Friday, November 17, 2006

Blogs, multimodality and corporeality

I've now finished reading Serfaty's (2004) book on online diaries. Her penultimate chapter on 'male and female cyberbodies' got me thinking again about what images are actually doing in blogs. She discusses many different functions of the images (as a form of romanticising the narrative, as a comment on or stimulus for textual comment and so on) but also as an extra layer of representation, created selectively which simultaneously evokes authenticity and superficiality, deconstructing the boundary between the public and private. In the project that I am about to start working on, I wonder then, how images will be used. Will photos be present in blogs where people are writing about their illness? Will the images be a commentary, or constitute a narrative in their own right? I also wonder to what extent the multimodal possibilities of blogging and myspace are being used to create specific generic effects. The classic 'my space image' of the digital self portrait is a good case in point, which is now so well recognised as to be a generic marker. But what does it say about the social function and virtual community of those using myspace?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Blogs, narrative and multimodality

Just got back from the IGALA conference in Spain, and now I've finally got around to doing some reading about blogs. The book I've started with is Viviane Serfaty's The Mirror and the Veil. She makes an interesting point about the multimodality of online diaries, where she writes,
', drawings and sometimes even audio files are produced alongside the
written text [...] they add a new, external scene to the inner scene the writing
delineates. Thus pictures accentuate the need for yet more explanations,
interpretations, yet more writing. Pictures constitute another system of
signs that reifies the body, turns it into the Other, and requires from the
diarists a further investment in the written word if they are to make sense of
themselves' (2003:28).
Serfaty's comments seem to imply that the multimodality of online diaries (which is more or less synonymous to a personal blog in her terms) introduces an element of open-endedness and fragmentation that is in diametric opposition to the linearity of conventional narrativity.

This connects with a discussion that took place on the PALA Narrative SIG discussion list earlier this year. We debated what role the images in blogs played in constructing (or undermining) the drive towards narrativity. Of course, images and their relationship to the text in the blog can be of many different kinds, refer in different ways and so on, but the question of image and narrative, especially as they are embedded in blog genres seems to open up central questions of what multimodality implies for narrative. As an example of part of the discussion, I quote from Chantelle Warner here,

In response to Ruth's question "to which the image can tell a story in itself,
or whether it is always subordinate to a verbal element," I thought of this type
of "food" blog, where people record a sort of limited autobiography through
images of what they have eaten that day.
In most of the cases here, I think the verbal text is more subordinated to images,
although they don't necessarily tell a story on their own. (Posted to the
PALA Narrative Discussion list, (31 March 2006).

So, as I start to prepare the next phase of my work, I certainly have more questions about how the multimodality of blogs both influences our sense of the genre as narrative-like, and also how both these factors work towards constructing a sense of self.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Blogs and story genres

I have been pondering the question of whether blogs are narrative or not, and I think a better way around this might be to consider blogs as a platform of communication which can sustain different story genres. I've written about conversational story genres in personal stories (sorry you need a subscription to view this, but you can email me for a copy) and wonder if similar things happen in online communication too. Thus the anecdotes, exemplums, recounts of everyday life (along with the more conventionally plotted stories) might flourish within blog posts, rather than the blog itself being a meta narrative (although I guess this could happen too). This leads me to ask whether the kinds of storytelling practices from face-to-face narratives get carried over into CMC, and if so, to what extent, how this copes with the multimodal transition, recontextualisation into an online environment and so on.

I'm off to IGALA4 tomorrow, so hopefully there might be some papers about blogs and gender there.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Definitions of narrative and blog structure

I've been thinking more about why I don't feel as if blogs are like narratives. I think it is because as soon as we move away from minimal definitions of narrative (like Labov's for example) where narrative is two temporally ordered clauses, our sense of what narrativity entails is considerably more complex. Our expectations are of patterns that entail causality, transformation, recognisable schemas. In that case, the chronological ordering of blogs makes them like a minimal narrative, but the content can be (seemingly) randomly ordered, not transformed into the discourse of 'story' yet. In fact, my lovely friend Amy entitled her blog 'A Random Seried of Near Escapes', which puts it much more eloquently than I am doing here, and encapsulates the seeming lack of order that the everyday life chronicled in personal blogs entails. So why should blogs end up in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory? Clearly, I've got some more reading and thinking to do about the narrative dimensions of blogging possibilities.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Is a blog a narrative?

Ok, well I know that this is one of those questions that begs yet more questions just to begin with. What do I mean by blog? What do I mean by narrative? Both those terms seem to cover a multitude of possiblities. However, when I first came across the term blog, I assumed it was roughly synonymous with online diary, and so some kind of narrative. I guess the fact that Jill Walker as written a definition of this for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory reinforces the fact that it is seen as a narrative subgenre, and I'm writing a chapter on blogs for the new edited collection I'm working on (New Narratives: Theory and Practice). But when I started looking at blogs, even personal blogs, they didn't really seem that narrative-like to me at all. I went on a course about blogging yesterday, and the tutor, Paul Bradshaw, described his blogs as kinds of scrap books. So I guess I'm beginning to ask questions about how far narrative theory can help us understand the various sub-sub-genres blogs are creating, and how in turn blogging might start to redefine narrative concepts.