Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

It has occurred to me, rather belatedly, that writing a journal such as this exposes all kinds of sub-conscious detritus to the view of the masses. The only consolation for me is that my particular virtual corner of the Internet is so untroubled by passing trade that I am in effect only talking to myself, like some kind of electronic bag lady on the London Underground. The issue therefore becomes increasingly egotistical: "What can I learn about myself?", and hopefully will lead to the obvious concomitant: "And what can I do about it?".

One aspect that interests me is how much I do want to write something, and how frustrating I find it to be too busy to think coherently about producing anything worth the effort of typing up. The current output may be considered as a living illustration of the triumph of hope over over realism.

I am also enjoying reading other blogs considerably more than I anticipated; not, I hasten to add, because I had a low opinion of bloggers, but more that my experience in meatspace has tended to emphasise how divorced I am from popular culture. As a result I usually feel somewhat isolated and was pleasantly surprised to find that so many other people were out there that I felt able to relate to through their incredible willingness to share their writing.

I confess I have been resisting blogging ever since it became possible to do so. You may regret that my resistance crumbled. My experience of pen and paper journals had been singularly unsatisfying. I think it is the potential audience that has changed what and how I write. If you have stayed with me this far, I am hoping that means a measure of success in producing something entertaining.

Blogging, as we can tell by the evidence all around us in cyberspace, taps a hidden desire on a great number of people to write down and share their thoughts and ideas. In his book about The English, Jeremy Paxman contends that we, as a nation, are essentially people of words, as opposed to visual or auditory arts. We produce great writers – Shakespeare and the other usual suspects – but far fewer composers or painters. As individuals we consume a disproportionately large quantity of written products – books, magazines, newspapers. I am not clear if this is comparable to other English-speaking cultures (Australian, American etc). Nor am I clear how well he has done his research as I seem to recall that the Japanese are huge consumers of printed material – although I can’t recall my source for that so am prepared to concede the point – for now. Nevertheless, I feel it to be true that we as a people are demonstrably stronger at writing than other arts, and that this may arguably have contributed to (or be a result of) a range of other national characteristics such as a strong propensity to rationalism, scientific enquiry and secularism. I can only speak for myself, but I read…and read…and read. My house has a large number of books without which I would feel naked and alone.

So, language is a major issue, and informs many of our assumptions about what is a right and proper approach to the world. It impacts our thought processes. The style of communication we adopt may also affect us psychologically (see Biases of Ear and Eye by Daniel Chandler). As a nation we have imposed our language abroad through colonialism and today one of the results of that legacy is that mostly we do not have to try to to speak another language when we travel, nor do we have to adapt our thought processes to fit other ways of expressing ourselves. Nationally we may complain about people who don’t "bother" to learn English despite our tendency not to learn their language either, and fail to recognised the mongrel derivation of our  own language. On the basis of this argument about immigrants "fitting in", we should all be speaking some form of Gaelic or Cornish instead. We decry the performance of school children in literacy (but not so much in numeracy I suspect). Yet our rules of language are complex and irrational because they are based on a foreign system (Latin) which doesn’t work in the same way. In fact, we even make a bestseller out of a book about the proper use of punctuation.

I love the way language evolves and changes. It can feel a bit sad at times to see old, familiar words replaced by foreign alternatives or trendy neologisms. On the whole though, a language that does not change dies. (Requiescat in pace).

Perhaps in a hundred years or so, all the blogs we are now writing will need software to translate them into Chinese or some other language that has become the global choice. At the very least, our slang and sentence construction will be as impenetrable as Dickens or Austen to children today. But the blogs worth saving will survive with copious footnotes to make them more accessible. How will it feel to have your or my scribbles transformed into an academic curiosity? I certainly hope they feel it is worth the effort!

So what have I learned about myself from this excursion into the study of literacy? I am precious about language at the same time as enjoying playing with words. What can I do about it? I intend to work harder at the crossword, and try to improve my writing – time will tell if I get translated into Futurespeak in the next Age.

1 thought on “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

  1. Pingback: Reality Blog Award! | Pondering Spawned

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