Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Minor Analysis Paper

Personal blogs, functioning as public repositories for an individual’s “shoebox” of memory objects, have a significant function in contributing to collective identity. As traditional forms of a collective mass media—like daily newspapers—decline in the wake of the Internet, it becomes more important to examine the social implications of a society defined by the possibility of increased fragmentation. However de-centralized the communication landscape may become, community ties are strengthened as people seek privately aggregated stories from a variety of sources. Where large media outlets are a one-way flow of information, blogs allow audiences a chance to connect with other readers and the writers themselves, building a digital community whose commonplace relies not on geographical location but on cognitive orientation and preference. Personal style blogs are unique in that the human body itself becomes the site for the intersection of the individual and the collective culture, begging further discussion of how the body remains at the center of our social reality and consciousness.

There are and always have been mediated representations of events. Within the last century or so, they have mostly taken the form of mass media, much of it corporately owned and controlled by advertisers’ demands. But in the last decade, with the proliferation and popularity of the Internet, blogs have carved their own space in the communicative hum of collective human experiences. Professional blogs and personal blogs—sometimes overlapping to create a hybrid persona—have become a daily routine in many American’s lives. Ranging from politics to news to fashion and everywhere in between, bloggers interpret, create and convey day-to-day events or personal experiences meaningful to them and to their [hoped for] audience. Some blogs are simply repositories for images, words and sounds [with varying levels of comment] posted on this electronic plane just as an artist pins bits of textile or images and color palates on an inspiration board.

Blogs can be defined as a means of “self-presentation” or “self-expression.”[1] Anyone with access to the Internet and a certain level of technological literacy can begin a blog through blog-hosting sites like blogger, wordpress, movabletype, etc. Step by step tutorials make the process simple; ready-made templates keep this initial level of creativity to a minimum, with the option of creating your own layout. Once a domain name has been chosen, bloggers are free to post as much or as little as they like with few regulations on content. A “comments” section at the bottom of each post allows readers to make themselves known and enter into the conversation.

José van Dijck, in her article “Mediated Memories...” discusses the intersection of the individual with culture, which personal cultural memory depends on. Mediated memories function as defined locations for making sense of the self in relation to the other. “...Mediated memories are crucial sites for negotiating the relationship between the self and culture at large”[2]. This place could be a physical object or—as is the case with blogs—a particular environment. “Collectivity not only evolves around events or shared experience, but can also advance from objects or environments [...] through which people have felt connected spatially”[3]. Specific blogs and the blogosphere as a whole function as non-geographically based commonplaces upon which people may meet and interact. This interaction is crucial to defining personal blogs as sites of mediated memories. 

Memories themselves—as “...creative acts of cultural production and collection through which people make sense of their own lives and their connection to the lives of others”[4]—rely upon a moment’s given cultural opportunities for context. “The decision to record such events is already, to a large extent, stipulated by cultural conventions prescribing which occurrences are symbolic or ritual highlights and thus worth flagging”[5]. The ways in which memories are recorded are also cultural and timely, as well as tied to the content of a memory. “...The ‘mediation of memory’ equally refers to the perception of media in terms of memory as well as to the perception of memory in terms of media”[6]. In other words, what we remember is contingent on our physical ways or methods of representing it. With the advent of new media, the possibilities and outlets for self-expression have increased.

Media falls neatly into Dijck’s discussion of the individual’s dual need in acts of mediated memory. “...Memory is as much about the privacy to inscribe memories for oneself and the desire to be received only by a limited number of assigned recipients, as it is about publicness of or the inclination to share experiences with others and to be read or viewed by a number of unknown viewers or readers”[7]. Though she never mentions blogs in her article, Dijck could very well have summed up the public/private duality that defines and attracts so many people to blogs—both as readers and writers. Every act of memory, for Dijck, involves mediation of those two spheres, resulting in a “...creative tension between individuality and collectivity”[8].

The “confrontations between individuality and collectivity”[9] that Dijck defines as mediated memories are manifested in blogs. Blogs function as sites for cultural analysis because blogs could be defined as nothing more than mediated memories. Dijck quotes Andreas Huyssen:

“The past is not simply there in memory, but it must be articulated to become memory. The fissure that opens up between experiencing an event and remembering it in representation is unavoidable. Rather than remembering or ignoring it, this split should be understood as a powerful stimulant for cultural and artistic creativity”[10].

With blogs, people have found yet another way to carve out their corner of the world and establish themselves therein. Sophie Ward, on her blog “Big Long Open Gash,” sees her space as a source of inspiration. The following is excerpted from one of her posts.

I don’t want to tell you anything unnecessary in this B.L.O.G  but parts of me know that everything is necessary, and that being what I intend to be here, which is a source of inspiration [...] is a noble cause. Before you leave with disdain for my pompousness, let me tell you that when I talk about being a source of inspiration, I want you to please think of this in the way true linguistic philologians understand; for to be a source is to be a kind of tap. I will show you water, but I am not the place where the water comes from. Where does the water come from? That is the question.”[11]


Ward’s blog is philosophical and foundational testament to the possibility of using such a space as raw inspiration. She uses word and image to “make the gap bigger, to pull open and pull out all the inside things that many are too afraid to put to light”[12]. However, most blogs are not so blatantly self-reflective.

            Blogs documenting individuals’ personal style deliberately create a certain persona in the online space, mostly through photographs and with varying levels of commentary. These scrapbooks of self-expression either document the author’s own wardrobe choices or the choices of others encountered in daily life. Regardless of the body upon which the coveted style is draped, a certain aspiration is molded and modified with each new post. One of the more successful blogs of this nature, “The Sartorialist,” is the creation of Scott Schuman who’s aim was to photograph “people on the street” so as to give inspiration to other designers. “Rarely do [designers] look at the whole outfit as a yes or no but they try and look for the abstract concepts of color, proportion, pattern mixing or mixed genre”[13]. Schuman strives—and successfully accomplishes as evidenced by the media attention and his large, dedicated fan base—for the same qualities in his photos. His subjects range from the overtly stylish—models and magazine and artworld individuals all—to the quirky and oddly original. Though, Schuman is successful because of his eye’s discerning consistency when it comes to sartorial presence. He isn’t just shooting the outfit; he captures the subject’s character through their dress, grooming and stance.

            Some of Schuman’s best work is not in documenting the fashion and design elite—though a large portion is dominated by this group—rather, it is found in photographs of unassuming individuals who just happened to be in his line of sight. For example, while in Milan at the Calvin Klein runway show, Schuman’s gaze opportunely drifted to the back courtyard where he beheld a group of painters taking their afternoon break. “One guy absolutely stands-out, it’s the scarf - really, what American house-painter wears a scarf that way to paint! Brilliant”[14]. The man, squinting in the sunlight, smiles—tight-lipped yet naturally—directly at the lens. The stark white background—the same space Schuman shot other “fashionistas”—allows for clean lines and a subdued, relaxed mood. Indeed, the light blue collared shirt and cream painters paints, both precisely disheveled and paint-splattered, are marked by the triangle of a scarf around his tanned neck. The effect is transportative; the ethical placement of this image alongside images of said fashionistas an apt and subtle social commentary on the false notion that style need be expensive, untouchable.


            Garance Doré is just as successful as Schuman in her photographs of mostly-French fashion ingenuity. Her photographs are successful by the same ability to capture a subject’s character, yet where Schuman captures variety in socio-economic level and style across international boundaries, Doré is known for her near-perfect portrayal of the archetypal French woman. Blogger Joanna Goddard even appealed to Doré for much-coveted advice on how to dress more like a French woman[15].

Doré herself embodies the archetype. As a professional illustrator, she began the blog on the premise of more intimate contact with her readers, something that she readily found when writing “little snapshots” of her life.[16] Written word is a stronger element in “Garance Doré” than in Schuman’s blog. The space functions as a diary for her musings and experiences in the oftentimes wild world of fashion. More personal still is the blog application that allows Doré to create a playlist of her favorite music for readers to listen as they please. However, Doré is firm when explaining to her captive audience that she is not the final word on French style. “Except that the notion of French chicness isn’t rightfully mine. And making generalizations isn’t really my cup of tea. All my answers are therefore subjective enough to dissect Brigitte Bardot’s choucroute*, if she’d hear what I say,”[17] writes Doré on the aforementioned post about French women. She invites readers to, by all means, comment and thus add to the conversation about French style.

            When compiled along with sleek digital format and well-chosen words, blogs create a common place upon which readers may interact with other style-minded individuals. These blogs are a repository for a specific cultural ideal: appearance. Virginia Heffernan, on her NY Times “Medium” blog, recognizes the success of Schuman and Doré. Heffernan argues that blogs of this caliber function the way any haute fashion magazine would—they provide a temporary fantasy world to which to escape for a momentary lapse in reality-based spatial orientation. Indeed, the images transport the viewer to a place of beauty, of chicness, of shine and silent charisma. They are the behind-the-scenes of magazine photos—by contrast staged and modeled by some of the very same girls and boys who appear on the street-style blogs. However, in the cozy context of off-camera or real life, the characters are somehow approachable, even if they incite a longing almost overwhelming enough to deter some viewers from returning.

            Heffernan alludes to consumerism’s current rhetorical situation, where one-time [ is the online home of Vogue] find permanent residence. “Vogue’s Style File blog at, which features celebrities and breaking fashion news, rarely draws a single comment. By contrast, a Garance Doré post of an unnamed woman in houndstooth and stripes drew 78 comments, in French and English”.[18] Furthermore, Heffernan points to Paris’ one-time allure of luxury and extravagance as faded in “this moment of cultural history,”[19] cautioning viewers against falling too easily into such tempting photographic magnetism.

            Even though these blogs are not focused on their authors, attention has nevertheless been directed toward the faceless creators. By aggregating the images of others, they have created—whether intentionally or unintentionally—a persona of their own. Some style blogs focus solely on creating this personal persona, such as the blog “The Cherry Blossom Girl”[20]. In these instances, the persona actually becomes the common place for people to meet, exchanging small and praiseworthy remarks or inviting the blogger to visit the viewer’s own place of self-expression.

            “The Cherry Blossom Girl” is, like “The Sartorialist” and “Garance Doré,” one of the more successful and designed personal style blogs. Alix, the author and model, attended fashion school, has her own clothing label and dabbles in editorial work. Her photographs are clean and clear, with a soft, misty quality that gives her images a dreamlike mood. She describes her posts as “odd little articles filled with photos, drawings, and writing”[21]. The blog’s format is very effective in evoking Alix’s precise personality. Simple and whimsical line drawings seem to come right out of an intimate sketchbook; her voice unassuming and welcoming [as translated from French by Victoria Morrison] is often punctuated with explanation marks. The setting for her photos is just as important as the ensembles themselves. Many of her photos are set against the backdrop of a chateaû in the French countryside, only adding to the fairytale flight of imagination. 

            When it comes to the topic of personal blogs, many will readily agree they provide a means of self-expression and communication, sometimes even stimulating conversation and interaction within a particular community[22]. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of the degree that such a heightened individualistic pattern of oftentimes one-way communication becomes socially isolating, encouraging the development of an individualistic identity[23]. Some are convinced that online networks can positively affect the individual’s community involvement, where participants in any particular community can extend their conversations. Whereas others maintain that the personality characteristics distinguishing most bloggers from non-bloggers, such as Openness to New Experience and Neuroticism, might lead to consequences such as “increased private self-awareness”[24].

            Guadagno, Okdie and Eno, in their psychological study “Who Blogs? Personality Predictors of Blogging,” say that the anonymous nature of the Internet has decreased and the personalization increased, blogs being at the “forefront” of this shift[25]. The psychologists used the Big Five personality inventory—which measures personality based on five traits—to measure certain characteristics that may differentiate bloggers from non-bloggers. Openness to New Experience and Neuroticism predict blogging, according to this study. Blogging may attract individuals with a tendency to turn inward and cultivate a “private self-awareness”[26].

            Openness to New Experience, for example, is embodied in an individual who is imaginative, curious, artistically talented, intelligent and who has diverse interests[27]. “Blogging is a form of self-expression as well as a form of online behavior so it stands to reason that creative individuals who are willing to try new things are likely to blog”[28]. To create a new world in a geographically vacant digitized landscape requires some creativity and some aspiration towards what the individual wishes people could hear or see. However, the authors suggest that “individuals who are high in neuroticism, characterized by anxiety, worry, emotional reactivity, and nervousness may blog to assuage loneliness or in an attempt to reach out and form social connections with others”[29].

            Ella Ophir, in her article “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life,’” examines Modernist treatment of the day-to-day narrative specifically in the “novel as an art form[30]”. Blogs are easily applied to her essay, as they are the unique hybrid of narrative and image—the two artistic mediums she discusses.

Ophir quotes Laurie Langbauer[31] in discussing how some thinkers and artists not focused—as is the novel—on ordinary lives demonstrate through their work a preference for the aesthetic, on the object as defining the world. Langbauer writes about the series novel where a parallel can again be drawn between blogs and this traditional written literary form. Instead of a series of separate novels, one encounters a series of daily or weekly posts. “The series, Langbauer writes, does aspire to an ‘endless replication of what is already the very universe people take for granted around them[32]”.  The “novel as an art form,” distinguishes Ophir, functions differently than other forms of art. Instead of creating objects, the narrative creates characters, “... the creation of personalities and lives[33]”. Ophir legitimizes treatment of the everyday in modernist literature, in the “novel as an art form,” by showing how it is the “neglect of lives, not things” being expressed therein. To do so she shows how the novel differs from other art forms both as a medium and in what subject is “defamiliarized” or to what extent the artist uses “renovative perception”—the term used to explain how artists move their audience to see the day-to-day in a new light. “Defamiliarization” refers to the act of making the “mundane” new, stimulating again: “... it also tries to redeem the everyday by rescuing it from its opacity, de-familiarizing it and making us newly attentive to its mysteries[34]”. Ophir says this is done in two contrasting ways: through “renovative perception” and blatant degradation of the everyday. The former affirms the constant presence of mystery and importance in the everyday, arguing that people are merely inattentive to this presence. Thus, this characterization uses defamiliarization to “turn us back to the everyday, newly able to perceive the ‘mysteries’ already there[35]”.  The latter, however,  denies that such significance ever existed, holding that “...the shift towards abstraction in the visual arts [is] a repudiation of the deficiency and defectiveness of actual life[36]”. The distinction here is sanctification of the everyday verses rupture with the mundane. Many blogs seek to perform the former task, elevating the simple act of eating breakfast or getting dressed to places highly esteemed, artistically or aesthetically significant and even worthy of daily following.

Personal style blogs are akin to novels as described by Ophir: the “...imaginative chronicling of everyday lives... meticulous replication of the material world...[37]”. However, it is here that she separates “the novelistic interest in the undistinguished life” from “the romantic sanctification of the ordinary world, even though,” she admits, “the two sometimes appear in tandem[38]”. Blogs are unique in that they combine these two elements: the narrative of personal life with exultation of the objects used to fabricate this projected persona. The attempt to define the self becomes wrapped up with the objects at the bloggers disposal—to return to Dijck’s theory, one’s “mediated memories.” In expanding upon this idea of Object-Person, Ophir cites Wordsworth and Whitman, even jumping ahead to Warhol’s artistic commentary on consumerism. “Renovative perception orients us not so much to one another as to creation. It sanctifies the violet and the railyard (and in a later stage, the Brillo box and the soup can), but not, or not necessarily, the ordinary person[39]”.

Herein, aestheticism becomes dangerous because somewhere the physical touch or companionship of another human being as implied by the object could be abandoned, the object itself becoming the site of solace. The importance of the individual is so defined in the object. When the object is exulted above the character, then, or necessary to define the character defamiliarization becomes an exchange between the eye and the object. Ophir quotes Viktor Shklovsky in his essay “Art as Technique: “’the purpose of art, then, is to lead us to a knowledge of a thing through the organ of sight instead of recognition[40]”. The object comes first, dictating cognitive recognition or understanding. 

Returning to Dijck’s discussion of mediated memory—the basis for this larger conversation about blogging—after examining the actual sites where memory is created and incorporated into the collective culture, it becomes clear that blogs are significant locations for cultural analysis. As sites of memory, blogs embody the tension arising from the intersection of the individual with culture. Expression of this basic human act of remembering is dependent on culture and available means of communication. Examples of this creative eruption are found in Ward’s, Schuman’s, Doré’s and Alix’s blogs, respectively. Though their focuses are slightly different, all represent the carving out of a digitized landscape and subsequent filling of space with the images, words and sounds culturally available to them. Problems may arise when reader or blogger becomes increasingly captivated by the accessibility of this dreamworld, relying on it as touchstone for reality and aspiration. But no matter one’s “preferred mode of collecting,”[41] the choices made at each moment of the traumatic intersection of the Self and the Other, we actively create space—whether in conscious acts like blogging or in unconscious day-to-day choices, like what to eat or mode of transportation. Something missing from this conversation is philosophical implication of the very act of blogging—making the unconscious conscious by elevating the personal day-to-day narrative to a place of public interest and importance.

[1] “Who Blogs?”

[2] “Mediated Memories” p.273

[3] Mediated Memories” p.267

[4] “Mediated Memories” p.262

[5] “Mediated Memories” p. 263

[6] “Mediated Memories” p.272

[7] Mediated Memories” p.269

[8] “Mediated Memories” p.270

[9] Mediated Memories” p.275

[10] “Mediated Memories” p.268

[11] “Big Long Open Gash” August 17, 2008

[12] “Big Long Open Gash” January 28, 2009


[14] “The Sartorialist” July 20, 2006

[15] “A Cup of Joe” January 9, 2008

[16] “Garance Doré”

[17] “Garance Doré” January 9, 2008

[18] “Pop Couture”

[19] “Pop Couture”

[20] “The Cherry Blossom Girl”

[21] “The Cherry Blossom Girl”

[22] “Interactive Online Journals and Individualization”

[23] “Interactive Online Journals and Individualization”

[24] Who Blogs? Personality Predictors of Blogging”

[25] “Who Blogs” p.2

[26] “Who Blogs”

[27] “Who Blogs?” p.9

[28] “Who Blogs?” p.9

[29] “Who Blogs?” p.9-10

[30] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.10

[31] In her book “Novels of Everyday Life: The Series in English Fiction 1850-1940”

[32] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.8

[33] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.10

[34] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.7

[35] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.7

[36] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.8

[37] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.9

[38] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.9

[39] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.9

[40] “Modernist Fiction and ‘the accumulation of unrecorded life’” p.9

[41] “Mediated Memories” p.275

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