dimanche, avril 25

off on a tangent (careful, may be considered shallow by some)

so i was sitting in a sunbeam this morning, sipping coffee while reading the globe and mail, when i came across yet another in the ever-increasing number of articles by a print artist regarding the validity/value/voraciousness of weblogs. i read it with interest, being a person who has a few opinions (which, by the way, are based in a fairly indepth education in new media theory) of her own.

as a rule, "print" columnists reject on-line writing, especially blogs, as superfluous. i think that this is because of any number of reasons but, to me, it seems that the first and foremost is the webs accessiblity to the masses. modern mainstream print culture is elitist by definition. please note that i have added the caveat 'mainstream'; 'zines and independent broadsheets circumvent this but are, i would wager, less accessible than a free on-line medium such as blogger. please note, as well, that i have added the caveat "modern". the origins of widespread print publication in western culture began as a grassroots phenomenon. the invention of the printing press offered to the masses a means of cheaply disseminating thoughts, opinions and, on occasion, pure bullshit, for lack of a better term. publication was no longer in the control of the monastaries or the ruling classes, who previously had commissioned or produced hand-reproductions of select texts and tomes. this, itself, posits a disturbing truth: when the ruling class control the information being produced and reproduced, they, essentially, control thought and history.

texts are repositories of social value - both product and producer of culture. history cannot be divided from literature, as literature cannot be separated from history: the two are symbiotically intertwined. this idea is informed by the work of stephen greenblatt, a new historicist thinker, who positions history within the commodities of art - the text, the performance, the image. he describes history as "enabling condition, shaping force, forger of meaning, censor, community of patronage and reception. and the work of art is not the passive surface on which this historical experience leaves its stamp, but one of the creative agents in the fashioning and re-fashioning of this experience" (from shakespearian negotiations; the circulation of social energy in renaissance england). it is impossible, therefore, to separate text from context - every work of literature is the product of the culture in which it was produced. the lines between fiction and the 'true' culture which it represents - and by which it was constructed - are blurred. so, too, it is difficult to identify the deliniation between author and reader. the text which unites them, which draws them together, also serves to obscure the boundaries between producer and consumer of the text.**

by resisting the value and importance of online publications, print journalists resist relinquishing the power to control thoughts and values. the article that inspired this entry, for me, was written by a regular globe columnist - lynn crosbie. she states: "the quality of the sandys' writing is not at issue: i am sure my own diary contains less penetrating insights, but that is the point. diaries, since the advent of the japanese pillow book, were designed as secret repositories for, largely, women's personal, inaccessible-to-others thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams and so on. while diary writing may be viewed as repressive, when examined as a virtually female practice... this same genre offers everyone the opportunity to create an importantly antagonistic position against surveillance, against unwanted invasions. if the blog offers diarists the opportunity to find thousands of like-minded friends, their value is clear. secrecy is a complex issue, one which is too often joined to loneliness and fear of disclosure. but the chaos of intimacy that blogs represent also speaks to a new generation's inability to grasp secrecy's greatest virtue, what uncensored autonomy it provides".

for me, ms crosby is missing the point in one central area. much of our knowledge of past cultures comes from private writings (i cite here the example of samuel pepys). archaeology is anchored by the examination of the garbage of everyday life - cracked pottery, shards of urns, scraps of weaving. the writing of the masses, not the elite, offer the deepest insights into the everyday culture of human life. as well, lynn crosbie's columns are printed validation of her thoughts and opinions; the fact that she is paid to produce them is her employer's tacit approval that her thoughts and opinions do not deviate to vastly from their own. she does, however, hit the nail on the head in one pertinant area: the blog phenomenon is a product of our cultures' deviated relationship with secrecy. we live in a 'reality tv' nation. the private has become the domain (indeed, the bread and butter) of public commodity culture, and even the least media savvy denizen has been affected by this. weblogs are, perhaps, just a natural outpouring of the average person's desire for their 15 minutes of fame (please see 'pamie' - who wrote a book based on writing a blog, or 'belle de jour' who is one of the latest to broker a book deal based directly on her on-line journal).

most weblogs are just the day to day meanderings of people who don't really have much to say - and i'm not discluding myself from this pot. however, i don't believe that ms crosby is more qualified to write about everyday culture than many of the people creating web journals (see my sidebar for 'tale of two cities', 'the amateur gourmet', 'belle de jour'). does anyone really care if a woman named sandy failed in her attempts to create pad thai for a party of ten? not really. however, the fact that she was compelled to record it does speak to the inherent nature of our culture - therein lies the value and validity of the blog.

**case in point - this very blog entry has been driven by anonymous commenting (which represents, in itself, a fracture between the traditional divisions between reader and writer), a series of articles in a variety of medium (print and electronic), and my own thoughts, feelings and education. am i a producer or a consumer?