The genesis for this course was my reading of Clarissa, about 10 years ago, and my new interest in personal blogs, i.e., blogs that narrate the on-going story of someone’s life. When I first read Clarissa, I was struck by its utter novelty: the depth of its psychological insight, its innovations in form. I kept thinking hypertext, stream-of-consciousness, gender politics. I had Clarissa in the back of my mind when I started reading blogs for a project in another class I was teaching. I was particularly drawn to blogs that seemed to be structured around the on-going narrative of someone’s life. My sense that the narrative actions of a blog and the narrative actions of Clarissa were somehow analogous was strengthened when I found Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s (2007) claim that “these two factors [epistolary form and concern with personal experience] combine to suggest that blogs that are interested in the ongoing production of a personal narrative are in fact poised to become a literary form with all of the resonance and sophistication of the novel.” Were blogs poised to be “novels?” Was a novel like Clarissa a harbinger of the blog? I tried to think through these questions by speculating on the blog-like features of Clarissa and on the novelistic features of certain blogs. In particular, I looked to blogs that had thematic content similar to that of Clarissa: blogs that detailed rape or violence against women.
Alongside this attention to analogies between Clarissa and blogs was a long-standing interest in narrative theory, particularly how narrative shapes experiences or events to afford them specific meaning. In this webtext, the affordances of narrative appear most directly in the textual analyses of Clarissa and blogs. But on a more fundamental level, I also saw narrative in the acts of learning that this webtext documents. Understanding learning as a narrative means seeing the learner as an agent who is motivated towards the end: completing the novel, building an interpretation, writing a critical argument. This sense of learning as narrative resonates with Peter Brooks’s (1992) concept of “narrative desire,” or a relationship to narrative that carries us “forward, onward through the text” (p. 37). It is this idea of movement onward or toward a satisfactory ending that transforms the action of reading or learning into an embodied act of narrative desire. Narrative desire enters this webtext, then, in at least two ways. One is the mimetic narratives participants created in the remediation and analysis of Clarissa and the contemporary blog they analyzed; the other is the performative narrative they enacted as they read, analyzed, discovered, and constructed their arguments. Both narratives are central to this webtext.
I asked students to remediate Clarissa as a blog in order to 1) make this daunting novel seem relevant, and 2) explore how narrative functions in the day-to-day construction of a self, particularly when that narrative is performed in written text to an audience. Similarly, I asked students to read and analyze blogs in order to 1) find connections between a chronologically and formally distant literary text and vernacular genres of everyday life, and 2) explore the way blogs might function in narrative self-construction. It is obvious that Clarissa remediated as a blog is not the same as Clarissa read as a novel. The remediation transforms the novel into something quite different just as the interpretive experiences narrated in the blog transform the participants’ experience of reading the whole 1500+ pages of the book. But Clarissa remediated as a blog has its own affordances, as the other entries in this sub-section suggest.