October 2006
Voyeurs and Exhibitionists

Confessing selves

Notes on the road to realizing self-centered lives

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I have a confession to make: I used to have a blog. It is one that I have since become ashamed of, but can’t quite figure out how to delete. The shame comes from the force that drove me to even start it: a broken heart. And since that has ceased to exist, there is a need to delete proof that it ever did.

CONFESSIONS MADE PUBLIC. Blogs are giving anyone who has an Internet connection and the leisure to sit in front of a computer the tools to vent out frustration, release pent-up energy, and scream the unspoken.

But more than what brought the blog on, it’s what it ultimately became that I find shameful: a sorry excuse for recovery and moving on, and in the process, proof of self-centeredness.

Few people know of that blog, and yet I fear that at some point I will be revealed as that forlorn girl all too willing to wear my heart on my sleeve for the entire (Internet) world to see. A girl who could only exist within her tiny little world of pain, in the midst of this sad suffering country.

Monday, August 21, 2006

While I realized long ago that my blog was a poor excuse for productivity at a time when there was a dire lack of it, I have yet to lose my liking for reading other people’s blogs — from those by friends to those of near-strangers. It’s brought on by whatever you might think: voyeurism maybe? Curiosity, most probably. The possibility of finding gold on a bad, bad day, usually. Gold is found when I am made to realize that I can’t be worse off than that near-stranger who reveals that her issue of the week has been how to fix her unmanageable hair.

Self-gratification, I find, is the name of the game as far as blogs in this country are concerned. Writing is a very personal thing. And using it to alleviate anxiety and anger, to celebrate happiness and excitement, is as old as the act itself of sitting down and gathering one’s thoughts.

There was a time of course when we wrote about our lives in diaries and journals, keeping them hidden from the rest of the world, and keeping the unsaid just that: not worthy of articulation, or just too sensitive an issue to be articulated. In writing a diary under lock and key, it is the release of emotion that is the point; and it becomes the only goal. That many will say writing has allowed them to survive, or that articulation was all they needed to move on and recover from an event in their lives, has become cliché.

Now imagine this: to the act of journal writing, add a blank unspeaking computer screen, an invisible audience, and the freedom to be anonymous. What have you got? Confessions made public. The Internet, through the weblog or blog, has allowed for this to happen, giving anyone who has an Internet connection and the leisure to sit in front of a computer the tools to vent out frustration, release pent-up energy, and scream the unspoken. The World Wide Web, after all, is about the right to our freedoms: of information, of speech, of expression. And the blog is but one Internet genre that allows its users to exercise — and have access to — these rights.

That is ultimately what makes blogging a most liberating thing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What is it about blogging that appeals to so many of us? Letting it all hang out in public is the strangest of things, and I continue to be dumbfounded at some bloggers’ utter disregard for an audience that might read them. At the same time, does the Internet qualify as “the public”? Does having a blog ultimately mean having an audience?

It is difficult to imagine a confessional blogger whose reason for writing is the possibility of readership. When the treatment of the genre is that of a diary, then that audience is in fact irrelevant. In truth, given the vastness of the Web, it is impossible as well to expect an audience. What can be expected is a fixed set of readers mostly made up of friends and acquaintances who are interested enough in what a certain blogger-friend may have to say — even if it’s only about the last movie she saw or that crazy coincidence of meeting an ex-boyfriend.

In the academic and literary world I move around in, blogs are linked to each other, authors are known, and coming full circle is quick and easy. The six degrees of separation may be cut down to three or four, and it’s no surprise. We keep to the circles that are familiar, within and beyond the Internet. That this one is not only quite small, but also quite forgiving, is indicative of the kind of literary and academic world we have in this country. Everyone is doing exactly the same thing, and no one is about to point out that we are all rather apolitical or too self-centered.

Forgiveness, in fact, seems to be beside the point. And criticism is obviously uncalled for. Given the confessional blog, it is difficult to even comment on the things that people concern themselves with, mundane as these things usually are. Confessions, while now on the Internet, are still pretty limited to very personal things — from family to work, art and craft, new shoes, and whatnot. And it is in this espousal of the personal that the confessional blog escapes criticism.

As reader and observer, as voyeur if you will, my existence is irrelevant to these blogs. These existed before I started reading them, and they will continue to be produced beyond my prying eyes. I am ultimately part of that invisible audience — the Internet public — that can exercise its freedom to stop reading any of these confessions if I think they’re a waste of my time.

That’s the truth.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I’ve been told often enough that anonymity is a cop out: if there’s something that needs to be said, that person who speaks must have a name. Anyone who remains anonymous does not deserve a decent response or an audience. But on the Internet — particularly in blogs — this discussion is subsumed by an even touchier topic: the visible writer. Those who identify themselves to an audience who are, within the blog, disallowed from doing criticism because they will be told: this is my blog, don’t tell me what I can or cannot write about.

This is a subversion of the writing-reading process altogether: the writer cannot be held accountable for what has been said; neither is there a responsibility to the reader that must be upheld.

But self-centered as these discussions on the author are, what this glosses over is the question of what is important. Is it about who’s talking? Or is it about what’s being said? The struggle with anonymity really happens only when there is an issue that needs to be talked about, and those involved assert ascendancy by saying they will not argue with a penname. And yet, we celebrate writers who had to write with pennames to distinguish one type of work over another like Quijano de Manila (National Artist Nick Joaquin); and those who needed to use pennames in order to get published, like the women writers of old. Anonymity does not put into question the issues that are being raised; the other side of that coin asserts that the lack of a known and named author allows for the issue to be highlighted over and above personalities.

The author is dead, we are told. And this, the blog teaches us well. What we are left with then is the blog as text, which can be viewed over and above the author that speaks within it, and which ultimately allows for criticism. What does the confessional blog’s content prove about its writer? What is the context of the confession? How do we even begin to deal with something as personal as the confessional blog?

Well, apparently we don’t.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

There is a two-mindedness to writing a blog.

We want to remain anonymous to many, to bask in the glory of unlimited and limitless space where we may speak without worries. The liberation we experience through the process of writing and maintaining a blog is without a doubt unparalleled. There is no audience we are answerable to, no censors we must keep in mind — and particularly for the anonymous and confessional blogs — no backlash. Nothing we say can be taken against us; the blogs we own are no one else’s but ours.

And yet, the act of writing itself requires an audience, invisible as it may be on the Internet, imagined as it is in our heads. To sit, and write, and “publish” as we’ve done surreptitiously through the blogs is to assume that there is something special in what we have to say, that there is something unique in our articulation, that there is an amount of importance in those words. And that this confession will find resonance in someone from that Internet public we refuse to acknowledge.

The confession as an end in itself is only true for that time when diaries were under lock and key, and everything said was mere articulation — not a publication. The blog has allowed for the private confession to move to a public realm. And in that mere movement, there is no escape from criticism. Or from interrogation.

The blog is and must be viewed as text — one that is not safely tucked into the discourse of the private and personal, pretending to be oblivious to audience, while unconsciously demanding it. The blog can be interrogated on the level of its personal assertions, particularly in the context of a country that requires vigilance and involvement, currency and social consciousness. When there are so many pressing issues of the day, what is the relevance of worrying about how our hair looks?

Within the blog is power derived from the mere articulation of lives, yes. But toward what end?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Elsewhere in the world — in China, for example — governments fear blogs and close them down; in the United States, many blogs have been monitored since 9/11. While that is an impingement on human rights, it is also proof of how something so personal is political. And how blogs can change minds, and the world beyond it, precisely because the freedom within it allows for more than just the confessional.

While it’s easy to generalize about my generation’s entrapment in the confessional blog, many have in fact started to use this form to consciously assert the personal as political. While speaking of issues that seem to be self-centered as well — experiences of a flash flood, an academic encounter, a rally — these blog authors are able to shift from the personal to that which dictates this mere articulation: the political.

None of what we say is only release, nothing is free from criticism, and no one is free from interrogation. The moment a blog is published, it involves itself in the discourse of writing in this country, one that is, to begin with, wrought with the discourse of the personal and political, and the refusal to admit that they are inextricably tied.

But these political bloggers of my generation are few and far between. And that is the saddest thing.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I wonder sometimes, what was that girl like who thought productivity meant consistently updating her blog? Who thought her own suffering was the most important thing? Who lived in her head and thought that she was all-important? Who could justify her self-centered concerns and confessions by the fact of her broken heart?

And then I think: that was a girl whose politics became the personal, and whose life was being defined by emotion. That was a girl who had nothing better to do, and who wasted time and money to heal herself through the blog, as if articulation was all that she needed, as if a broken heart was a matter of life and death.

At that time the self, my self, was all I had going for me; and it was that inch of the Internet that my blog occupied — anonymous as it was — that told me I existed and I was fine; that allowed me to live in a tiny little world where only I mattered. That this was also the time when activists started being killed and disappearing, when the Philippines sank deeper into poverty by the day, was irrelevant and unimportant.

Then, I didn’t deserve to have the freedom of the Internet and the skill of writing in my hands.

Now that’s a girl — and her blog — worth deleting.

The author is finishing her thesis for an M.A. in Philippine Studies at the U.P. Departamento ng Filipino at Panitikan ng Pilipinas. She does freelance writing and editorial work on the side. Much of her time is happily devoted to teaching writing and literature in the English Department of the Ateneo de Manila University.