Weblogs As Art

There is a man in Oregon, retired now, who spends all his time at his typewriter, recording the minutiae of his life, commiting to paper every detail of his days. He is a figure for our age, this man for whom existence has given way to the existential act of recording. This man is the Lucifer of webloggers, the ideal of fallen perfection against whose temptations the medium's authors steel themselves.

A personal weblog is a lie, comprising a promise and a betrayal. The weblog promises access, a direct line to the personal experience of the writer; the weblog betrays that access, severs the connection somewhere along that fragile line.

Some weblogs edit: the things they speak of are the exterior things, the public events. The writer walks invisibly through these landscapes without mirrors; the narrative steps gingerly around anything that matters. Others conceal: names are removed, identifying details blur, the points of contact with reality slip and are sundered. In these weblogs, there is a direct line to a psychic inner space, but precisely whose inner space it is has come somehow unfixed.

The self needs at a little space in which to live, a few shadows that exist apart from the world's sunlit gaze. Scratch out the names and identifying details and what remains is fit for public consumption, lacking that crucial last link from welog to reality. Leave in the details but leave out the context around them: this, too, may be shared with the world, as recognizably real people are being described, but not in a way that lays them bare for your inspection. Allow them both, and you may be sure that still the author has slipped the net, that what is written about is somehow only that which misses the point. Or perhaps the whole is pure invention, and only mimes the gestures of true confession.

An absolutely honest personal weblog is a contradiction in terms: if that promised access were to be achieved, in the instant of its realization it would eradicate anything recognizably "personal" about it. This is the strange secret of our Oregonian diarist: he has achieved the impersonal, he has flattened out his existence in the process of telling it to the point where it has ceased to be the experience of a person and has become something else entirely.

The gift of friendship is the gift of access, the backstage pass that takes you to places about which most people can only speculate. Intimacy is created not by honesty, but by secrecy, in the carving out of a shared psychic space whose nature is kept hidden from the world. A weblog is an inviting-in, a gesture of friendship's secrets extended to the reader, but also it contains a shutting-out, a closed door behind which the next entry's secrets are being created.

The autobiographer has a pre-prepared escape: the delay between penning and publication itself is enough. Identity shifts with time; a map of the psyche becomes more unreliable with every moment that passes from the instant the cartographer sets down the pen. A weblog does not so much progress as unfold: its immediacy and its continual extension combine to remove this wiggle room. The obstruction, the obfuscation, the deception: these must be written in, since they don't just happen.

A weblog is a form of performance; it recapitulates the dramatic journey of the play. The audience is excluded from the action, from participation in the events they see enacted before them. Weblogs do not speak to each other; readers and other webloggers enter into a weblog in the third person, as part of the great undifferentiated out there into which all links point. In the theatre, the lights come up on the audience at the end of the performance, as they are invited, through their applause, to bear witness to what they have seen, to indicate their acceptance of events as the actors have presented them.

What is important in the personal weblog, too, is this bearing witness: the writer has crafted a story of self and given it to the reader; the reader's role is to receive this story and to validate it. Even the most "unedited" and "direct" of weblogs operates according to some strategy of editing, some technique for the arrangement of events that contains its particular promise and particular betrayal. It is this choice of strategy that defines a weblog's style, that draws the reader in to become a willing conspirator. The weblog is a technique of self-knowledge, mediated by the reader.

Every entry in a weblog has a twinned significance: one meaning for the author and one for the author's imagined readership. What the reader sees is not necessarily what the author gains from that seeing. For poetic and other obscure weblogs, this observation is self-evident, but it holds true even for weblogs that appear more transparent. No entry in a personal weblog has ever fully explained why it was posted: no entry ever can, or will. The writer retains the memory of the betrayal built into every entry: this memory deepens the meaning, complicates and enriches the bit of self that has been poured out through the entry.

A personal weblog is a series of still images placed atop one another like a flipbook. The spaces between entries remain dark, penetrable only by conjecture. String them together, play them in order, steep them in the hiddent themes of memory and mood that connect successive frames, and there you have a life: a stuttering animation whose full fluidity is visible to one person and one person only. The act of arrangement is the act of narration, the transformation of an impersonal happening into a personal story. The weblog as a medium is defined by this paradox: a public act produces a private narrative.

So, then: anything truly personal in a weblog is kept under wraps by the writer; the text carries the whiff of the personal, but remains careful not to actually reveal it. The contents of a weblog are deliberately arranged by the author, no matter how natural the result may appear. What results is a work of monumental self-contemplating ego, one that the reader can neither fully comprehend nor fully participate in. And yet, the reader still participates, still willingly submits to the promise's betrayal, still sfits eagerly through these leftover scraps from the author's table of existence. Why?

Because the weblog is art, and such things Art demands.