Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Creating ourselves, Creating each other, Writing our Realities

I’m taking an online technical writing course through UC Berkeley. One of the texts is Revising Business Prose, 4th Edition, written by Richard A. Lanham. I haven’t loved this book, but while reading the last chapter this week, I was absolutely taken by the following (rather long) section:

Reality, for each of us, presents itself as constant oscillation between [the] two extremes of interior self and social role.

When we say that writing is sincere, we mean that somehow it has managed to express this complex oscillation, this complex self. It has caught the accent of a particular self, a particular mixture of the two selves. The sincere writer has managed to create a style which, like the social self, can become part of society, can work harmoniously in society and, at the same time, like the central self, can represent her unique selfhood. She holds her two selves in balance; from that balance emerges […] “authority”….

The act of writing involves for the writer an integration of her self, a deliberate act of balancing its two component parts. It represents an act of socialization, and it is by repeated acts of socialization that we become sociable beings, that we grow up. Thus the act of writing models the presentation of self in society, constitutes a rehearsal for social reality. It is not simply a question of a preexistent self making its message known to a preexistent society. From the ethical point of view, it is not, initially, a question of message at all. Writing is a way to clarify, strengthen, and energize the self, to render individuality rich, full and social. This does not mean writing that flows, as Terry Southern immortally put it, “right out of the old guts onto the goddamn paper.” Just the opposite. Only by taking the position of the reader toward one’s own prose, putting a reader’s pressure on it, can the self be made to grow. Writing can, through this pressure, enhance and expand the self, allow it to try out new possibilities, tentative selves. We are offering not simply an idea but our personality as context for that idea. And just as revision makes our ideas grow and develop, it encourages us to remember the different ways we can act in society, the alternative paths to socialize the self.

This made me think of my blog—the unedited version of me. The whole text is about revising writing, yet I usually write my posts with very little revision. I do spill my guts onto the paper, so to speak. I have noticed lately, however, that I am more conscious of readers. To a small extent, I put the “reader’s pressure” on my text to see what questions may arise so I may answer them beforehand. Writing for myself in this blog has allowed me to enhance, expand, and explore the various aspects of my “self”, but knowing YOU are out there has made me a more conscientious writer. Actually, I recently learned that my best friend’s husband has become a regular reader of my blog. I hope that doesn’t make me a more self-conscious writer. (Hi Rick!)

Sometimes I wonder if writing for an “audience” has made me a more conscientious member of society, too, as I learn these “alternative paths to socialize the self.” Some very interesting ideas here. Has your blog affected your writing? Your definition of “self”?