ending at the beginning

Jill Walker Rettberg, a professor at the University of Bergen, uses her blog jill/txt to research how people tell stories online.   In her post “Rituals of Closure” Rettberg calls upon diary theorist Phillippe Lejeune, and his article “Why Do Diaries End?”:

“as Lejeune writes, the ending of a diary is far more fraught than its beginning: ‘What a contrast between the simplicity of a diary’s beginning and the evanescence of its ending: the multiple forms ending can take (stopping, destroying, indexing are all different, even opposite actions)’.”

But, what about the multiple forms beginning can take?  Clearly, diaries differ from other genres of writing, but I’m not so sure I agree that beginnings are less fraught than endings.  Students oftentimes say that their greatest difficulty in writing is just beginning.  I think that they say this because beginnings are fraught with possibility.  Beginnings bring with them the anxiety of having too much to say, or too little.  Or both, simultaneously.  To say something of consequence is no small feat.  To carve some semblance of meaning out of so many possibilities can be overwhelming.  Kierkegard said that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”   While I don’t agree that freedom causes all anxieties, I do believe that the freedom, (or perhaps in our students’ case, the imperative) to say something of consequence can create a cognitive and creative bottleneck.

I am drawn to the idea of beginnings because I am a writing teacher who has to constantly begin classes, in which I must help many students begin many different writing projects.   A teacher’s business, especially a writing teacher’s, is to help students begin, to create the conditions for students’ beginnings.  Blogging seems like a  way to constantly begin, constantly evolve, not only for writing students, but also for a writing teacher.  This is my third blog post, and I am still revising  my purpose for blogging.  Revising my beginning.  Maybe this is an inherent aspect of blogging; what we write is contingent upon what we have already written, and there is a desire to push past that contingency, to say something new, something of consequence, to evolve that which we have already said.  I began my blog as a way to research blogging: what it is, why it is, how it is. But I know that if I am to persist in my blogging, I will have to constantly revise my purpose for it.  Or I will just stop.
Rettberg continues,

“Unlike paper diaries, blogs are intended to be read not only by our future selves but by others as we write. Does the presence of the actual reader (indicated by statcounters, links and comments) substitute for the presence of the future, or do we still create our blogs partly as little time capsules sent to ourselves? I wonder whether my main target audience might be myself? I reread my blog constantly, especially the most recent posts which are visible whenever I check on it, but also to find specific things I wrote about, or sometimes to see what I was thinking at a particular time.”
I would agree with Jill, that my target audience when I blog is, to a certain extent, myself.  But for me, this is due in part, at least in this beginning stage, to what Michael Wesch terms “Context Collapse”, in his Anthropological introduction to YouTube.   Although I am not in front of a webcam on my blog, I do feel as though I might be observed at any moment by almost anybody, really.   And that is unnerving.  For that reason, I do prefer to think of my future, and hopefully smarter, self as my target audience. Or maybe just my classmates, or just the authors whose work I am synthesizing into my blog posts.

Blogging sets up a sort of panoptic sensation, and it feels sort of vulnerable.  But I think that might be the point.  This sort of voluntary, Foucauldian self-monitoring that blogging sets the stage for, might necessitate another blog post entirely.


Keeping my imagined audience small, or non-existent, makes contributing to a body of knowledge on the web not quite so overwhelming.  Because contributing to this sea of information, setting yourself loose in the midst of it, can be even more overwhelming than trying to find what you want to inside of it.


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