A Point of Clarification

May I say? I am always so thoroughly surprised that anyone reads this blog. As is obvious, I rarely post and what I do is usually an essay I've written offline. I am perplexed by the rhetorical complexity of blogging. This is not a critique of the medium just a statement of fact about the relationship between me and blogging.

So: it seems some bile drenched, uh, person has left a comment that is so rich and complex that rather than delete it, I will use it as fodder to explore this medium that so eludes me. This commenter stumbled on a blog written by a fictional character of mine, Henri—the central figure in my novel.

Yes, I said it: I am writing a novel. Man, it's fun! How liberating! I was becoming so fatigued with writing precious, tight, Deleuze-tinged essays. And fiction is so new to me, I am so thoroughly terrible at it, that every sentence I write is an education. First person or third and the complex play of voices in between and amongst; rhythm and flow; texture and tone; description: every piece is a challenge. Things that are obvious to writers are beguiling to me—and I love it.

So, yes, my novel and a chance to be free of academese once and for all. The goal of said novel? Well, to shed this voice of academic, philosophic preciousness. And to learn some things about how language and voice work. And, mostly, to be funny. I want to laugh at the things I write.

My Henri—poor Henri—is a terribly depressed, suicidal, sexually, uh, deprived and angry Jewish man. Think: Portnoy's Complaint meets Notes from the Underground. I started the novel in the first person but I think it was too much—this pissed off man screaming at you became tiring. So I shifted it to 3rd person to better frame him, give him some nuance through another voice.

And I tried an experiment: I started a blog written by Henri. My goals were to test a voice—his voice, not the voice of the book. And to see how people reacted to him as this is an essential part of the novel. What happens when this angry little man starts speaking his mind? He imagines he will be eviscerated—and, in many ways, he is during the course of his short, odd life.

The responses of this particular commenter—see the comments in some of my posts below—are so funny and interesting they even surprised Henri: "I was gonna post that on Ratemyprofessor and report you!," she writes.

What a strange instinct—to report someone, as if this were either 3rd grade or some fascist regime. And I love that the authority to which I will be reported is Ratemyprofessor.com. It's so odd and hilarious I'm not sure where to begin or even what to say. The best (or worst) part is that she's proved poor Henri's point—we do live in a sort of fascism where the crime of saying the wrong thing is met with anonymous reporting to higher authorities (Ratemyprofessor being a less potent 3rd Reich, but potent nonetheless in its own way, for sure). But she has provided priceless fodder for my book—so thanks!

The blog has other goals. One is shameless: to see if I could drudge up some controversy and create buzz for my book. In one fantasy scenario, I'd be fired from UC Berkeley. That would be too good, too perfect: to be fired by the Rhetoric Department at UC Berkeley for things I say or, even better, for things written in a blog under a different name. Man, if I were more opportunistic, more committed to my art, I would have tried harder to engineer that and turned it into a press and publishing opportunity. But I'm neither that brave nor that cunning—so I got laid off due to budget cuts. How terribly unglamorous. Foiled again.

And the other goal of that blog was to explore the oddity of voice in this blogosphere where, presumably, voice is untethered from identity, from humanity. This little hate filled commenter, of course, reveals that this untethering ain't so easy. And that, perhaps, the blog in its immediacy forges a peculiar intimacy between writer and words that somehow makes it seem more true, more honest when, in fact, it should be the exact opposite.

What attracts me most about blogging is the potential for a certain kind of freedom, a delirious proliferation of voices, where one man—or woman—can become 20 men or women—or 20 men and women. Doesn't the blogosphere promise the glory of the author's death and the birth of language?


ayşegül said...

Reporting to ratemyprofessor.com, come on!! This is funny in a weird way. This threat is much bigger for her and it's not even meant for her. She can't realise how big a threat it is for her existence, I believe.

About Henri's blog I guess I stumbled on it in a distant past, may be March or April. The problem is that I couldn't be able to find it again.

And surprised to see that here in Turkey blogging is suspended too after youtube. "Access to this web site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2008/2761 of T.R. Diyarbakır 1st Criminal Court of Peace."

This is the sentence I get while trying to find your blog.

Daniel Coffeen said...

The blog is still out there—it's just not very good so I don't advertise it. I was in fact confused that anyone found it—and then I realized that it was listed in my "profile." This blogging technology is new to me.

I am still not sure if I want Henri's blog to be in his voice or in the voice of the narrator talking about him. I tried the former but, frankly, I find it difficult to take on a different voice.

If and when I feel like there's something interesting there, I will gladly proclaim it to the world.

D said...

Ahh --- that makes a bit more sense now. I stumbled across Henri's blog a while ago (after listening to your excellent Rhetoric 10 lectures)... I have to admit that it confused me a bit.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I meant to keep the two blogs apart, not out of discretion— despite what the anonymous hate monger thinks, I have no shame about my art—but to keep the fiction of Henri alive. Alas, I screwed up.

That said, I love that it confused you. I love this internet with its infinite play of voices. It really is a realm of communicative affects, liberated from the tyranny of the real (ooh, fancy phrase).

Literature, of course, always promised this: Dickens' use of "Fagan the Jew" doesn't make Dickens an anti-semite; Humbert Humbert doesn't make Nabokov a pederast. Literature creates a strange space where a variety of affects can play together. To equate the words of a character with the beliefs of its author is a fallacy in so many different ways I have neither the patience nor interest in enumerating them.

Anonymous said...

I miss your classes, they were so great!!! Rhetoric 10 was the reason I got into Rhetoric in the first place. I had no idea what I was in for. haha. I wish I can see Henri's blog... it sounds fun. If your book ever gets published, I'll so buy it. :)

Unknown said...

"And the other goal of that blog was to explore the oddity of voice in this blogosphere where, presumably, voice is untethered from identity, from humanity. This little hate filled commenter, of course, reveals that this untethering ain't so easy."

Oh Daniel, before you started Henri's blog you should have read my blog post about how blogging, and more generally Web 2.0, and even more generally the web itself, is the panopticon par excellence, come to a fruition that even Foucault in all his skepticism couldn't have imagined. You have fallen into the trap (and that of course is exactly what the panopticon does to you).


Don't say I didn't warn you. But congratulations on starting a novel!!

Daniel Coffeen said...

Jay!!!! How do I email you? I've lost your address and your blog forbids my rants.

Yes, you might have saved me. Still, it was worth a try, no?

Ashley Russell said...

I was reading that blog a lot when I first found it and I loved it! All my friends loved it. And now I can't find it anymore. Allow me to read more!

praise praise praise

I love that I have a professor that would write a fictional blog with some of the most entertaining reading material around. hours of entertainment I tell you!!

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