Saturday, October 14, 2006

Honest !

If this post comes out sounding a little unhinged, please bear in mind that I got up at 4.15 a.m. this morning to go to Paris and that I’m drafting this on the train home. And please also know that the malodorous young man sitting next to me has just crunched his way through half a raw cabbage.

A while ago, Jilltxt mentioned the work of Philippe Laplace who has written books on the theory of autobiography. She was interested in a specific aspect of his work — namely how online diaries end — but her post reminded me of another aspect of his theory, the idea of the "autobiographical pact". This implicit contract between reader and writer is sealed primarily in the proper name: the author's name is identical to that of the narrator and we consequently read the text written by the author to whom it refers as reflexive or autobiographical. This is followed by the preamble of which Lejeune writes:
Très vite, je me suis mis à faire une anthologie de ces préambules propitiatoires, de ces serments, de ces appels au peuple, avec l’impression qu’ils disaient déjà tout ce que je pourrais dire ! Ce discours contenait fatalement sa propre vérité : il n’était pas une simple assertion, mais un acte de langage, un performatif (je ne connaissais pas encore l’expression), qui faisait ce qu’il disait. C’était une promesse.
Obviously, I’m wondering about the validity of this so-called autobiographical pact in the world of blogs where proper names are rarely disclosed. Is there a similar implicit pact between blog writer and reader? Is the reader naïve in expecting everything that appears on the blog to be true? To derive any enjoyment from following the blog, do we always have to believe the “profile” to be accurate?
I know that some bloggers ham anecdotes up a little, wringing out as much slapstick/pathos/sympathy as possible. (In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Petite Anglaise owned up to having done this occasionally).
Is it possible that some of the people whose lives I follow on a quasi-daily basis aren’t really who they say they are? Perhaps those interesting women who claim to have husbands and children and over-filled domestic existences actually sit cross-dressed with manly legs in lonely bedsits. Perhaps all of those hilariously funny people are really high-security prisoners with over-active imaginations and amputated ambitions. The exotic ex-pats may be blogging from High Wycombe. How many James Freys are there out there?

And why does it matter whether or not it's all real?

(But he really did eat half a raw cabbage.)


Jonathan said...

That's strange. I woke up at 4.15 am this morning as well.

Weren't we just talking about coincidences?

heather said...

Because of the immediate commenting facility of blogs there's a sense that readers can feel some sort of relationship with the writer and if it's then discovered that the person isn't who or what they claim to be then the reader could feel betrayed at some level. Personally, I tend to blog a lot of stuff way after the event thus it's not immediate in my own life and hindsight and memory isn't always as accurate as it could be. If my blog was a an accurate representation of my life then we'd all have died of boredom by now.

My greatest bugbear is the readers who cannot sense irony and can't distinguish between 'this is a fact' and 'this is an enlarged, embroidered, decorated and otherwise sexed-up fact'. Not an absolute lie, your honour.

Lesley said...

Jonathan: little shriek

Heather: I know what you mean. This rambling was partly triggered by reading a blog called this-edinburgh-life (blogspot). At some point I just thought it didn't sound authentic, it sounded more like someone trying our an idea for a novel: I'm beautiful and my boyfriend is a millionaire. So I gave it up. What I don't understand though, is why the authenticity should matter to me. After all I invest lots of times in reading novels which I know from the outset are a pack of lies.

Ms Mac said...

I am so busted. For I am not a sad, lonely, overweight and delusional mother of three rotten children, living in misery in a country which everyone I meet thinks I am so lucky to be able to call home. In actual fact I am a burly, bearded Yorkshireman retired from my professional rugby career with nothing better to do.

Or am I?

Antipodeesse said...

I hereby confirm Ms. Mac's confession.

I myself however, am quite truthfully just as gorgeous, talented and narcissistic as I am constantly claiming to be.

Lesley said...

Blogger formerly known as Ms Mac: Gotcha!

Antipo: Does your husband know you've been spending weekends with a burly Yorkshireman?

petite said...

Interesting subject. I wonder if you are familiar with the weblog "bizgirl" which was about a female librarian, but actually a work of fiction written by a man...?

Lesley said...

Petite: I had never heard of "bizgirl", but I had a quick look and I must say, it's pretty convincing and I don't think I'd have been suspicious if I had read it at the time.

deborah said...

I've just spent the morning reading the links here, it is all so interesting that exhaustion has set in!

Not sure if anyone mentioned that as well as online 'diaries' stopping for various reasons, the readers too surely suddenly stop reading certain blogs. More research for book by Jill: Why do people give up on a diarist/blogger to whom they have been attached for some time?

I have stopped reading several recently (despite being a blogreadaholic), one which is too repetetive (my dog/child/boss did/said this, well yes, he did/said that yesterday and the day before) or no humour, ever.

And sometimes because, just like in real life, the comments of the other readers put me in a rage and I know I will spend too long hovering over a reply, quite unable to put my own opinions coolly, calmly and collectively. But I suppose that is only on columnists blogs which aren't really diaries. e.g.

old link from last June:,,1788773,00.html

But back to that cabbage, I certainly don't mind if the blogger is truthful or not as long as they are not trying to sell something (apart from the fiction).

All I ask is for blogs to be written in a style which appeals to me, with a subject matter which appeals to me and nothing too gross. (Cooked cabbage would have been too much)! So I believe you (raw) but was he really a man? I think you invented that to give a little spice to the post there ...

Lesley said...

Deborah: yes it's interesting how some blogs just stop being interesting/engaging after a while.
And the no comments thing also really gets on my nerves. It's a bit like being invited to a dinner party, listening to the host pontificate for ten minutes sparking off an interesting debate amongst the other guests while he just sits back and smiles smugly without participating.

Sarah Mackenzie said...

I hate the no comment thing too but at the same time I can understand it. I mean, would you really want them at at your dinner table. Personally, I would rather cut my head off with a rusty spoon than spend a minute listening to their pathetic arse licking drivel over my creme caramel. Luckily I get so few that it isn't worth bothering about... but hundreds? Hundreds of inane repetitive crap? No comment. I have to go now and wipe the rabid slather of my tic...tic ridden chops.

Jordan said...

My blog would be so boring if I had to make it all up. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, at least most of the time, eh?