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Comparing blogging to a ‘collective game of hide and seek, H.E. Cocker rethinks the blog as a place where an idea can exist without existing at all and where the future is implied whilst not yet written.
What is a blog? What is a blog made of? As a noun, the word blog describes a website or part of a website. As a verb it describes the act of adding to that website. But the word blog comes from the melding of two words; web log. I like that. When I first saw it written down I thought it said we blog, which I like even more. And we do, don’t we? We blog, we blog together, toward each other and away from one another. Familiar blogging phrases such as 'Sorry it’s been so long', 'It’s been a while but I’m back now' or 'I’ll blog more later' affirm the presence of our audience (the reader), whilst validating the absence of ourselves (the writer). We blog together, performing the age-old game of peek-a-boo as we write/don’t write, as we blog/don’t blog. Our world is temporarily on view and simultaneously renounced by the choices we make over what to include and what to leave out.
It was whilst reading the book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud that I began to think of blogging as a collective game of hide and seek. In a bid to find the birth of the comic McCloud looks at the development of written text and printed image, scouring history for examples of word and image in sequence until, eventually, he lands on Rodolphe Töpffer’s satiric picture boards of the mid-1800s. Here he attributes the invention of the comic to “Töpffer’s realisation that he who was neither artist nor writer had created and mastered a form which was at once both and neither. [It was] a language all its own.”1 The complexity of this language incorporates both the plural and the singular. Occupying a space made up of several panels, the comic registers the phenomenon of observing in part but seeing in whole, also known as 'closure'. As McCloud states “Our perception of reality is an act of faith based on mere fragments ... in an incomplete world we must depend on closure for our very survival.”2
In the peek-a-boo world of blogging a blogger might write two entries one week apart but see them appear side by side. Thus the interim of time that lapses between them is lost in the momentary glance of the reader as they re-imagine the gap. The reader assumes the same writer has returned one week later to continue their blog, the writer assumes the reader existed one week earlier to read their previous entry, and between them an act of closure takes place where fragments are formed into a whole. Unlike the comic, however, the blog is live and ongoing, so no sense of a ‘final picture’ can be attained. Both reader and writer are forced to eternally exist within the game. Entries might be accumulated to form sequential patterns of thought, but between their being posted we must continue on the slow path, living each day hour by hour. The blog is somehow more complex and more indeterminable a language than either the written or the visual because it is made of that other, much more expansive material: time.
In his project blog The Customer Is Always Wrong, William Aitchison writes:
"I managed to get hold of a big fish yesterday, not the plastic sort you might sea [sic] in a fish restaurant that I had envisaged, this was a soft one with more detail than is normal. I am not entirely sure what I will do with it but intuitively I know that I require a significant fish for this performance and I am not much into using real ones. I worked for one night in a fishmarket when I was seventeen as a summer job weighing the slippery creatures and that one night was enough for me. I went back to the agency and they gave me a job in a warehouse the next day. The slime, smell and scales are not for me, I just want the idea of a fish."3
At first the fish is “significant” with “more detail than is normal”. Perhaps this is how we first assume a blog to be – something special, set apart and written with more particularity than a mere note, or list. Something we manage to get hold of and are not entirely sure what to do with. Soon, however, the fish becomes a reason for not being a fish at all (Aitchison describes his strong dislike for fish markets) and it must stand in place of itself. Often in blogging we are told about the making of work; we read about the thing which is not the thing it is trying to depict. The blog soon substitutes itself by becoming a deferral of that thing (we may never encounter the work) and soon we do not want the thing at all, we just want the idea of the thing. The blog occupies a space of its own, existing over a cup of tea, or in a moment when the physicality of making is too real. In a blog an idea can exist without existing at all – it can be a fish that is not a fish. “Slime, smell and scales are not for me”, says Aichison, but he doesn’t try to replicate them, he simply replaces them with an idea – the idea of the fish. Perhaps a blog is a place for thoughts to exist as something other than sounds, images and smells. Perhaps it is a place where writing is not descriptive or symbolic at all, but metonymic; a place where writing is replaced with blogging.
In addition to his account, Aitchison makes a notable ‘mistake’ using the word 'sea' in place of 'see'. Whether this is pun or error, it nicely illuminates the sense of subtle play inherent in the art of blogging and reminds us that reading is not a passive activity, but one in which we are always kept on our toes.
Recently I came across a website project by Icastic called Visualizing Time4. The project starts in the 1990s and sets about asking the general public how they see the passage of time. Answers are given in the form of a sketch and the resulting drawings are collected together and published online. Now you can see them on a database which displays them in a random order each time you refresh the page. Images vary from shapes to words to signs; some are hand drawn and some computer generated. One of my favourites is a list which reads:
1 Go to college
2 Graduate in 4 years
3 Get a great killer job
4 Have a perfect marriage
5 Raise Kids
6 Send Kids to college
The passage of time becomes the completion of time, but the last number on the list is left blank. Blogging is often a form of visualising time through ‘filling in’ or ‘writing out’ duration. Entries are listed in chronological order, ideas are emptied out and sometimes crossed off, visible selections are made about what we want to achieve, and the future is implied whilst not yet written. I like this list because it speaks of both the common and the individual; it alludes to a general need to pass time and fit in, but it leaves a space where something completely unexpected can occur. A blog can also be that space; it is a common enterprise in which we seek understanding, yet it is completely unique and largely unwritten.
Another blog I like is Poetic Practice Journal by Ryan Ormonde, which explores poetic practice as a way of thinking through ideas5. There are four sections to the blog; one of these is entitled 'Y Chromosomes' and contains an embedded video demonstration of two books; y chromosomes by Ryan Ormonde and Cutting Movement by Becky Cremin. In it, the pages of each book are turned one by one, though the text cannot be read. The video was made as a backdrop to another project and acts as both a displacement activity and an advertisement. As I listened to the sound of rustling paper, I began to think – perhaps the blog is not so different. Parts of it are heard and the rest is – well, noise. It contributes to the background of our thinking, stimulates ideas and lets them fall by the wayside. Unguilty, we go on, drifting in and out of other people’s sounds until something strikes a chord and we return again to the present tense, ready to be challenged by our own ideas. As Annabel Tilley says in her blog How to emerge? “Message to Self: Surprise me!"6
1 Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud. Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., NY, 1994.
3 The Customer Is Always Wrong, William Aitchison. www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/704529
5 Poetic Practice Journal, Ryan Ormonde. poeticpracticejournal.blogspot.com/p/y-chromosomes.html
6 How to emerge?, Annabel Tilley. www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/642682
E.H. Cocker is an artist and writer based in Yorkshire, interested in the relationships that are formed between art and language. Personal blog: http://ehcocker.wordpress.com
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2011
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