- Anonymity, Authorship, and Blogger Ethics
We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.—Roland Barthes (1977)
A weblog, or blog, is a public diary that is written and published electronically. As a kind of reinvention of early modern diary form, blogs trade heavily on the conventions of diary writing, including especially the rhetorics of sincerity and immediacy. As public texts, however, blogs resemble other important modes of expression characteristic of modern print-culture, including the eighteenth-century broadsheets like the Tatler and The Spectator. Just as with the early broadsheets, many blogs are published anonymously, or more specifically, pseudonymously. Blogging pseudonyms are generally not fleeting aliases but fixed public identities, which are strongly associated with a particular author’s style and ethos. The impressive proliferation of blogging as a form of writing has disseminated the category of “author” to an unprecedented level of true mass-culture participation,1 though the prevalence of pseudonymity in blogging suggests that “authorship” may be at once more influential and more disposable than ever before. Though blogging certainly does little to restore the old image, widely attacked by poststructuralist theory, of the “Author-God,” here I will argue that the strong emphasis on originality, collective ethics, and the authorial persona, all of which are prevalent in the blog culture,2 [End Page 21] reinforces the ethical association of writing with authorial “signature.” Blogging thus forces a reevaluation of the poststructuralist critique of authorship on grounds substantially different from those articulated by humanist critics during the height of the “theory wars” era of the 1980s and 90s. Blogs revitalize the concept of authorship, not because they restore a more conventional, pre-modernist vision of authorial sovereignty, but because the culture of this emerging, technologically driven writing form has been dominated by author-oriented ethical precepts that provide the basis for public debate in the era of the Internet.
Sincerity and Authenticity: Blogs and Diaries
Similar in some ways to the diary form, a blog is a personal work in the sense that the daily activities and thoughts of its author often constitute its central subject matter. Both blogs and conventional diaries are iterative assertions of the writing self in its most intimate and mundane form. Insofar as we are interested in blogs and diaries in general, we are interested in Authors and Authorship, though especially with the diary form the image of Author as transcendental creator seems less relevant than the narrower concept of the Author as thinking, feeling human subject. More formally, as chronological records, both blogs and diaries are written without strong point-to-point continuity, though both textual forms are, nevertheless, clearly forms of narrative, which can require a reader to keep track of a large array of names and reference points. Admittedly, the ideal reader of many private diaries may well be their authors; Samuel Pepys, for instance, wrote his diary in a kind of shorthand code that made it unreadable to his wife and others in his household. But Pepys, whose diaries were finally published in 1825, more than one-hundred-and-fifty years after they were first written, also conveniently recorded the key to that code after his failing sight caused him to give up the diary, suggesting that he hoped his diary would be discovered and published at some point. And Pepys’ hope is a relatively common one in the history of the diary, especially the diaries written by people who were either published authors or public figures. As Susan Sontag wrote in her own, recently published diaries, “One of the main (social) functions of a journal or diary is precisely to be read furtively by other people, the people (like parents + lovers) about whom one has [End Page 22] been cruelly honest only in the journal” (para. 13).3 In short, diarists are often in some sense planning for their ostensibly private writing to be discovered and read by others, indicating an unconsciously desired readership.
The specific rhetorical and formal conventions commonly...