For me, the most obvious affordances in blogging Clarissa are the affordances of digital communication; space and time worked differently in the experience we shared than they do in other graduate seminars I’ve participated in.
In terms of space, the blogging moved the story out of the novel. Moving the narrative into another space allowed for a different kind of focus on what was significant. We spent a good deal of time talking about similarities between “letters” and “blogs,” but choosing what out of the novel to include, which chunks of letters were most “bloggy,” underscored not only that there may be significant differences between the audience(s) for blogs, letters, and novels, but also helped us as a group of readers to hone in on what a particular letter in the novel would be most productive to think about. What things would we take with us when we moved, and what might be left behind? Answering that question collectively helped us to arrive at what we all saw as central concerns for this particular reading—questions of narrative, identity, and authority. All of which the blog worked toward answering as a collective, rather than individual document.
That the document was produced outside of the space of the classroom I think is also important, because it changed the way time works in a seminar as well. John Steinbeck remarks in East of Eden that “Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.” The long space between weekly seminar meetings can be productive in terms of reading and thinking, but the more frequent interactions we had through the blog made for a more continuous conversation that was helpful for me in sustaining thoughtful engagement through some of the longer, less “eventful” passages in the novel; frequently, blog posts during the week encouraged me to go back and re-examine passages that seemed “eventless” to me. Productive discussion with a group of engaged readers was enhanced by the blog’s ability to carry on that conversation outside of the weekly time slot of our seminar. The constant contact and re-thinking made for a reading experience that was fuller.
Clarissa as a novel forces a great deal of attention on time: each of the letters carries a time stamp and part of the fun of reading it is parsing out the timeline in the separate streams of letters. Our conversations focused often on the volume of writing Clarissa and Lovelace were capable of producing in a day; we often wondered how they had time to do anything else! In this sense, I think, producing the blog was a kind of parallel to what was happening in the novel. The daily or sometimes even hourly composition of our blog posts and responses, and waiting to see what others comments might be, helped us think back through the kind of constant written communication that comprises Clarissa.