I’ve experimented quite broadly with writing. Not just in terms of what I try to say through writing, but also by means of different genres and formats,
e.g. short stories, poems, essays, lectures, Blogs, songs, art writings (which may require elucidation on another occasion), and also using different technologies of writing,
e.g. fountain pen and paper (ruled or unruled), writing on a scroll, on scraps, on A4 sheets, on a typewriter, through a carbon sheet, writing on various generations of computer etc.
I’ve also explored various ways in which a piece of writing might be composed as a book, a webpage, a booklet, fold or sheath. All these experiments are still feeding me now as I am lucky enough to be able to be involved in making professional artist’s books.
I’ve also always been fascinated by the interplay of these influences on writing, i.e. how the material means by which a writing is manifest inform its content or the receipt of its content e.g. how the same words might be rendered in prose or in song, or how the same piece of writing reads in a different font, on a different paper, at a different size etc.
Something I haven’t yet considered however, and which came to mind shortly after posting my Blog last week, is exactly how the format and technology of the Blog might come to determine the contents of a Blog? Every week I have many things to ‘Blog’ about, but I tend to let the process itself determine what ‘comes out’.
This may seem like a relinquishment of power and will, but I started to think about the particular ways in which Blogging (as opposed to writing with a pen, typewriter, or even writing on a computer for a different form of eventual publication), might determine the contents of Blogs.
This is partly a design and technology question, concerning the way this nice, white, virtual screen, with certain programmed prerequisites prescribed by the Blog site, influence my writing (we could also talk about nice straight lines, the given font etc.).
But another important influence on the style, tone, and ultimately on the content of my Blog (and Blogs in general) is something to do with the sense of the audience for them, which is a kind of mythical ‘everyperson’ of the Blogosphere or Webosphere.
What I am getting at is that, unlike when I am writing for a more particular audience and context, it seems to me that when I Blog my writing tends towards a certain user-friendly open-ness, a kind of generous quasi-innocence (which I am now picturing as a kind of Californian easiness) that I wouldn’t adopt if I thought the writing was going to appear in this or that journal or book etc.
I could be concerned about this and worry that Blogging is ‘blanding-out’ my voice into a milky ordinariness, an easy-going style that defaults, when I Blog, to talking about easy-going things (never too passionate, political, personal etc). On the other hand, maybe I should welcome this dawn of a universal language of Blogging that promises to take the edge of human interactions and lead to a utopian, frictionless global conversation.
Now, before finishing, I just want to revisit the design and technology aspect of the Blog, to briefly reconsider its influence. I recall when writing my PhD that my revered professor and supervisor suggested I write in a ‘lapidary’ fashion. He meant that rather than end up with 100,000 words that seemed ineffectual, non-committal or equivocal I should instead try writing as if I were carving words in stone (lapidary), making them far less equivocal, worth the energy expended on making them into sentences, with meanings and values that just might be valuable many years after they were written.
It strikes me that the rapid process of weekend Blogging could be just the opposite of this approach. Blogging is surely almost always a virtual writing. It might be technically argued that it doesn’t ‘exist’ at all as it occupies the virtual rather than the actual realm. A lapidary writing, carved in stone; or any carefully crafted piece of physical, actual, material writing (a typewritten manuscript, an illuminated page from a medieval bible) all have an ‘indexical’ influence on the world in addition to the words and their meaning. Virtual Blogging does not, it merely transforms pixels on a screen for the period of time the reader and the writer require it to be present.
The big question this leaves – and it is a question that I have been thinking about since long before I even wrote my PhD (which alights on these matters) – is:
Does the virtualisation of writing herald a newly literate global age where everyone has access to writing and reading and publishing in an unprecedentedly global way?
Does the virtualisation of writing (perhaps exemplified by the Blog format) herald an age in which the loss of the materiality of writing signals the loss of the value and even the meaning of writing, with the potential implications of heralding a new kind of illiteracy and consequent barbarism?
(I just skimmed through my PhD and found the following, on pp.56-57: “… Thus, in the time when the hurdle between publishing and non-publishing, professional and amateur, is broken down by technology, the writer also relinquishes the role of providing a rallying voice, gives up this role and aspiration, simply because everyone is now a voice, and the world has become a ‘speakers corner’…”)