Writing the self

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Content: AOU , Jeddah Branch
E 301 A Tutor : Mr. Larbi © Unit 6 Writing the self Janet Maybin
Fall 2012-2013
Introduction This chapter focuses on the relationship between language use, creativity and the self. It investigates identity not as a fixed set of attributes, but as a set of dispositions which emerge through an interactive process between how one sees and expresses one's own position and meaning in the world, and how one is `identified' by others. This process is both social and individual. Depending on their social background and experience, individuals are predisposed towards particular perceptions, actions and ways of reading the world and themselves, but they also exercise choice in expressing and presenting themselves in local activities and interactions, drawing on the resources available. The term `self' is used to refer to the more internal, subjective experience of identity. This chapter tries to answer the following questions : in what ways do we perform or create particular kinds of identity through writing? How do different readers and audiences contribute to this identity? It focuses , the, on four personal genres: diaries or journals, letter-writing, graffiti and web home pages which are usually addressed to specific audiences. It will examine how these genres offer opportunities for creativity at the level of the text and will also look at how their interactional functions, and their embeddedness in social practices shape this creative expression and its interpretation by different audiences. Writers draw on the creative possibilities of shared generic conventions, and the texts they produce are interpreted, used and recontextualized in relation to broader social and cultural practices. The term `genre' is used in various connected ways within the field of language and literacy studies, and has the following meanings: 1- Different types of literary texts, such as poetry, novels, plays. Sub-genres of these are defined according to their stylistic features and associated subject matter and audience. For instance the sub-genres of poetry involve lyric, epic, ballad and sonnet. 2- Groups of spoken or Written Texts with a similar social purpose and formal characteristics, e.g. diaries, advertisements, jokes. Bakhtin (1986) suggests that simple primary genres such as everyday conversation can be absorbed into more complex secondary genres such as novels.
1- Diary / Journal Writing A diary is a daily record, especially a personal record of events, experiences, and observations; it is also referred to as a journal. Basically, a diary is a book for use in keeping a personal record, as of experiences. A diary or journal is a permanent personal record that is kept of events, thoughts, and ideas associated with an individual. While some cultures think of diaries as being mainly a female pastime, the fact is that journaling or keeping a diary is an activity that people of both genders engage in regularly. Keeping a diary is an excellent means of documenting experiences and ideas that will have meaning later in life or possibly be of importance to the next generation. In many instances, keeping a diary is something that people choose to do in secret. The thoughts and ideas that are captured in the text of a diary are often considered private and confidential. It was not until the late Renaissance that the diary began to have some literary value as the importance of the individual began to become to the fore. Since then it has often been used by the historian, not only in the immense importance of it's supply of facts often unrecorded in historical and political chronicles, but also as a picture of the daily life of it's writers time and personality. Among the most famous diaries of English literature are those of John Evelyn for 1641-1706; Samuel Pepys (166069) , perhaps the most valuable and minute record in existence Jonathan Swift's Journal to Stella, 1710-13; Samuel Pepys probably the greatest diarist of all time gave an astonishingly accurate and frank picture of his weaknesses and frailties and yet at the same time a stunning picture of life not only in London but also at the court, the theatre, his Navy office and his household. In the 20th century, the Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927), the two-volume Journal of the Nobel Prize for Literature winner Andre' Gide (1869-1951), and the five-volume Diary of Virginia Woolf (1977-84) are among the most notable of examples. Diaries recording and commenting on personal experience go back to 16th century. Early diaries or journals may have grown out of the habit of keeping household accounts but as far back as the evocative entries in Samuel Pepys' famous 17th century diary, they have also provided a private space for the writer's personal reflections. The growth of literacy, the increasing interest in travel and public affairs and the self-examination encouraged by Protestantism all contributed to the growth of diary keeping from this period onwards. Accounting to God for one's life's work was a common theme in the 17th and 18th century diaries which survive and diarists also admonished themselves to become more virtuous. Dorothy Wordsworth wrote her Grasmere Journals partly to
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please her poet brother, who often used them as a source and would ask her to read out passages to revive his memory. A direct link can be drawn between Dorothy's journal description of quantities of daffodils growing among mossy stones by a lake which `tossed and reeled and danced' and William's famous poem Daffodils (Darbishire, 1958, p. 142). In her journals Dorothy expresses her own romantic sensibility and love of nature and she also defines herself through her love for her brother. In another direct link between journal entry and poem, Sylvia Plath's diary entry while in hospital awaking an appendix operation records that: `A helpful inmate in a red bathrobe brings the flowers back, sweet-lipped as children. All night they've been breathing in the ball, dropping their pollens, daffodils, pink and red tulips, the hot purple and red-eyed anemones'. In her poem Tulips, this experience is reversioned and threaded with pain and foreboding: The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby. (Sylvia Plath, cited in Mallon, 1984, p. 136)
Journal writing is an intensely private activity, and the notion that diaries provide an intimate, uncensored record is exploited in the promise of revelations when the diary of a public figure is published, or humorously in popular fictional diaries like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones Diary. There is always, however, a sense of addressing someone else -- an absent or imaginary friend, a neglectful lover, oneself, God or `posterity'. Some diaries, such as those of travellers and politicians, may he written with publication in mind and the diaries of famous writers (e.g. Jonathan Swift, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf) are often seen and valued as `literature'. Not only may diaries he published, or provide the raw material for published work, but the diary form itself has been appropriated by novelists to produce imaginary diaries in the form of fiction, for example, Journal of the Plague Year (1722) by Daniel Defoe, Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker, and The Diary of a ivobody (1863) by Grossmith. In view of Erving Goffman (1959) , people have a `front stage' style, a public persona designed to make a good impression on others, and also a more private `back stage style' in places where they can relax their behavior, reflect more openly and prepare their public `front'.
A-The back-stage self
The metaphoric description of the loss as
`floating', `difficult to anchor and `difficult to
locate', and the image of being widowed `from a
distance', seem to be part of this writer's struggle
both to explore, and to find an accurate
expression for her current feelings. Her use of
repeated structures and rhythms drew me in to a
closer involvement with what she was saying:
`This leaves them fatherless, yet they never had
an involved father ... And it leaves me co-parent-
less, yet I never had an involved co-parent', `The
loss is a floating loss, a difficult-to-anchor loss'.
This parallelism which highlights the connection
between present losses and past absences, helps
to explain the floating, unanchored sense of loss
of something that was never really there.
When experiencing strong emotions, do we
draw on poetic rhythm and imagery to try to
express feelings which cannot be captured
within
more
prosaic
language?
B- Web logs Increasingly popular medium for diary writing is the internet. Whereas the secrets of paper diaries can be closely guarded, weblogs or `blogs' are potentially open to millions of readers, even though they often contain surprisingly intimate details of the writer's everyday life. Drawing on the affordances of the internet, blogs can include visual and other material, producing a kind of virtual scrapbook. A blog which stands for a shortened version of `web log' is a web page containing chunks of content ranging from the newest to the oldest, with the most recent posting at the top of the page. Authors may write entries about their everyday lives, world events,
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interesting material they have found on the web, or on specific expert topics. Since 1999, the public availability of weblog management tools has meant that virtually anyone with internet access can create their own blog. Because of the immediacy with which a blog can be updated, they can play an important part in the fast dissemination of news and information around the internet. For instance, during and after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, stories, photographs and movies posted on their blogs by people near to Ground Zero rivaled what was available in the mainstream media. (Bausch et al., 2002)
What kind of potential do blogs offer for creative uses of language and identity work?
The Baghdad blogger ___________ So what do you think is the most used word in our vocabulary these days? It is `ba3deen' (for you non-Arablish-speaking people, it means `later/afterwards'). Anything that has anything to do with a decision that will affect the future will be answered with `BA3DEEN'. Example 1 [salami: Listen ... I haven't been paid the last few months and you make me work like a slave. How about buying me a better monitor than the one I have? It flickers. [evil_boss_unit]: We will think about it `ba3deen'. [salami: What `afterwards'? After I have lost my eyesight? [evil_boss_unit]: No. Who cares about you these days. Wait till after it happens. [salam]: Whaaa? I don't ohhh, you mean it. I guess it's OK then, we'll see what happens afterwards. Example 2 [salam]: Awww GOD! You still have those hideous curtains! You promised they will not stay! [female_parental_unit]: Oh ... I thought I'!! keep them and change them afterwards. [salam]: They are ugly and there's no excuse for not changing them ... you know that!! [female_parental_unit]: I said `ba3deen' ... and if it makes you feel any better they will probably be shredded by all the glass that will be flying thru them. [salami: Oh you mean that OK, wait till `ba3deen'.
During the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq in November 2002, a young Iraqi writing under the pseudonym `Salam Pax' began a weblog in English addressed to his friend `Raed' who had currently moved away from home to study in Jordan and was proving an infrequent email correspondent. On his website clear_raed, Pax started keeping a personal log about life in Baghdad, which was also a letter to Raed. While many blogs are diary-like, Pax's is more of a hybrid cross between a diary and a series of letters. As he began making contact with other bloggers on the Internet, he found that an increasing number of people from across the world were becoming interested in his site. Identifying himself as an Iraqi, Pax's postings began to be addressed to this wider audience of, as he termed them, `non-Arablish speaking people'. Ranging over subjects such as his taste in music, criticisms of Saddam Hussein's regime and satirical responses to western news reports and propaganda, Pax's postings were read by an increasing number of web users daily as the American invasion grew nearer. However, there was considerable speculation about his identity :Was he a Ba'athist or CIA spy? Did he exist at all?A A series of extracts from Pax's weblog was published by a British broadsheet newspaper, and later a selection of entries were collected together in a paperback book with announcements on the cover comparing Salam Pax to Ann Frank and Elvis Presley (Pax, 2003).
The extracts includes two imaginary dialogues he made up to convey what life was like in Baghdad. In what ways does Pax use language artfully draw creatively on the sociohistorical context and the affordances of the internet to get his message across in these postings? How might Pax's weblog be contributing to his identity? Noticeably, Pax is using word play to create social connection, both with Raed' through the palindrome `dear_raed' and with his wider audience of western readers through the juxtaposition within his own name of the words for peace in Arabic and Latin, and the made-up word `Arablish', an mixture of `Arabic' and `English'. Pax's parody of programming language `[female_parental_unit]', `[evil_boss_un it]', helps to produce a deadpan absence of emotion in the face of impending danger conveying the surreal nature of life in pre-war Baghdad. The juxtaposition of banal everyday detail with the vast horror of the coming war runs through the entries on Pax's site. Initially making creative use of a blog to get in touch with Raed' when he fails to answer his emails, Pax then responds to the increasing interest in his site with postings addressing a wider international audience. The anonymity of the web enables Pax to criticize both the Ba'athist regime and the western powers, for instance suggesting an ironic parallel between the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, in a context where voicing criticism in the real world would have been highly dangerous. This anonymity ,however, raises questions for others about who Pax is and about whether he exists at all. As his fame grows, he expresses discomfort and fear about his safety especially when people start quoting him as an
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authority. In addition to Pax's projection of himself as witty courageous in his criticism of both Bush and Saddam Hussein and friendly to `non-Arablish' people, the identity of The Baghdad Blogger' emerged through the responses of others and the appropriation of his writing into new generic forms, This appropriation also put a new kind of value on Pax's writing, elevating it from a personal log to a broadsheet newspaper and then a book Once finally located, Pax is given expert status through publication in a national broadsheet newspaper, projected as a kind of alternative cultural icon through his book and presented as a fledgling media personality in the video diary on Newsnight. The swiftness of these transformations is made possible by the globalised communication and media technologies at the turn of the twenty-first century which have produced the blog and facilitated the email dialogues in which Pax became involved. Worth being emphasized is that journal writing has always been in some sense dialogic, that is, responding to others and addressed to others, and journals have always had the potential to be readdressed to wider audiences. 2 The art of Letter Writing This section focuses on personal letter writing, which is the most basic written genre and the root of other more complex generic forms. The art of letter writing has also long been a subject for instruction and amusement. Letter-writing manuals and collections of letters have been published in Britain since the 16th century. Angel Day, a sixteenth-century rhetorician and writer, provided one of the first English letter-writing manuals for the new rising English middle classes. With the emphasis in this period on polite learning and classical rhetoric in writing, rather than on what we would now see as individual art and creativity, Day stressed the `comelinesse' [beauty]and social niceties of letter writing. An individual letter was expected to conform to the classical rhetorical structure, and Day provided his own sample letters with the different sections marked. Examples included `A conciliatory epistle of the third sort, wherein a gentlewoman is comforted on the death of her husband slain in the wars' and `A sample petition in the nature of reconciliation from a son to his displeased father'. Interestingly, although The English Secretorie is an instruction manual, behind a series of Love letters later in the book a story of misunderstanding, jealousy, envy and reconciliation begins to emerge like a basic trace of an epistolary novel. From the outset, letters could he used both for functional purposes and as a fictional form for pleasure and entertainment. The first letter writer Rosewarne, uses metaphor and rhythmic parallel structures to help construct his impending death as a glorious contribution to `peace, justice and freedom' . He rhetorically aligns his mother's sacrifice with his own so that as he becomes a hero, she is constructed within the letter as a heroine. Through the subsequent publishing and reprinting of Rosewame's letter readdressed to the wider British public, Rosewarne and his mother become emblems of patriotic national identity. More generally, jolly argues that one of the most striking differences in `writing the self' through letters is their more intensely dialogic nature. With increasing mobility and migration in Europe, growing literacy and the development of the postal system, letter writing became more popular, first among the upper and middle classes and then more widely. As with journals, the initial focus on polite form was gradually replaced with more emphasis on the potential within personal correspondence for individual expression and intimate relationship. Janet Altman (1982) argues that a set of paradoxes and contradictions make personal letter writing a particularly rich creative medium. She points out that letters have the capacity to overcome barriers of distance and space and can transform absence into presence. A letter can clarify, and it can also dissimulate. It is a reflection of the self and the self's relationships, often private and intimate, yet at the same time it reflects its intended audience, the `drag of the face on the other side of the page', as Virginia Woolf [1940]puts it. A letter has a formal opening and closing, yet it can be elliptical and open-ended, referring implicitly to other letters within a chain of correspondence.
Reading A Margaretta Jolly focuses on a point in British history when the practice of private letter writing reached a peak of popularity. She explores the possibilities for creativity within the everyday letters of ordinary people and argues that the ambiguity of the personal letter, as both communication and creation, produces a `distinctive aesthetic of the everyday'. Letter writers may use language artfully to present personal experience and a particular kind of self, but that self is created in relation to a specific recipient who then responds and confirms or in some way questions the presented identity. Letter writers also project the identity of their recipient -- for instance, the mother as heroine in Rosewarne's letter and Valentine Morche as an `instigator of laughs' in Helme's letter Again, a recipient may respond to this projected identity, and so the negotiation of relationship and identity continues as letters go back and forth. Like diaries, letters can become recontextualized within books which are treated as `literature'. Although a piece of writing is partly defined as a particular genre from the inside through its structure and style, it also depends on social recognition and value as that genre, from the outside. We saw how Salaam Pax's hybrid blog mutated rapidly into a newspaper column, book and video diary, and Jolly points out the contrast between the immediate contemporary publication of Rosewarne's letter and the more problematic reception of Wandrey's writing. The letter genre also has the potential for artful use
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within fiction, first in early parodies of the letter- writing manuals and then in epistolatory novels.
3 The writing on the wall This section, is concerned about the relationship between writing, creativity and identity. First, it investigates the artfulness of graffiti, at the level of both text and interaction. Identify any artful uses of language that strike you in the examples of graffiti below, such as repetition, puns, rhyme and rhythm. In what ways is there a creative use of dialogic forms to produce humorous or ironic effects? What can be noticed is that the absurdity produced by morphological punning in the first line is developed further by two subsequent writers, who imitate a rational argument using the parallel pun. This kind of `dialogical creativity' emerges through the relationship between individual contributions. Obviously, the suggestion to buy a cottage in Wales at a time when English holiday homes were being burnt by Welsh nationalists is darkly ironic.
As far as the playful aspects of graffiti in English is concerned, puns and contradictory voices are worth being considered. In fact, these features stress the importance of how graffiti is written in relation to its meaning and significance, and point out its inherently oppositional nature, either in specifically political terms or to the social establishment in general [Blume, 1985; Guy Cook, 1996]. Opposition is expressed through the illegitimacy of the graffiti act itself, through the content of the message and through stylistic features, for instance the use of non-standard spelling and punctuation which create a symbolic distance from authority. Sebba [2000] points out that some anti-standard practices have now become conventional practice within English-language graffiti, In addition to the traditional graffiti, a new, rather more colorful form has been appearing on city landscapes since the 1970s. Both writing and art form, letters and names are spray-painted in a decorative calligraphy which is often not legible. Spray-can graffiti has now developed into a distinctive subcultural practice, often associated in the United States with territorial marking by gangs with distinctive slogans, symbols and spelling conventions. A small number of studies have examined the significance this kind of graffiti writing holds for the writers themselves and its function for them in terms of claiming and expressing particular identities. For instance, Moje [2000, p. 651] describes how marginalized youth in Salt Lake City have appropriated gang writing styles, spelling rules and dress codes to `claim a space, construct an identity and take on a social position in their worlds'. For these youth, who have not found value in mainstream culture, graffiti is `a state of mind and a sign of respect'. A- The spray-can is mightier than the sword (Reading B) Nancy Macdonald draws on her ethnographic study of young graffiti writers in London and New York so as to explain how graffiti writing plays a central role in the construction of a particular kind of young masculine identity. Coming from a background in sociology, she is interested in the way these young graffiti writers create and protect their own subcultural world. Nancy Macdonald suggests that the illegality of graffiti is a central defining feature of the trials of courage and daring which establish these graffiti writers' respect, status and fame within their subculture. She argues that the elaboration of the struggle with authority, and the intense competition between the writers themselves, highlight a set of qualities which the youthful graffiti writers identify as `manly' and `masculine'. She suggests that some writers express sides of themselves in their graffiti which are not evident in the rest of their lives. These emerge particularly through the creative aspects of graffiti, including the materiality, shape and design of the script Like a medieval manuscript, it communicates multimodally; i.e. through both the text and its decoration. The name, which is the basis of an art form where the look and sound of the letters are as important as the connotations of the word they spell, also expresses a desired identity for the writer The placing of graffiti on fast- moving trains, or on buildings to stand out proud against the city landscape, brings this identity to life and gives it power and
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dominance within the urban environment. Graffiti writers have their own criteria for judging the quality of particular tags or pieces and the effectiveness of their placing, but graffiti writing is often seen by mainstream society as a destructive rather than a creative act: it `defaces' public places. In her book about graffiti writers, Macdonald [2001] describes how some older writers make the transition into legality and respectability through taking on commercial graffiti work or putting up pieces in legal painting sites, eventually reaching a wider audience through exhibitions and coverage in specialist graffiti magazines and more general art magazines.
4-Constructing the virtual self [ Homepage] One of the genres on the web most explicitly connected with constructing the self is the personal homepage which is a website published or maintained by an individual, or group, and which presents its author(s) to the world. It is different from a weblog in being primarily an `all about me' collection of biographical details, interests, ideas, taste, beliefs and so on, rather than a journal with regular postings . Homepages can be accessed through web directories or through web ring catalogues listing homepage owners who have joined together through common interest groups. ` It has been argued that representing oneself on a home page relieves some of the pressures of self-presentation in face-to-face interaction, in that there is more time to assemble a `front' to present to the world, and much more personal control over how this is constructed. Writers can choose to be freed up from identification on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity or any other aspect of personal appearance. In addition to providing unfettered opportunities for self-presentation, homepages also offer new ways of creatively combining language with other semiotic features. These are explored more fully by Daniel Chandler[Reading C] who analyzed the use of different modes in the ongoing construction and reconstruction of homepages by their authors. According to Chandler, verbal text can be combined with graphics, images, voices and music collected from around the web and real life, reassembled and recontextualized to present a flexible and changing self. Therefore, homepages seem to be the ultimate multimodal text in many ways. Texts and images are reframed by the author who can highlight or re-accent' particular aspects of their meanings, in the context of their own uniquely assembled display. Chandler describes the typical practice of authoring as a kind of bricolage (i.e. a patchwork of items put together from whatever is available), whereby creativity and identity are expressed through the ways in which collected items are recombined and through hypertext links rather than through the construction of original text and images. He suggests that this re-use of existing materials undermines romantic notions of creativity which focus on individual originality. In many ways, Chandler is arguing that the semiotics of homepages suggest an emerging renegotiation and transformation of oppositions such as distance, intimacy, private/public and self/other Conclusion This chapter has explored the ways in which a number of genres provide opportunities for the expression and construction of the self. Texts do not, however, just reflect certain attributes of the writer. Identity is also established through interactions with readers, emerging dialogically through the give and take of a chain of responses, and typically within letters. Writers can also be assigned new kinds of identity, in relation to the wider audiences involved when diaries, letters and graffiti are transformed into more publicly valued genres. Through their appropriation into more prestigious genres, texts can take on a life of their own beyond their original author's own life or original intentions. The dialogic nature of texts is reflected within their different levels of verbal structure: the direct references to `you' in Pax's weblog, the elliptical nature of letters within an ongoing correspondence, the addressing of diaries to the self or an imaginary friend, graffiti `dialogues' and the intertextual references on an internet homepage. These dialogic features are linked with other creative uses of language which are found in these everyday genres: ornamental calligraphy, word play, imagery, irony, parody and rhetorical devices such as three-part lists. These features, as Margaretta Jolly suggests, open up the potential for artfulness in ordinary communicative practices. At the level of the text, language provides a creative poetic resource to evoke thoughts, feelings and experience in striking ways. In addition, the act of writing itself reworks and re-presents personal experience and personal identity to others and to the self. Furthermore, diaries and personal correspondence are ostensibly private, but are sometimes readdressed and reproduced in more public genres. Graffiti and the web are ostensibly public, but offer particular opportunities for privacy and anonymity. Through recontextualisation, hybridisation and intertextuality texts combine and are transformed into other kinds of texts, with new workings of the private/Public Relationship, new values and new possibilities for authorial identities.

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