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.

11 thoughts on “rituals of closure

  1. JosÈ Angel

    Of writing many books (or many posts) there is no end, saith the Ecclesiastes. Ah well, there is THE END, but who knows, one of these days someone will turn up with an automated post generator (a personalized one) which keeps your blog going on with some semblance of your style after you are dead or disgusted.

  2. Jill

    Blogging as strategy for forever postponing death?

  3. Martin

    Wonderful post! And such impeccable timing. I am just now writing on lack of narrative closure in blogs.

    It appears as if traditional critique has trouble grasping works-in-progress in general, which is maybe why it (so far) has adapted insufficiently to electronic works like the ones you work with. It’s also why things like letters, diaries, etc. are almost universally studied after the death of the person writing, and why, as Arne Melberg says, they have been so grossly overlooked as literary forms of expression. Writing on things like blogs or Lonelygirl15 or whatever tend to become field reports, mere descriptions and preliminary thoughts, or the lists of trivia you mention in the wikipedia post.

    With the autonomic work as an ideal (this is a straw man, I know), we are caught in the position of a biologist “explaining” an animal by dissecting it. We can’t really do anything about the work until they close up, die, stop breathing and moving about so much. If they don’t close then we won’t risk talking about them, because what we say could change tomorrow. Part of the problem with having science as an ideal for comparative literature, I guess: we have to define our objects of study.

  4. Jill

    So do you think it’s blogs’ inconclusiveness that makes most literary scholars unwilling to consider them as literature?

  5. Martin

    I think it’s part of it. It’s not the biggest part, or the most important one, though. The biggest reason is (I think) that blogs are mainstream, pop-cultural, non-romantic-genius-written, unbound, unprinted, I-mean-it’s-published-on-the-internet-jeez-do-you-want-us-to-take-this-seriously? writing which surely only goth and emo kids or nerds with political hangups are up to.

    Blogs as literature implies a removal of the aristocracy of the author. THey are everyday, contemporary, not meant to utter eternal truths. Despite how hip and postmodern we all are, there’s still a lot of aristocratic thought in comp.lit. Moving away from the hidden great narratives that many people still entertain in silence: the romantic genius, the autonomic work, universalism or quality being immanent in the work, is still difficult for a lot of people. But I think it’s completely necessary if we want to grasp what literature, reading and writing is today.

    I mentioned my thesis problem to a professor in Trondheim a few months ago, and he almost laughed in my face.

  6. Jill

    Here’s an apropos: Declining to write for the Revue EuropÈenne in 1831 (McLuhan writes), Larmartine said to his editor:

    Do not perceive in these words a superb disdain for what is termed journalism. Far from it; I have too intimate a knowledge of my epoch to repeat this absurd nonsense, this impertinent inanity against the Periodical Press. I know too well the work Providence has committed to it. Before this century shall run out journalism will be the whole press — the whole human thought. Since that prodigious multiplication which art has given to speech — multiplication to be multiplied a thousand-folk yet — mankind will write their books day by day, hour by hour, page by page. Thought will be spread abroad int eh world with the rapidity of light; instantly conceived, instantly written, instantly understood at the extremities of the earth — it will spread from pole to pole. sudden, instant, burning with the fervor of soul which made it burst forth, it will be the reign of the human soul in all its plenitude. It will not have time to ripen — to accumulate in a book; the book will arrive too late. The only book possible from today is a newspaper.

    McLuhan: “Joyce, MallarmÈ, and the Press”, in Essential McLuhan, Routledge 1995.

  7. Martin

    Holy smokes. That’s a fantastic quote.

  8. […] From jill/txt, this post “rituals of closure.” Lots of good stuff here; I like how she says “I wish Technorati would track the ending of blogs as it tracks their creation,” since how things end is often is as interesting as how they begin. […]

  9. […] A little while ago, Dr. Crazy wrote a post called ‚ÄúThe Death of the Blogger‚Äù, about a well-known academic blogger’s decision to stop blogging. It made me think of Jill Walker’s post about rituals of closure: Ways to end a diary (and a blog). But it also made me think along more literal lines of interpretation. […]

  10. […] Philippe Lejeune is one of the great theorists of traditional diaries, and his article about why people stop writing diaries is very useful for thinking about how blogs end as well. Cleverly enough, I wrote a post about this back in 2006 when I still had time to think and blog and didn’t have a toddler and a baby fighting over dummies and asking for my continuous attention. […]

  11. beginnings « jenougher

    […] Jill Walker Rettberg, a professor at the University of Bergen, uses her blog jill/txt to research how people tell stories online.¬†¬† In her post “Rituals of Closure” Rettberg calls upon diary theorist Phillippe Lejeune, and his article “Why Do Diaries End?”: […]

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