Thursday, January 31, 2008

Literary Non-Posts

Two not-quite-a-posts that have been knocking about in my head this week:

Lies, Secrets, and Silence

I'm teaching Dracula this week, talking about the ways in which information is shared among the vampire-hunters. Several characters contribute personal diaries to the collaborative narrative, and they do so with evident anxiety: their private, personal selves are being subsumed by the group. Mina takes these intimate, personal recordings and translates them from coded shorthand notes and phonograph cylinders into a uniform typescript, smooth, readable, public. Notably, the men feel far more anxiety about this process than the women do: where Mina shares her diary willingly, valuing openness in both her marriage and her friendships, the men experience the sharing of their private journals as a loss of power: the pooling of information strengthens the group but weakens each individual's status within it; those who remain in a position of leadership do so by hoarding secrets.

Post Development Angles:

(1) Memories of grade five: sharing secrets as a means of cementing friendships with other girls.

(2) Comparison to last night's season finale of Lost: Ben wants desperately to persuade Jack to stay on the island - so much so that he's willing to do anything up to but not including a clear and open exchange of information. ("They're the bad guys" is the best he can do - no hint of why the island is so coveted by the bad guys, or of what he's protecting or why.)

(3) Provocative generalizations about gender, gossip, and blogging (feel free to ad lib these at will).

Hiding in Plain Sight

On deck for next week is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter," the quintessential tale of hiding an object in plain sight. It reminds me of an experiment I signed up for when I was taking Psych 101: when I arrived at the time and place specified I was ushered into an office and asked to wait for the grad student who would interview me. While I was waiting, a woman ducked her head into the office, grabbed a purse, and left again. Moments later I was earnestly assured that the "crime" I had just witnessed was actually staged for my benefit. Then I was asked to provide a description of the thief, a task at which I failed dismally, having (a) never suspected that the woman was not the rightful owner of the purse and (b) extremely limited powers of observation at the best of times.

Post Development Angles:

(1) Like me, Bub exhibits almost no ability to observe and record the details of his physical environment. (In that respect, we are the anti-Sherlock Holmes.) Pie, on the other hand, has the makings of a detective in her: she notices everything.

(2) What we notice, most of us, is not the crime but the concealment thereof: had the woman been wearing a ski-mask, or broken into a run as soon as she had the purse in her hands, I might have noticed something. This is a mistake made by most fictional criminals: they sprint through the crowd instead of blending into it; they conceal their horcruxes behind elaborate magical protections that are like waving a flag to Dumbledore and saying, "Here it is!"

(3) Brilliant application to blogging that will tie the two non-posts together into an insightful and coherent whole. Something to do with women protecting themselves by publishing their secrets online rather than hoarding them? You tell me.

41 comments:

bren j. said...

Did you at least get paid for your participation in that experiment...because I would've been wracking my brain for hours if not days to remember what that woman looked like! Argh!

bubandpie said...

Bren - I got one bonus mark added to my final mark, so that was worth more than any money to me at the time. (I also probably skewed the results of the experiment, so really I should have been paying them!)

Maddy said...

Hmm we were also paid in 'points' for submitting to the psych students experiments. I always enjoyed the experience but I'm certain [now] that I also skewed their results.
Best wishes

Andrea said...

Does it count as sharing secrets when you do so under a pseudonym?

Gwen said...

In blogging, people choose the secrets they share, and the whole thing is pretty controlled, so it involves several loci of power. I think we reveal parts of ourselves unintentionally in our posts, but does it count as a shared secret if you didn't know you were exposing it?

wheelsonthebus said...

The other day, Zachary mentioned that a classmate has blue eyes, just like him. I never, ever notice people's eye color, so my three-year-old is paying way more attention than I am.

I find that hiding secrets in plain sight is taking the power out of the secrets.

kyra said...

ugh. i would have failed miserably in providing details of the thief. my powers of observation in those sort of settings has been moving right along the x axis since birth.

bubandpie said...

Andrea - It is perhaps an ironic commentary on this post that I thought twice about publishing it on the grounds that this particular conjunction of literary references might draw one of my students here via Google. Would it really bother me if one of my students were reading my blog? There's no real reason for me to shrink from that, but it does feel like crossing a boundary of some kind.

The naming issue adds another layer. I use a different name professionally than I use in my personal life - and here I have another name again. Which one is the "real" one?

Blog Antagonist said...

Wow, interesting and thought provoking.

I don't have the proper presence of mind right not to say anything remotely clever, but I enjoyed reading that.

Christina said...

Cordy never notices anything in her physical environment. Sometimes I ask her to get her shoes, and she stares right at them and says, with all honesty, "I can't find them, mommy!"

nomotherearth said...

I believe the men saw it as a loss of power because to share "secrets" of a diary, to be open with private thoughts and feelings was (and maybe still is) considered a "female thing". To do womanly things would make them lose their manly status - men being the superior beings, of course. What they didn't realize is that this sharing of information is our (women's) strength.

All the good criminals know to hide in plain sight. Just like all good liars know to make their story as close to the truth as possible.

chickadee said...

insightful post. i understand about you not wanting to draw your students here, crossing a line and all. i feel the same way about my blog and, though i don't feel i'm revealing secrets, rather parts of myself that i don't always show to the whole world. so each time i discover that a person i know is reading i have to sort of regroup and be ok with letting that part of myself be known to even more people. somehow it's easier to share when you don't know the people with whom you are sharing.

Swistle said...

I, too, would have assumed the woman had just forgotten her purse and was coming back for it. What a lame experiment!

A lot of people say blogging is a controlled reveal, or that it only shows the side of us we want to show. I don't see the difference between that and brick-and-mortar relationships: I also control what I want to reveal to people I know "in real life" (hate that expression).

painted maypole said...

is the power in the TELLING of the secret, or the HAVING of a secret. I think once it is told, the power is spent, so best to use it wisely, blogging or no. ;)

Mad Hatter said...

My blog name makes me more identifiable than my real name on so many levels. My real name is akin to Jane Doe. Add to that the fact that a goodly number of people who read my blog know who I am (either from before my blogging days or because I have outed myself to other bloggers via email). As far as I am concerned my pseud protects my daughter but not me so much.

I do think that the more we speak about our lives the less we have to fear from people knowing our secrets (both in a bloggy and non-bloggy sense). And yet, at times it is fun to hide a secret from the blog with the full knowledge that you plan divulge it someday. It creates internal suspense. How's that for leaving a purloined letter in your comments section?

bubandpie said...

Christina - Yup. Bub does exactly the same thing: staring right at it, no idea where it is. I think it has to do with his difficulty calling up a mental image of the thing he's looking for.

Mad - :)

Beck said...

I sometimes get these ideas for The Best Blog Post Ever while I'm falling asleep and then I'm awake and poof, they're gone. Poof.

Mimi said...

The scholarship suggests that online life writing is about transgressing the taboo against publicizing private-ness, about authorizing the private subject to speak her subjectivity publicly: not just great men, that is, speak their lives aloud. So. Airing private thoughts in a public venue is a means by which those who do not lead Great Lives gain power and authority.

So, if traditionally, only politicians or statesmen or military heroes or great artists were offered a venue by which to speak their own lives to a greater public, online life-writing allows us Ordinary Mommy Shmucks a chance to assume the active voice on our own terms. Talking about pooping during labour does not expose me to public shame but instead allows me to take power from and responsiblity for my own life narrative.

Sigh.

Veronica Mitchell said...

I think women's public divulgences, especially to men, often are hiding something in plain sight. When the imbalance of power is great, a woman's story is a way to hide what she really thinks, rather than share it. This article on women in Saudi Arabia had a telling quote:

"Being a Saudi doesn't mean you see every face of Saudi society. Saudi men don't understand how Saudi women think. They have no idea, actually. Even my own family, my own mother or sister, she won't talk to me honestly."

Moondance said...

Hmmmm.

Very thought provoking. Dracula was written by a man; how does that affect the analysis? Did he see the disclosure as strengthening or weakening?

I also alter certain things so clients don't recognize me. But I don't know why. It's not as if I wouldn't mention most of what I blog about in casual conversation.

Am I just careful in case some dreadful secret comes up later?

Jolyn said...

On blogging, I'm on the same line as "Gwen": There are so many different levels of personal revelation. Personally, I don't go around trying to wear my heart on my sleeve in my blogging; yet, do people learn things about me by what I write about seemingly impersonal matters? Undoubtedly. I've no doubt that my own family is even getting to know me on a different level, as writing can be so much more intimate than a dialogue in many ways by how we unwittingly reveal ourselves.

I think it's a bit like an eyewitness and your example of the psych experiment: eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable and often reveal more about the witness herself rather than the witnessed event.

Andrea said...

I get what you're saying, but I still think that it is the withholding of one secret (real name) that facilitates the telling of all the other secrets.

Since putting my real name in my url (and since having that blog gag order put in the separation agreement) I've become a lot more conscious of this. There were some things it was a lot easier to talk about as Athena Dreaming than as Andrea McDowell, even though my real name was never a secret in the blog.

bubandpie said...

Moondance - That's the interesting part. It seems clear that Stoker is on the side of the secret-sharing women: openness has immediate, physical effects on the person whose secrets are revealed - he gets stronger, healthier, safer. Those from whom secrets are kept, on the other hand, are weakened and endangered by it. That's part of the scariness of the novel, though: the need to expose one's secrets and lose a certain kind of power in the process, in exchange for another, more communal kind of strength.

Gwen said...

Hi! I'm back! Still using my real name! :)

I find that I have become much more open in my real life, and I think it has to do with blogging. In this way, blogging is good for me, because in my past, I've been an emotionally closed book. Maybe negating the power of my "secrets" on-line takes away the fear of sharing them in person.

The only things I really hide anymore are the things I'm trying desperately not to admit to myself.

niobe said...

I think there are some secrets that can be simultaneously told and kept. But you can't always hide in plain sight, however much you might want to.

Luisa Perkins said...

Completely off-topic, but slightly literary: I just finished Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris. What a delight. VM is right (as always): you do 'sound' like her, which is a very good thing: I wish I sounded like her.

Apparently Fadiman is friends with Mark Helprin, another factoid about her that makes me drool with envy (the first being that FS&G published her).

Nora Bee said...

Wow, you're like smart and stuff. I am in the midst of finishing up my own dissertation so have mush-brain for contributing anything intelligent. It sounds like the hiding thing for me is more about the secrecy and guilt of the hider than noticing the object itself.

realitytesting said...

Hmm...I've never really felt that I've had secrets in as much as I've felt that I've had a story to tell, but I've been well-acquainted with many who doubt it. Telling my story online has drawn those who empathize with my experiences and sympathize with my position...which makes it so much easier to share my story when I need to in real life too. So, it's been a testing of the waters and a way of realizing that I'm really not alone. In this way, it has been a protective process...absolutely.

anna said...

I think those are two quite-a-posts.

Jenna said...

Wow! Very insightful! I've missed coming over here. Must do it more often. You are so fun to read.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

For a long time I felt safe blogging because 'everyone' was doing it. Who'd pay attention to one voice among so many? Then people I know personally started reading my blog -- different people from different contexts -- and suddenly I feel as if my cover's been blown. That's why I haven't written in awhile.

Lisa b said...

Professor, I need some help with the Lost allegory . At first I thought the guy in the woods Ben met as a child was Jesus. So I thought the writers were showing a real lack of imagination when they portray Lock being able to heal because he believes in the island. Then Charlie shows up and slaps Hurley. Did Charlie rise from the dead? Is he another prophet? Are they just messing with me?

All that 'bad guys' stuff from Ben seems a shot at right wing propaganda. I thought it was intentionally shallow as he doesn't know who the 'bad guys' are, what they want etc. he just believes.

Is this all going to end badly because I am expecting too much from the series?

letter9 said...

Ah, a small glimpse into how Bubandpie's posts grow. Very interesting. And so, um, organized? Is that the word I want?

bubandpie said...

Lisa - Finally, someone to take me up on my silent "Let's talk about Lost" plea! As far as Locke goes, the show reveals a rather Calvinist bent: the island heals him as a sheer act of grace, before Locke can exercise any willingness or ability to believe.

As for Hurley, I assumed all the way through that he really is mentally ill and subject to hallucinations: in that case, Charlie would represent his remorse over leaving the island (the same remorse Jack expressed in the season finale). Charlie did confirm that he's really dead, after all.

I found it very interesting that Hurley apologized to Jack for going with Locke. It certainly looks like Locke is right to counsel wariness of the supposed rescuers, and the fact that only six people made it back to civilization (with varying degrees of survivor guilt) seems to point in that direction as well. So why is Hurley apologizing to Jack instead of vice versa? Hmmmm.

Lisa b said...

Ah Calvinism. Of course. I was thinking more about when Ben shot him and we was able to recover.

In the episode Hurley was portrayed as mentally ill, but he's never been portrayed that way before. Do you think maybe they are just going to use that as a cop-out? I didn't make sense to me that they had Charley slap Hurley but then be able to disappear.

Who do you think the other survivors are?

bubandpie said...

Lisa - Oh, right. Still, I'd say the island loves Locke unconditionally: it tests his faith, and Locke pretty consistently fails, but the island always comes through anyway and renews his faith.

There was that episode about Hurley's previous stay in the mental hospital, where he had hallucinations even before he came to the island. Of course, the line between sane and insane is very blurred, given that most of the characters see visions while on the island. Is the ghost of Charlie a manifestation of Hurley's psyche, or a manifestation of Jacob?

slouching mom said...

Heh. In grad. school I was the one running these experiments on poor, unsuspecting Intro. to Psych. students like you.

I've been remiss in commenting. Not really able to keep up.

I did, however, pass on an award to you maybe a week and a half ago. FWIW.

cce said...

I gave up on Lost a few seasons back but can add my two cents to the bit about shared secrets in the blogosphere. There is no doubt that honesty is cathartic and therapeutic and due to the relative anonymity of the thing we can share with each other things we might not share with our spouses, our mothers or our neighbors. But this only works until the spouse, mother, mother-in-law and neighbor are on to the blog and then chaos and anxiety rule (trust me on this one).

cinnamon gurl said...

Ok, so now I'm dying to know what Mad's secret is. Guess I'll have to email her tonight. Wah!

And yeah I thought Hurley's apology to Jack was really interesting... I'm still totally invested in the series. Of course, I only discovered it by dvd this past summer, but still...

Smiling Mama said...

I SO want to be in your class :)

lildb said...

Ours is a tapestry - we've woven a handsome, worded safety net that we can shroud ourselves in when attacked - I do it all. the. time. Ex: the moment I begin to feel insecure in a social setting, a coffee shop where I'm sitting in a chair, baby at my feet, alone, with no plans to meet anyone, just there, wishing for those friends to magically materialize and people gather nearby in clusters, chatting, laughter quietly poking at my consciousness, saying, you're alone, no one is coming to meet with *you* today. You aren't as pretty as us; you aren't as friendly or interesting as us; you can't afford the jeans we all donned without a second thought today, every day.

But the tapestry wraps itself steadfastly about me and I spout, silently, that I DO have friends who accept me for who I am and do not care from whence my pants came, neither the store nor the factory nor the year, they don't care if I have covered the gray in my hair, if I have a fashionable hair cut, these friends of mine find me interesting and wonderful and they are all over the country and I can sit here, alone in my chair, listening to the laughter that edges up to me and pokes, I can sit and sense the tapestry, snug my chin into it, feel all of the words and the weave and the comfort of you all. I have woven my share of those words into its length.

I am safe in my bare blogging breastedness.

Or, you know, I dunno. *shrugs*