"The personal," disrupted

I think I just had, to use Sam's term, a duh-piphany. Let me explain. Michelle's comments here in response to the recent pair of articles claiming that blogging will hurt one's career ("the mere act of opening up could cost you a job") made me think all of a sudden about what Mike has been saying about personal writing, and I finally put my finger on something. I'm sure it's blindingly obvious to the rest of you, but here's my new understanding: Due in part to blogging and other kinds of quickly, easily, and widely disseminative self-publication that the internet makes possible, as well as a complex confluence of factors in the social and political milieu (shifting notions of public/private, to offer one example), and the market (imaginary rather than material capital, middle class' living paycheck to paycheck, carrying debt, depending more on the market's caprice*) the context and meaning of personal writing have changed. "The personal" is becoming a site of struggle. To put it another way, "opening up" is set in opposition to "corporate values,"** and I'll admit that "the demonization of the personal" is a strong phrase, but judging from the articles in the Chronicle (and the subsequent forum discussion) and The New York Times, the personal is obviously seen by a lot of people as being to a considerable extent verboten.

So "the personal," in composition theory, can be conceptualized in terms of rights, as something at stake to which students have a right, a right that they should exercise. In the current context, I think one could make a persuasive case for this.

Viewed in this manner, any personal writing, regardless of subject matter, is political precisely because of its status as "the personal," which is in a very dramatic political and economic sense being called into question.

* Not to say that living hand-to-mouth is anything new. I'm probably way off on this point. I'm thinking of stories like Prof. B.'s, just to provide a reference.

** Edited to clarify: not just "corporate values," but one's status or potential status as a producer, one's means to make a living, as well as the right to express publicly an identity other than "worker."


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Not just the personal

... but the FEMININE personal. Notice how rather more than half the time what gets skewered is stuff that skews feminine.

Tribble was actually better about this than most; he took on the skews-masculine "geek" persona.

Larger issue

While some people don't care to blog about personal issues because they are more private, apparently, many people consciously refrain from it for fear of reprisal, primarily from employers. This is only a symptom of the bigger problem which is the fact that employers have the ability to fire them for expressing certain viewpoints which they can claim are non in line with some sort of corporate sentiment, etc. Most states are "at-will employment" states (I know Arkansas is) and while court precedents have insured rights to certain specific groups over the years (minority, disabled, aging, etc.), and government offices are often prohibited from arbitrary termination of an employee, employers have the right to fire people for their personal opinions. Period.

Blogging and the wider arena has only brought this issue to a larger scale.

(I am reminded of a woman that my mother shared an apartment with after my natural father was killed. They both had jobs as operators at the telephone company but her unmarried friend got pregnant and was fired. Thirty-seven years ago but it's the same concept, just different stories.)



I think that we need to be very careful with conceptualizing the personal in terms of rights. rights are guaranteed by governments and systems of power. I think constructing it closer to ideas of social and cultural practices is probably a better tactic for theory in this case.

I really like this insight.

I really like this insight. You might want to also check out what Ding wrote on the subject--I liked her post as well.

"The personal" is becoming a site of struggle

I don't think this is a new issue though access to the raw materials of the discourse is much easier now then when viewing written works. Take for example the poetry of Emily Dickenson, her family edited out material that they felt compromised their privacy before they poems were published. Likewise the diaries of Virgina Wolf exist in a variety of forms with a set of works edited by her husband being the first to be released. Personal material is always a struggle...a struggle between truth and ideals, between reality and cultural norms.

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