rituals of closure

I found an article by Philippe Lejeune, the prime theorist of diaries for the last several decades and author of the first scholarly monograph about online diaries, “Cher Ècran”: Journal personnel et ordinateur. Paris: Editions de Seuil, 2000, asking “How do Diaries End?” This one is translated into English (yay) and you can find it in the journal Biography 24.1 (2001) 99-112. I’m sorry about the limited access, it’s only available for subscribing libraries. The article’s useful for thinking about blogs – I wish Technorati would track the ending of blogs as it tracks their creation.

Lejeune found four main kinds of deliberate or considered ending, keeping the simply-stopping-writing (the most common) apart:

a) a voluntary and explicit stop (to a journal that has not been destroyed);
b) the destruction of a diary (an energetic and definitive closure);
c) a rereading (subsequent annotation, table of contents, indexing);
d) publication (a transformation that assumes some sort of closure). (100)

All these could be translated easily to blogs. And as Lejeune writes, the ending of a diary is far more fraught than its beginning:

What a contrast between the simplicity of a diary’s beginning and the evanescence of its ending: the multiple forms ending can take (stopping, destroying, indexing are all different, even opposite actions); the uncertainty of point of view (is the ending the act of the person writing–and at what moment of writing?–or of the person reading?); and the impossibility, most of the time, of grasping this death of writing. (100)

Think of all the blogs you’ve read which have simply stopped being updated. Sometimes the blogger explains why, sometimes she just stops. Sometimes she returns, sometimes she explains her absence. Sometimes not.

Now let’s get back to the rituals of closure. They are part of the virtual structure of a diary, which I will call a “shuttle,” an oscillation between the past and the future. They partition off the past, like lowlands reclaimed from the sea and protected by dikes; and this structuring and protective operation that I undertake today with respect to yesterday seems to be the model of the operation that I will perform tomorrow on what I have written today. This is because the diary is not only the recording of successive presents, opening onto an indeterminate future fatally closed by death. From the beginning, the diary also programs its own rereading. It might in fact never be reread, but it could be. It’s like a radar signal that you project towards the future and feel strangely coming back to you. Without this presence of the future, you [End Page 102] wouldn’t write. The diary no longer leads to the contingency of an absurd ending, but toward the transcendence of one or several future rereadings. You don’t imagine it finished; rather, you see it reread (by yourself) or read (by another).

Unlike paper diaries, blogs are intended to be read not only by our future selves but by others as we write. Does the presence of the actual reader (indicated by statcounters, links and comments) substitute for the presence of the future, or do we still create our blogs partly as little time capsules sent to ourselves? I wonder whether my main target audience might be myself? I reread my blog constantly, especially the most recent posts which are visible whenever I check on it, but also to find specific things I wrote about, or sometimes to see what I was thinking at a particular time. I’ve never read it all in order as I sometimes read through old paper diaries.

All journal writing assumes the intention to write at least one more time, an entry that will call for yet [End Page 100] another one, and so on without end. (..) To “finish” a diary means to cut it off from the future and integrate that future in the reconstruction of the past.

There is so much in this article that fascinates me – the description of a writing that oscillates between an end and continuation – the Aristotelian story arc hastens us towards an end (death, Lejeune writes; I suppose wedding bells is another conventional option for ending a story) but the diary resists it by always intending another entry.

Or look at this comment on the fragmented form of diaries (and blogs):

It is often said that the diary is defined by a single feature: dating. Chronological order is its original sin–and ours. Certainly, the diary is also a form of fragmented writing that can be compared (and associated?) with other fragmentary genres, such as lists or musical variations, which have various [End Page 104] relationships to the notion of an ending. But with the diary, it’s different still, for at the end of it all, the idea of what comes next protects us from the idea of the end. If this is an illusion, is it any different from the illusion that gives us the courage, day after day, to live out the rest of our lives?

Then again:

People who remain faithful unto death to one and the same diary are rare. You keep a journal for a week, six months, a year, for one reason; fifteen years later, for another reason, you stop and start up again with a very different kind of journal, and so on. These are relationships, passing fancies. There are periods with a diary and periods without. Keeping a journal is often an activity for periods of crisis: discontinuity is typical. Discontinuity, for that matter, is part and parcel of the diary’s rhythm. (105)

Lejeune concludes by defining four reasons to write a diary (though he points out there are also other reasons. In brief:

  1. To express oneself: to release and to communicate.
  2. To reflect.
  3. To freeze time.
  4. To take pleasure in writing

Are these valid for blogs, as well? For diary-style blogs, certainly, and they are the most common kind of blog. Finally (I know, I already wrote “he concludes”, but here’s the real end, or the second last paragraph anyway) he writes:

Let me sketch, at random, a few accounts of how diaries are ended. Sometimes you feel your diary is atrophying, unraveling, dissolving. You keep it with less conviction, and then you are fed up with it, you are dismayed at the results, disgusted with the repetitions; you are amazed at having been able to maintain it, and you wake up from it as if from a dream. It is because you have changed. Something has died in you–perhaps a virtual addressee, of whom you were not even aware, but whose disappearance has made the edifice crumble. Or, on the contrary, the diary dies a violent death because it has met an unwanted reader. The adolescent trauma of having your diary read by someone close to you can ruin any possibility of personal writing for years, sometimes forever. Or, in a different manner, here is the closure of a diary used as a constraint on writing: I need to wrap up this diary, which depicts a particular slice of my life, before next Sunday, or exactly a month from now. The anticipation of an ending involves the diarist in what might seem the very opposite of the ordinary practice of keeping a diary: the work of composition. I have done this work more than once, both when I have kept diaries destined for public consumption, for example as part of Le Moi des demoiselles (about nineteenth-century young girls’ diaries) or of Cher …cran (about online diaries on the web), but also in private, in my personal diaries. You sail freely through the surprises of everyday life while maintaining a course for the punchline up ahead. It’s very stimulating. And anyway, doesn’t this taste for wrapping up appear at the most elementary level when the diarist carefully polishes the last line of an entry?

As for me, I’m enjoying blogging again as I haven’t in a long time, so I’ll be balancing that line of ending and continuing for a good while yet.

19. September 2006 by Jill
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