Our reading of Clarissa and blogs was primarily directed at better understanding the role of narrative in identity construction. Thus, we read the letters included in Clarissa and the entries in contemporary blogs as differing examples of what Michel Foucault (1988) called a “technology of the self.” (See also Miller & Shepherd, 2004.) For Foucault (1988), such technologies “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thought, conduct, way of being, so as to transform in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.” Foucault located the admonition to take care of yourself (rather than know yourself) in three Stoic techniques: 1) “[writing] letters to friends and disclosure of the self”; 2) “examination of self and conscience”; 3) “askesis, not a disclosure of the secret self but a remembering.” As Foucault remarked, “it’s not the deciphering of the self, not the means to disclose secrecy, which is important; it’s the memory of what you have done and what you’ve had to do.” In these three Stoic techniques for care of the self—writing to others, examination of actions, and remembering and understanding those actions—we see the conjoining of narrative, writing, and the self.
More specifically, we based ClarissaBlogs on three premises:
- People shape their lives through narrative—selecting, arranging, and emphasizing what they see as key events in the story of who they are.
- Writing is one of the major ways in which this narrative self construction occurs.
- Through the processes of narrative shaping, people construct a sense of self. Moreover, this self is dialogic, built and molded through interactions with others.
Our understanding of narrative, writing, and the self is thus both experiential and rhetorical. People apprehend their lives not as a series of abstract instances or “one damned thing after another” but as temporally “extended” from past through present towards future. Moreover, the ability to generate a narrative self arises out of personal, social, and cultural interactions. Further, these acts of narrative construction can be apprehended through textual analysis.
Experiential Dimensions of Narrative, Writing, and the Self. We understand narrative as constructed rather than revealed: self-narratives are made up of a selection of events (chosen from all the myriad things that have happened) that are then placed in chronological and causal sequences. (In narratological terms, these two components of self narrative correspond to “story” and “discourse,” or fabula and syuzhet [Herman, Hahn, & Ryan, 2005].) Narratives thus provide coherence and meaning as people develop a sense of who they are (e.g., Brockmeier, 2000; Bruner, 1990, 1991; Gergen & Gergen, 1983; Polkinghorne, 1988; Ricoeur, 1981; Schafer, 1981). Genres such as letters and blog posts, we argue, offer examples of textual spaces in which writers can create and reflect upon the day-to-day construction of narrative identity. Thus, in both the letters purportedly written by Clarissa and Lovelace and posts written by bloggers, we see varying textual acts by which a writer might construct a self through narrative.
Rhetorical Dimensions of Narrative, Writing, and the Self. In the act of writing about personal events, we can see the role of writing in identity construction (Kerby, 2001; Vygotsky, 1980). In particular, as texts addressed to an audience (known or unknown) who may write back, blogs and letters are examples of genres that rely on “narrative completion” (Himmer, 2004) by the reader to have effect; they exemplify what Bakhtin (1981) labeled as the dialogic, a kind of text whereby meaning is constructed within rhetorical interchange (see also Bruner, 1990, 1991; Dennin, 2009; Fitzpatrick, 2007). Letters and blogs thus both constitute and reveal the social nature of narrative identity: the degree to which the components of any particular narrative “self” are necessarily embedded in culture and language. While (fictional) letters, such as those we read in Clarissa, and (possibly fictional) blog posts, such as those we encountered in the blogs we analyzed, work in different ways, each can function as a site “where rhetoric meets the self” (Kvande, 2013, p. 241).
Textual Analysis of Narrative, Writing, and the Self. When we advocate textual analysis, we are not simply suggesting formal critique. Rather, textual analysis provides insight into how texts are constructed in order to persuade. Our textual analytics are drawn from such disciplines as literary criticism (e.g., Bakhtin, 1981; Kermode, 2000; Ricoeur, 1981), psychology (e.g., Bamburg, 1997; Brockmeier, 2000; Bruner, 1990, 1991; Gergen & Gergen, 1983), and blog theory (e.g., Fitzpatrick, 2007; Miller & Shepherd, 2004), among others. These forms of analysis offer systematic ways to interrogate and examine relations among narrative, writing, and the self we saw in Clarissa and in the contemporary blogs we followed.