventh Conjecture in action all the time. Many of the debates about weblogs turn on it -- and on the way superficial readers such as reporters, entering in the middle of a long sequence, sometimes find weblogs too immersed in self. Weblog writers often use personal observation as a metaphor -- letting their job, say, represent The Workplace -- and in that context their emphasis on memoir is exactly right.

Interestingly, Jill's elliptical approach to writing about her troubles is explained neatly by the eleventh conjecture. Relationships are about the ideas and practice of partnership. Relationships are also about the body, literally and in a deeper, spiritual sense. To obey Conjecture #11, you either have to divide aspects of the whole, ignore one aspect or the other, or find a multivalent expression that lets you write with yourself at the center and with your self outside the picture entirely.