The blog as a body?

I didn’t get through many of the articles on blogging I linked to the other day, but the one by danah boyd I quoted from I did read thoroughly, and it had some interesting ideas (if you check out the articles, you’ll find they are rather dry but you might find them worthwhile to look at anyway) — particularly about how we shouldn’t define blogs by the nature of their content (I hate that word but I can’t think of another right now); instead we should consider them as a medium, like radio or TV. The author says blogs are better understood as being like paper rather than like diaries or journals or journalism or whatever. Just as you can write anything on paper, so you can write anything on a blog. Now that strikes me as obvious, but I also know I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking about how blogs are like diaries and journals and personal essays. It makes sense to me that it’s better to stop thinking that way — thinking that bloggers produce a particular type of writing — and to think more about the nature of the blog as a way of communicating whatever it is bloggers want to communicate.

Once you’ve begun to think about blogs as a medium, boyd says, you can think about the particular ways blogs allow people to communicate, and blogs do a number of unique things, including blurring spatiality and corporeality. They are like spaces, and they are also like bodies. Blogs are spaces in the sense that they are a location for people to gather, but, unlike chatrooms, blogs are owned by the blogger, so they are more like rooms in the blogger’s home. The blogger invites people in and hopes that they will be polite and not say mean things. Of course, that analogy doesn’t quite work because not everyone is there all at once. But it strikes me as a better one than the cafe metaphor, because cafes are neutral spaces, not owned by anybody participating in the conversation, whereas a blogger can exclude a nasty commenter, just as a host might kick out a violent guest.

But boyd also says that bloggers think of their blogs as being like their bodies, or even as their online face. Now that’s interesting. Those of you who blog, do you think of your blog as an extension of your body, or perhaps as your face? I realized as I was thinking about switching from Blogger to WordPress that finding the right look for my blog is important to me, but I tend to think of setting up the blog as analogous to decorating my house (a process that makes me quite anxious just as changing the blog did) rather than, say, choosing clothes or a hairstyle.

But then when I think about the photo I’ve got up on the blog, I realize that I’m hiding my face in such a way that either the book I’m holding becomes a substitute for my face or the blog itself does. My body is behind the book and the bicycle, the two subjects I write all the words on this blog about, which are another way of representing myself, a substitute body. And I create a picture of what I think bloggers look like based on their blogs and I remember other bloggers writing about that too, so the blog is a body in the sense that we use it to create images in our minds of other people. This is what boyd says about it:

Bloggers see their blog as a reflection of their interests and values. They also contend that the blog does not show them in entirely, but only what they choose to perform in that context. This corporeal relationship deeply affects the way in which people choose to manage their blogs. There is a sense of ownership, a sense that a blogger has the right to control what acts and speech are acceptable and to dictate the norms in general. Part of this stems from the sense that whatever others write affects the representation of the blogger, not simply of the blog. In other words, people’s additions are like graffiti on one’s body.

Both these metaphors — blogs as spaces and as bodies — are ways of saying that a blog is important to the blogger’s identity, the body metaphor implying that blogs are a closer, more intimate way of shaping identity than the space metaphor. Attacking one’s house — analogous to leaving a nasty comment — is an invasion and a threat, but attacking one’s body is much worse. The point boyd is making about how these metaphors get blurred is that a tension can arise when the blogger sees the blog as part of his/her body and the reader sees it as a space for conversation. In that case, the blogger and the reader might interpret the comments the reader leaves in very different ways.

This article is interesting, and perhaps the others are too, but I realized as I read it that I’d prefer to hear all this discussed in the more informal voices of bloggers than the formal voice of an academic writing in a purely academic mode. Reading the article is like being lectured to; if a blogger wrote it in more informal blogging voice (not that blogging voices have to be informal), it would be more like a brief presentation meant to get a conversation going.

18 Comments

Filed under Blogging

18 responses to “The blog as a body?

  1. Brandon

    That’s an interesting post. I’d never considered that my blog might be an extension of who I am, but I suppose that’s really what it is. Every blogger has his or her own voice, and think the writing style largely has to do with how we think a blogger might look and act in real life.

    Interestingly enough, last night, I pondered what other bloggers think I look like. That seems superficial, I realize, but I was thinking about my writing style and the things I blog about. I’d pondered the ethnicity of bloggers–how do we know someone’s ethnicity based purely on his or her blog? And I realized that blacks, for instance, are more likely to clue readers in on their ethnicity, whether it’s through their blog title or through certain posts, than white people are. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, of course, but it was just something that had struck me the other day.

    And then we can usually tell a blogger’s age range based purely on his or her writing style or marital status. You and Stefanie, among others, are happily married, so I think that you’re both in your mid- to late-thirties. You’ve always struck me as someone who’s very serious, with a dry sense of humor. I think LK, for instance, is probably in her thirties, though that doesn’t square with how I imagine her; she makes me think of a twenty-year old, mostly because of her blog title and her sense of humor. It’s no secret that I’m twenty-five, and while I’ve never said anything about my status, it probably goes without saying that I’m single. As for appearance, well…if I shave, a lot of people swear that I’m no older than eighteen. I’m very thin, with dark, moptop hair and glasses. My friends often say that I’m the nice, quite, preppy kid who listens to loud death metal. Oh–and my voice is as deep as Barry White’s. I kid you not.

    I wonder how my description of myself would change people’s perceptions of what I look like…

  2. I agree with you that a blog is just a tool for communication, like a telephone or piece of paper. So many blog critics get hung up on the content and miss the context.

  3. I haven’t had a chance to read the articles yet, but it sounds like your “interpretation” (for lack of a better word) is more interesting anyway. I don’t know if I think my blog is like a substitute for my face or body–but I do think it reflects my personality to some degree. I don’t know how much I want to be known to the world (or my few readers) via my blog. In a way it is really me, but in a way it is sort of a persona, too. The weird thing is that I have never told any of my work friends about my blog (though my family knows and a few close friends). In a way I would be embarrassed to have them read it–I’m not sure why or what that says about me. I suppose because it is sort of a different side of me (in reality I am sort of shy and quiet)–maybe they would be surprised by my online persona? I don’t like talking about things too personal on my blog, and it was a bit of a cringe to share a Santa photo, but at the same time–it was sort of painless as who knows me anyway? Although names may be changed to protect the innocent…the books I read are true. Just joking. I still sort of think of it a bit like a diary, but one you know people are reading. I have been reading the intro to V. Woolf’s diaries and in it, the author talks about what things are reality, what is gossip, what is really true. In a way I thin it is impossible to really know another person, no matter what clues we may offer them. Interesting post Dorothy!

  4. I like what Sylvia says, too. I DO think it is a tool for communication. A big part of me about blogging is the conversation!

  5. I have discussed this a little with a friend on how our blogs are different, how we allow different personal information to “leak out” onto our blogs. People do use their blogs differently, so I can only speak for myself here.

    A metaphor for my blog will be a “performative space.” The contents on my blog are “real”, but I convey what I want to say through a persona – which is why I do not use my real name, nor do I wish to reveal info that allows people to pin me down too much to a locale.

    The persona on my blog is different from how I am in real life.

    Definitely my blog is not body – I don’t think I can endure that kind of nakedness.

  6. Cam

    Oh, what an interesting post! Lots to think about. I like the idea of space, especially a public space for discourse, and I think it applies to some blogs. On good days, it is what I aspire for my blog to be. As for body, I feel that my blog is me, in some ways, although that was not my intent when I began. I’ve never posted a picture of myself on my blog. I intentionally chose to call my on-line self ‘Cam’ — a derivation of my given name, though not what friends and family call me — because I thought it was more gender non-specific than my usual moniker. I initially did not post my location. In early posts I referred to a spouse and a child but didn’t identify them further. But, in those early posting days, I was told by some who knew me that my blog wasn’t gender-neutral at all. After reviewing it not only did I agree, but I realized how it was so individualistic. My name is written all over it and I’m sure that anyone who knows me who would find my blog would ferret out quickly that I was the woman behind the pseudonym. I find it funny yet perplexing when someone links to me and uses a comment like ‘check out Cam. He said….”.

    I think that my gender, my age, and my ethnicity are evident in my blog, because my blog is me and these things are unambiguous in my real world also, as much as I’d like to think that the ‘almost 50′ thing was a helluva a lot more ambiguous than it is.

  7. Oddly enough I had to think about this yesterday, as I was going to link to the site of a literary magazine I’d had a review published in. However, not thinking clearly at the time, I’d sent them both a link to my blog and a picture of myself along with biographical details that say who I am for their contributor’s page. Bye-bye anonymity. I found I couldn’t quite bring myself to link to it, and think that everyone who reads me would know what I look like and who I am. I think there’s a real romance to blogging because we are all totally honest in one way, and very hidden and private in another. I find that I like that too much to change it.

  8. I like the idea of there being some romance to blogging.
    I’ve found that with the blogs I like and keep going back to there is often an element of mystery about a person that’s interesting. You might not know what somebody looks like or how old they are, you might suddenly find out they’re in a different country. I like the way you can find out little snippets of information. If I found a blog where someone had plastered their photos all over it and told you everything about their life I’d probably lose interest quite quickly. Although I can say there are a few bloggers that I now “know” I realise that I hardly know them at all but I kind of like it that way.
    I also like the idea of a blog being an extension of your body, although I’ve never thought of it like that before!

  9. Very interesting Dorothy! I do not think of my blog as an extension of my body, though I do think of it as a space. Maybe not as my house, but sort of like my patio or front porch where people can come over and chat for a minute or two or stay awhile. And if it gets really crowded we can fire up the grill and pass around some cold drinks. As for the look of my blog, I think of it like you do, as decoration. But while I want it to look nice and inviting, the decor is not the point, the medium is and the communication that the medium allows.

    I am careful what I say about myself but not so careful that Brandon hasn’t figured me out pretty well! I’ve never tried to be anonymous because I have no reason to be. But I also have no desire to spew my whole life out on the internet. Some people are good at making their personal lives interesting for public consumption. I’m not one of them so I sit on my bloggy porch hoping someone will stop by and talk about books with me :-)

  10. Perhaps the idea of blog as body is limited in its scope. Kind of like one of those metaphors that comes to pieces the more you try and pin it down to see how well it really sticks.

    What one immediately realizes in building a blog, post by post, is how great it can be as a tool for character development. A blogger chooses what to share, and in what sequence. The choice of how and what a writer shares is often more revealing than whether or not how “true” a writer’s words are. How important is it that some of what Anais Nin wrote in her “diaries” did not match the facts of her life? How does the news that photographers like Robert Doisneau set up their shots influence the way we view those photographs?

    There is a seductive liminal quality to blogs. I tend to take what I like from them and discard the rest. Any unsavory comments, unless I’m feeling exhausted and my guard is down, are consequently more entertaining than offensive. I don’t see them as “attacks” to my own body but rather someone else’s viewpoint (which reveals more about the speaker than about me). The fact that such words remain far from my body means that I can dismiss them when, and how, I choose, according to my own best interests. (Interestingly enough, I wonder whether I pay more attention to my own view of my identity than to how others view me, precisely because I’ve written my ideas in notebooks since I was four years old, and that documentation is more real and reliable to me than the whims of other people when they get up on the wrong side of the bed.)

    Don’t get me wrong, though – I’m first to defend the visceral quality of words. My background as dancer and writer has tipped my sensibilities toward the inseparability of body and words. I don’t believe anyone else could write the words I do, for no one else has had my experiences, and only I inhabit my body, the instrument through which those words form and are expressed..

    More than as a body or face, I still find more truth, and pleasure, in the idea of the blog as literary salon.

  11. SS

    This is a fascinating idea you present–the idea of the blog as body. For me, it is also a little scary. I’m such a private person that I haven’t even completed the “About” section of my blog. I do leak little bits of information about myself here and there, but I always wonder if it’s a good idea.

    I found the following comment by Brandon to be very interesting:

    “And I realized that blacks, for instance, are more likely to clue readers in on their ethnicity, whether it’s through their blog title or through certain posts, than white people are.”

    I can’t speak for all black people, but I know it was important for me to let potential readers know that I am black. There are probably several reasons for this, and as I think more about it, and how best to articulate it, I’ll probably do a post on my own blog about it.

    As far as personalizing my blog with photos or other graphics goes, the main reason I haven’t done this is because I haven’t figured out how yet!

  12. I find the idea of blog as extension of the body kind of creepy. What about those people who establish a totally phony identity, either to rake in sympathy or cash via a blog?

    To me blogs are sort of like the old party lines that phones used to operate on (I’m showing my age here, aren’t I?). You can listen in or join in the conversation any time you like.

  13. What interesting comments! While I prefer to think of myself as early-thirties (not quite 33), your characterization of me is pretty good, Brandon, and I liked your comment a lot. It’s fun when people tell you their image of you based on your writing. It gives you a new insight into yourself, strangely. Your self-description fits how I’d pictured you pretty well — death-metal included.

    Sylvia, content vs. context is a good way to think of it.

    Interesting thoughts, Danielle — I think you’re right that it’s ultimately impossible to really know somebody. It’s been interesting to read the Hobgoblin’s blog, because I see things in him there that I hadn’t seen before. I bet he has the same experience reading my blog. We reveal things about ourselves in different ways in different contexts.

    Dark Orpheus — it’s interesting that most of the commenters have not really liked the idea of their blog as their body, that metaphor being too intimate and revealing. The author of that article based that claim on research she had done — I wonder if book bloggers tend to be different?

    That’s very interesting that people have mixed up your gender, Cam — it’s fascinating to think about what we can tell about people’s gender from their writing. Is there a “women’s” writing or a “men’s” writing?

    Litlove — I think I’d feel the same way, not wanting to put a picture of myself on the blog or link to one beyond the one that hides my face and so doesn’t reveal too much. It’s satisfying to be able to reveal oneself only through one’s words.

    Stephen — I’ve had that moment too, where I’ve learned something personal about a blogger and have had to readjust my mental image of them. It’s kind of fun. I like learning about bloggers slowly and through the ways they write about some other topic like books.

    I like your metaphor of the porch Stefanie! And yes, I’m not someone who could make my personal life all that fascinating, so I’m happy to leave that to other people.

    Artemis — I agree, the metaphor of the salon or the porch or whatever space you choose strikes me as a more fruitful one than that of the body. But now I’m thinking of the blog as an image of my mind, a metaphor I like — readers can see some of the thoughts that come out of my mind and some of the input that goes in (the books I read, the blogs I read, the comments people leave). I guess what this shows is how fun-but-imperfect metaphors are.

    SS — your response to Brandon’s comment is interesting, and I’ll look forward to your blogpost on it.

    Susan — Another good metaphor there — the party line!

  14. Something I’ve been worrying about recently is whether to put a link to my blog up on facebook – a social networking site that links me to all my friends past and present. There are a few of my friends I wouldn’t mind reading it, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t let the fact that I write my blog out somewhere everyone I know can see it and know that it is mine. I don’t know why, but the thought of revealing my blog to all and sundry terrifies me – or rather, the thought that they would all know it is me who is writing it. It seems to be a part of me that I prefer to keep anonymous for some reason. I don’t think I’m a different person online, so what am I afraid of?

  15. LK

    This is an interesting discussion I see I need to catch up on. Thanks for the post, Dorothy!

  16. I want to clarify what i meant when i talk about blogs as bodies. It’s not that i think that people see their blogs as bodies per say. It’s that the properties that we take for granted as embodied creatures are lacking when we go online, namely presence. For example, i walk into the room and my body signals my presence to others around. Had i not posted a comment here, you wouldn’t know that i was lurking. You may get an IP address, but what’s that mean? Part of my presence though is not just my comment on your post – it’s the link back to my own blog where my identity resides in many ways. In this way, i reference my blog in my comments on your blog to create a culture of presence. I do think that the spatial metaphor is a lot easier for thinking of your own blog directly. You can think of decorating your blog like decorating your house. Yet, when people visit your blog, it’s a mixed view. They don’t just see the space you’ve created – they see a facet of you. In this way, the decorations serve as fashion accessories to a body as well as decorations on a room. I do think it’s complicated and sticky but it’s presence that connects things deeply to bodies. And the fact that you have to write yourself into being online… you don’t just exist by appearing and reading… your presence goes unnoticed.

    Anyhow, i hope that helps in some way.

  17. Hi Zephoria — thanks so much for stopping by and commenting; this is the first time an author I’ve written about has commented back, and I’m pleased to hear your explanation (and also to hear another aspect of your voice, outside of the academic article — I was wishing to discuss this stuff as bloggers rather than in an academic context, after all). Thinking of the blog as a way to create presence when the body is absent makes sense to me. It’s interesting to me the way other commenters felt uncomfortable thinking of the blog as a body or as the thing that creates presence — as though that metaphor is too revealing and intimate. And I wonder what image people have of me from reading the blog — I guess we’re all sorting out this new way of presenting ourselves that’s very different from the usual way of being physically present, and so things like posting pictures and revealing names and choosing blog templates can sometimes be anxiety-inducing.

  18. No doubt there’s a lot of anxiety-producing effects. This is why a lot of folks try to play ostrich. If you pretend like you don’t have an audience, you can just keep writing. Or if you imagine that you have an audience of people exactly like you want, you can keep writing. If you are told that everyone who has ever met you is reading your blog, it’s paralyzing. This is the problem with unknown audiences – we have to envision who our audience is to write… it’s an imagined community rather than a defined or bounded one like a room. (I still want an invisibility potion though for meatspace.)

    I read your commenters and i’m curious to know more. I wonder if the concern about it being too intimate has to do with the assumption that we are revealing everything. It’s not a naked body unless you choose it to be. My digital body is cloaked in professional wear with the occasional goofy accessory. Why? Because i have to face that audience. It’s not that this is not me but there’s another “me” on LiveJournal that is far different because that’s the me wimpering about life with my friends while my blog is me musing about things that the professionals who read my blog want to see.

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