Blogging, Authorship, and Roland Barthes’s Autobiography (Pt. I of IV)

(I just finished this rough version of a talk I gave on Roland Barthes this week at the Louisville Conference on Literature Since 1900. I want to share it. It’s relevant. About blogging. And I’m sort of a Roland Barthes fanboy lately. I would love to know your reactions. Feel free to share. That said…)

Here's a wordle visualizing the keyword-frequency of part one of this talk. Click to visit for a larger version.

Blogs, as a genre, don’t really have an origin. There is no first blog or blogger. Blogs weren’t invented. They evolved. But they didn’t evolve from a single source. (See Rosenberg’s Say Everything.) Instead, they might be best understood as the confluence of several fluid cultural threads. Computers have become relatively cheap and mobile. Access to networks is becoming almost ubiquitous. And blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger are free and easy to use.

We are a an attention-culture obsessed with identity. Reality television, 24 hour immersive media, and daytime talk shows have made celebrities out of nobodies. And they’ve dissolved the lines between performance, personal revelation, and public disclosure. And we finally have the technologies to establish our own space, however small, within that public landscape. Welcome to the blogosphere.

Roland Barthes published his autobiography, Roland Barthes, in 1975, when there were no blogs. The Internet was still in its infancy, and Barthes makes no mention of it in his work.

And yet, I sit/stand here before you asking you to consider Roland Barthes as relevant to blogging.

Over the course of his 30-year literary career, stretching as far back as 60 years ago, Barthes was consumed with some of the same ideas about authorship that bloggers are challenging today. They include the fragmentation of texts, the self-construction of public identity, and the reader’s role in the construction of meaning.

I’ll work through these ideas, one at a time, by starting with a brief description of a specific attribute of blogs. Then I’ll work to illustrate that Barthes, too, explored a similar question in a much different context. And finally, I’ll wrap up the presentation by considering how these preoccupations of Barthes might enhance scholars’ understanding of the genealogy of blogging, or vice versa.

As a segue into my analysis, and at the risk of stating the obvious, I want mention that, while Barthes was a complex and prolific writer, I’ll only be focusing on three themes recurring in his work. I also want to acknowledge that blogs and blogging are becoming so complex as to approach potentially losing definition as a genre. But, this presentation focuses only on the personal and/or professional blogs of private individuals, and for the purposes of this presentation, my descriptions are inevitably reductive.

So let’s get started. (Pt. II of IV will post tomorrow. Feel free to leave any comments you might have at the moment, though.)

(image appears courtesy of; license: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States)

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