Hupomnēmata and blogging

In light on some recent analysis of blogging from the perspective of its labor value (and sign value) it might be worth recalling some rather under-used concepts from Foucault: hupomnēmata and self-writing.

This concept allows for a practice which is non-confessional, that is, it is not meant to be an outpouring of something that already exists (and a seeking of some kind of absolution or affirmation) but a process, event or practice in and of itself. That is, what Foucault calls hupomnēmata.

To examine this we need some longish quotes. Jodi at ICite observes:

Perhaps what is at stake is a different account of value. Capitalists are working to commodify and monetize blogging–more than it is already for those of us who pay for hosting, high speed internet access, and the hardware. Some get ad revenue. Some try to get subscribers. Some treat blogging as advertising, a way to generate interest in and increase the consumption of a commodity or service. Some are associating blogging with a kind of self-production and marketing. How exactly this can be monetized, other than by selling books about how to blog or how to market oneself by blogging, is still a mystery–kind of like a treasure or the gold the fantasy around which a rush builds. But, maybe all this is mistaken precisely because the value at work is different.

This reminded me of my own attempts to understand blogging in a passage I wrote in 2002 and which appeared in my 2003 book:

Foucault suggests an interesting aspect of Greek practice which is relevant…the technique of hupomnēmata or self-writing (Foucault 1997b [DE 326], 1997c [DE 329], 1999 [Lynch OT-02])…it has a vibrantly rich potential for a non-confessional practice of the self.

The Greek technique of hupomnēmata consisted of notebooks or aide-memoirs in which one could write down examples and reflections, in order to work on the self, and to produce the truth about oneself. The standard dictionary of Greek [Liddell Scott] defines hupomnēma as “reminders, memorials, notes, or a memorandum” (literally it means “under [the influence of] a memorial or record”).

This innovative use of copybooks was a new technology, which “was as disrupting as the introduction of the computer into private life today” (Foucault, 1997b, p. 272).

I then went on in more detail to examine blogging as just such a practice of self-writing that did not have the confessional overtones, or the sense of truth revealed:

Blogging constitutes an especially fascinating practice of the self “in” the world-as-community through self-writing… while the outcome of “classical” confession…is to produce authentic discourse or truth about oneself, self-writing such as blogging has no such target (p. 96)

On the previous page I had traced the history of blogging back to 1997 and its popularization through this 2000 New Yorker article (now in book form here) as well as Rebecca Blood’s timeline from 2000.

But then Jodi continues:

The early Marx was concerned with alienated labor. Blogging may be unalienated labor. Even when we are sick of it, we chose to blog. We chose to link, to post, to read, to comment. Blogging’s value, then, may escape or elude, at least in part, the commodity form. Capitalists don’t want us to know this, so they provide us with indicators that point to possibilities of monetarization: page hits, visits, counts, neighborhoods, stats, referrers, totals. Somehow these numbers give us a sense of value. But this is misleading because, again, a different kind of value is produced.

What sort of value? Is it a value of self-knowledge or self-display or even just a momentary sense of self? Is it a value of connection, of hope, or possibility, of the positing others who read and react? How might we best conceive the value of blogging?

This different kind of value, I argued in the book, is non-confessional; a practice of the self.

So blogging as self-writing, a technology of the self. It is not one that reveals truth but produces it–there is no all-knowing right answer beforehand, but a kind of advance and retreat, a tentative throwing things out.

Blogging is quite an amazing space when it goes right!

3 Responses

  1. […] raises a question–already broached actually in the post on blogging as self-writing–of whether a blog can occupy or carve out a space that is different. Not different from […]

  2. […] except that which happens to come up. It’s “live” thinking and writing: the technologies of the self mentioned previously. Perhaps a blogspace is peculiar in all these […]

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