In my last meeting with my PhD supervisors I was asked “are you arguing that a personal blog is the self or a production of the self?” It was evident I was not being clear.
My initial reaction was that I was arguing that a personal blog is a production of the self. It is an object separate from the subject in the same way as the paper on which I write this (yes, I wrote this long-hand first) is something separate from me.
Such a line of reasoning works well if we start from the position of a pre-existent subject. In other words, if thinking creates the subject as in “I think, therefore I am”, then mental activity produces an I – an individual – that is separate from a world of objects.
Such a notion works to support the idea that we area all born with a ‘personality’ and that our subjectivity takes shape through the Freudian Oedipal phase in early childhood. We are already and always an individual and our selfhood is shaped by our relationship to the penis or an object that stands in place of the penis.
In Lacanian terms we are trapped in our subjectivity that was formed in the Oedipal phase in a denseness of language that allows no release. In other words, we are made of language.
More importantly, to both Freud and Lacan, our subjectivity is already and always interior and hidden, an essence to be discovered and revealed. It is, as it were, a kind of tiniest building block of our universe that will always be ‘yet to be discovered’. This hidden self is produced through a never-ending always-present sense of lack.
If I accept this Freudian-Lacanian view of the pre-existent subject then I must also accept that a blog is an object that can be studied, analysed and written about. In doing so I would then look at the blog as a tool of signification, a series of sign posts that point back inwards to a fixed human essence. In other words, what does this blog reveal about its author? What does the blog mean to the blogger? What lack is being redressed through the act of blogging?
I am inclined to join with Deleuze and Guattari, and to a lesser extent Foucault, and subscribe to the radical effacement of the subject. In their view the subject never existed and until the project of psychoanalysis; and this produced an object of study and never-ending analysis. Of course, this view was shared by their contemporary Foucault who believed that the creation of the individual was the preeminent move of power. Through fields of study, such as psychiatry, the individual came to exist and could thus be categorised and normalised.
What does this mean for the personal blog? If I start from the Deleuzian position of the non-existent subject I immediately obliterate the object called the personal blog for it is only through the creation of the subject that the object of the blog can come into existence.
For Deleuze and Guattari it is from this non-position of existence that a purely creative humanity can emerge. Unencumbered by the morbidity of Freud and Lacan humans are free simply to become.
Where does this leave my research? As I see it Freud and Lacan weigh heavily on the modern understanding of the subject. Any analysis of the ways in which personal blogging is productive of the self would be deficient if it ignored (especially) Lacan’s notion of lack whereby all actions taken by the subject compensate for a always-present sense of lack. An analysis of personal blogging in this way would posit the pre-existent subject interacting with the external object of the blog generating the self always clambering for a return to the imaginary of the pre-Oedipal phase.
Equally, there is merit in analysing personal blogging through the lens of Donna Haraway’s concept of the cyborg. Using the cyborg as a metaphor the personal blog becomes, not an external object or tool, but an integral part of the subject. The machine of the blog contains no ghost, no inherent pre-existent nature, but, rather, constitutes an integral, indivisible part of the subject.
In Haraway I find a particularly useful and promising line of thinking where she connects the narratives about technology and racism. In Haraway’s view, fear of societal decline through advancement of technology and the mixing of races are one and the same action of thought. . It is through the use of technology (and here I refer to personal blogging) she believes that racism can be problematised.
Haraway, along with Deleuze and Guattari and Foucault share a postmodern conception of the subject. Each offers a fresh way to understand personal blogging. In the case of Foucault, as a technology of the self, a practice of living as a work of art. And through Deleuze we can understand it as a moment akin to the chaos inherent when the artist’s brush meets the canvas.
Mansfield, N. (2000). Subjectivity: theories of the self from Freud to Haraway. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin.