April 23, 2005

Blog and Identity

Adrian Miles says that we are written by our blogs. Lilia Efimova responds, suspecting that Adrian overestimates the importance of incoming links for shaping weblogs.

I'm not sure that the way others could construct my identity from links to me is the same as my identity... From my perspective 'incoming links' matter, but it's me who decides what role they play...

In a (formerly) separate conversation, Blogtalk Downunder speaker Chris Chesher argues the opposing view:

In the speculative era of cyberculture criticism in the early 1990s, many authors claimed electronic text would destabilise the institution of authorship (Poster 2001; Landow 1994; Bolter 2001). They argued changes of material form of writing would decrease the power of the author. They connected this claim with critics such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault who had questioned conventional assumptions about authorship, and speculated on the possibilities of texts without authors. While the claims of these electronic writing advocates were contested theoretically (Grusin 1994), the popularity of blogs empirically demonstrates the persistence of authorship, and how progress often works backwards.

This is problematic on a few fronts -- surely the place to reach for Bolter's view is his 1991 Writing Space? Later, Chesher say that authorship emerged "alongside a range of economic, technological, social, political and legal changes associated with the rise of individualism, capitalism, rationalism, democracy and rule of law." This might surprise Archilochus, the 7th century poet whose authorship is sufficiently recognizable that we can find 30 new lines of his work in a scrap pile, some 2,600 years after he died, and say "By George, this is Archilochus!" (Democracy isn't on Archilochus's radar -- Pericles was born about 150 years after Archilocus died -- capitalism is a problematic term two millenia before the Medicis, and as far as rule of law goes, the handy Oxford Classical Dictionary reports that Archilochus's most-remembered poems were biting satires of the sexual habits of his former fiancée and her younger sister, written by Archilochus as a form of revenge after their dad broke a marriage contract and reneged on the wedding.)

But Chesher assumes that the natural boundary of the blog excludes the pages linked to the blog, and the pages to which it links. The critics he denounces -- especially Landow -- assumed the opposite, and so reach a different conclusion. Miles assumes that the linked pages are the essence of the blogosphere, that they flavor the blog so intensely that they set its key, its tonality. Lilia demurs; I fancy, though, that if Lilia were slashdotted more frequently, the slashdotting would change things. If your blog inscribes your calendar -- adding speaking engagements and consulting trips -- does it inscribe you? If it inscribes your bank account, does it change who you are?

For example, I have just posited a debate between Miles, Efimova, and Chesher, outlined their positions, and demonstrated some weaknesses each writer exposes. Who made this debate? Adrian, who wrote the first post? Chesher, who began it? Perhaps I am the author of the entire affair.