Litlove’s post from yesterday on self and image, intimacy and authenticity has sparked some great comments. Litlove discusses our image-obsessed celebrity culture and then considers what happens in blogs, arguing that while blogs often contain images, they don’t tend to become places to enshrine images of the self in the manner of our celebrity culture, but instead are places to explore identity and voice, places, in fact, that resist the reduction of people to image. Blogging is a way to explore an authentic voice and “reconnect with a more complex, genuine sense of self.”
And in the comments Litlove says this: “I think that fiction is very much the friend of truth and authenticity, and to create a fictional personae may well be a circuitous route to telling a more genuine truth about the self.” There must be bloggers who are making it all up – who aren’t in the least interested in telling any kind of truth about themselves – and bloggers who write in order to create or foster celebrity. But most bloggers, surely, write to explore a subject, or to connect with other people, or to practice writing, or to write for some reason that would strike readers as genuine and authentic.
I’m interested, though, in the ways fiction and authenticity connect in blogs. I feel that my own blog is very much “me,” it feels genuine and authentic, and yet I’m also aware that I have a blog “persona,” that it’s a specific part of me I reveal here, or perhaps I should say it’s a version of me I reveal. And hiding myself a bit is a way, paradoxically, of being able to write more openly.
I decided to use a pseudonym when I first began blogging, and I made that decision mainly because I wasn’t sure what the blog would be about, and I wanted to protect my ability to write about anything. For example, to have a pseudonym meant that I could complain about work if I wanted to and (probably) get away with it. I pretty quickly figured out that I wasn’t going to write about that sort of thing, and I think the posts here are such that I wouldn’t mind just about anybody reading them. I’m retaining the pseudonym now mainly because I don’t want people to be able to google my real name and see the blog at the top of the list (I don’t imagine there are many people googling me, but I’m thinking about hiring committees or other people who have some power over me in some way and who might not “get” blogging), but I don’t mind telling people my real name if I have a reason to do it. A couple bloggers mailed me books recently (thank you!), and I had a strange moment when I had to decide if I was going to give them my real name along with my address. It didn’t take long to decide to go with the real name, but it was a moment of two worlds crossing that felt strange.
But my point is that I’m somehow mixing the “real me” with the blogger pseudonym version of “me,” and that mix feels perfectly natural.
Of course, there’s a limited number of things I write about here. I had to go through a process, when I first began to blog, of deciding what I would include and what I wouldn’t, and I’m guessing every blogger has to do something similar. I thought I could make it just a book blog, or I could make it a book and academic blog, or maybe a personal blog that included a lot of book talk. I feel like I’ve mostly settled on what I like to write about – mostly books, now and then on the nature of writing and reading, occasionally on bikes, because cycling is (one of) my other obsession(s) and it gives me a bit of variety.
Somehow establishing these limits feels freeing to me. I’m not even trying to give a complete picture of myself; it’s clear to everyone reading me that I’m not giving a complete picture of myself – if such a thing were possible. Creating boundaries enhances the feeling of authenticity, at least from my end of things; I can write about books and reading with openness precisely because I’ve closed off other subjects. Strangely enough, creating some artificiality, saying I’m going to make up a name and write about only two subjects, lets me write authentically.
So, kind of like in a personal essay, a blog can be about experimenting with identity – playing around with what you’ll reveal and what you won’t, deciding what voice you’ll use among the voices you have available to you, shaping your experiences and thoughts based on what you want me to know – and I can know you’re experimenting but still feel like I’m reading something authentic.