Author Archives: awesomekendora

Lovelace’s Need for Attention and Confirmation of His Identity. Kendra Sheehan.

In his enactment of the relation between writing and identity, Lovelace differs from Clarissa, because Lovelace is already very sure of who he is. Nevertheless, Lovelace still needs someone to verify and give him attention—someone to confirm that he is indeed very clever. There are also moments when Lovelace is not necessarily as sure of himself as he pretends because, at least once in every letter to Belford, he notes the effects that Clarissa has on him and questions his own motives. He even admonishes Belford for complimenting and commending Clarissa by asking Belford if he is “able to say half the things in her praise, that [Lovelace has] said, and [is] continually saying or writing” (Letter 191, Richardson, 1748/1985, p. 608).

Lovelace writes to solidify who he thinks he is, and he thinks rather highly of himself. While Belford does not always respond to Lovelace’s letters, Lovelace writes numerous letters anyway and seems to be looking for some confirmation from Belford. His questions and oft repeated phrases to Belford also suggest that if he can put it into writing it will be true. Lovelace has also mastered body language and can even change his physical performance to manipulate others. These textual and physical metamorphoses suggest that Lovelace is so used to changing his identity and mannerisms that he does not know how to act authentically. Even when Lovelace tries to write a libertine self, he still depends on previous definitions of libertinism and borrows vocabulary from literary predecessors to assert his originality and methods (Turner, 1989, p. 75).

In Letter 191, Lovelace reminds Belford that he only would know nothing of his contrivances, “had I not communicated them to thee” (Richardson, 1748/1985, p. 609). He has to write his actions and thoughts down in order for someone else to legitimize and congratulate him on his cleverness, or at least acknowledge it. For instance, his plans to test Clarissa’s virtue suggest that he not only thinks that it is his place to test her, but also that he is the only one to test the virtue of all women.

A final interesting thing about Lovelace’s writing is that later letters are more emotional than his early composed and confident ones. Once he imprisons Clarissa, his letters change as he becomes first impressed with her and then later an emotional wreck after she leaves him and then dies. Nevertheless, he can claim that “‘tis impossible that Miss Harlowe should have ever suffered as thou hast made me suffer, and as I now suffer!” (Letter 335, Richardson, 1748/1985, p. 1069). Everything in Lovelace’s life is about him, even when someone else is suffering.

Emotional Writing and Expression of the Self in Clarissa. Kendra Sheehan.

The relationship between writing and identity in Clarissa suggests that writing involves a great deal of intellectual internalization and that the self fluctuates depending on what one is internalizing or experiencing. In the beginning of the novel, Clarissa is stable with little to no worries. Her letters are perfectly written with appropriate grammar and established beginnings and endings, and her spirits seem positive. When she becomes confined to her room, though, the writing is occasionally erratic, but still, for the most part, formal and appropriate. She even remarks on how her writing reflects her physical state—reminding us of Marta Kvande’s (2013) claim that 18th century writers saw letters as a direct manifestation of the body that cannot be faked (p. 245). When Clarissa is confined yet again, this time by Lovelace, her distress becomes even more evident in her writing, particularly in her recurrent use of parenthetical remarks about what she or others say or do.

Despite her questioning of herself and despite the control others exert over her, writing has given Clarissa a voice when she has been physically removed from a space where she may speak and when others refuse to listen to her. Her words are her only source of comfort. Clarissa is able to express her emotions and thoughts by writing to Anna or even to herself and thus keep semblance of self. By writing, Clarissa can record her thoughts and experiences and thus move forward and form a self that can become stronger when her harrowing experiences are over.

In short, writing is like a form of meditation for Clarissa. It allows her to internalize and then purge what she sees as faults in herself, ridding herself of negative experiences, and allowing her to regain some sense of the confident identity she once had before Lovelace entered into her life. Clarissa is writing into being not the identity of a faultless young woman in dire circumstances, but a young woman trying to survive and correct all the wrongs she is suffering from.

Modernizing Clarissa: the Affordances and Limitation of Letters and Blogs. Kendra Sheehan.

As a blog, Clarissa loses many traditional literary qualities associated with a print novel. For instance, the dramatic scenes Lovelace writes in Letter 214 move from being written like a play in print to resembling an Instant Messaging conversation in an electronic blog. That is to say, the letters that appear so formal in print become casual and modern in an electronic medium such as the blog.

Further, the idea of editions, as found in printed texts, is lost as Clarissa becomes a blog. Clarissa‘s author, Samuel Richardson, made changes through various editions that were based in part on his engagement and correspondence with his audience. As a blog, Clarissa would have the potential to be similarly changed and edited, but its original format may be lost with revisions unless each draft was saved and uploaded separately or cached in an online database. Only in later editions can a print author make changes or revisions based on audience response. Richardson was a printer and publisher who had the unique rights to change and print his work at will. Today it is much harder for an author to make numerous editions of a work without consent of a publisher or even his literary agent.

In a blog post, one can easily edit and make changes, whereas with a hand-written letter (of the sort contained in Clarissa) one must start over or leave a visible marker of mistakes, such as scratched out words or the use of white-out. Also, a letter cannot be changed, “deleted,” or called back once it has been sent to its recipient. A blog post, however, can be easily posted and deleted before anyone reads it, or can even be set to “private” so that it’s available to only a select few. While blogs can be “written” in different fonts, the fonts are not necessarily unique to the blog and are quite standard to many word processors. Letters, on the other hand, can display handwriting unique to the individual. Blogs can provide links and images to things that a blogger likes, but letters can have drawings by the same hand that wrote the letter. Then again, a blog can upload images of letters complete with the blogger’s handwriting. The voice present in the blog can tell the readers when something is rushed or written in an emotional moment, and so on. Hand-written letters can also show these emotions and hurriedness at first glance based on the handwriting alone.

Continue reading

Screenshot of Ash's Tumblr Blog, with title "I'll Bury You In My Sound" at top

Writing Autobiography and Forming Identity through Tumblr Blogs

Kendra Sheehan




As a potentially narrative form, blogs can not only allow people to share personal experiences but also to post fictional narratives based on popular franchises. Such narratives—based, for example, on television shows, movies, or novels—are better known as fan fiction. The blogging site Tumblr offers particular affordances for the construction of personal or fictional narratives. Bloggers on Tumblr post links, photos, and music of things they enjoy along with written blog entries and creative writing, such as fan fiction. Unlike other blogging tools or mediums, Tumblr (a cross between Twitter and WordPress) relies heavily on visual design and sharing online rather than primarily textual posting often found on blogs. Additionally, Tumblr includes a feature called personal asks (or more commonly asks) which allows followers to send anonymous questions to the blogger.

In this paper, I will focus on one Tumblr blogger, sumerlightning, also known to the Tumblr community by her real name, Ash. Ash is a creative writer who regularly posts both personal narratives as well as fan fiction for animated television shows such as Adventure Time. The most prominent work of fan fiction on Ash’s blog, “Tower, Tower,” became immensely popular with a portion of the Adventure Time fandom—including several animators and writers from the show who follow her.

While blogs are a narrative form, they differ greatly from printed text because blogs allow an interaction between the blogger and their audience. With their audience, bloggers share things that they enjoy, and the act of writing itself allows for the writer to express emotions or thoughts they may not wish to divulge in everyday life. The audience provides a role in the blogger’s writing of the self and formation of the blogger’s online identity. In examining Ash’s blog, one will see how writing blog posts allow bloggers and writers to create a self and an (online) identity.

I. Analysis of the Blog as Narrative

The identity Ash presents in her blog is that of a woman in her mid-twenties who has an unidentified illness, is hearing impaired, and is lesbian. Readers gain this information through Ash’s response to asks. For instance, followers of her blog found out she is fluent in American Sign Language, and she hinted at being partially deaf due to issues with her Cochlear implant. One of her followers asked her about the hardest part of being deaf, to which Ash responded, “The hardest part of being deaf is not being deaf enough.” Another anonymous follower asked what her level of gayness was, to which she humorously posted: “The rainbowmeter on my lesbian rifle hovers between call-her-when-there’s-a-snake-in-the-house and favorite-store-is-Home-Depot.”

Many of the posts that Ash creates are emotional and use vivid description, marking the events as important ones that have shaped who she is. Some posts are marked with trigger warnings, such as “play the game” and “marks the spot.” “Play the game” deals with Ash discovering a child she babysat was being abused by his father, and her emotions in having to alert the child’s mother and her confrontation with the father. “Marks the spot” details an event in which Ash was tricked and severely injured by an older boy she had wanted to befriend. In a post marked “sticks, stones,” Ash also hints that she was once hurt by an adult herself. While she never explicitly states so, the act of writing has clearly played an important role in her coping with the numerous emotional events she has experienced.

1. Blog as Autobiography

Jerome Bruner (1991) defined an autobiography as a narrator in the present “describing the progress of a protagonist” in the past who shares the same name as the narrator, and suggests that “in order to bring a protagonist from the there and then to the point where the original protagonist becomes the present narrator, one needs a theory of growth or at least of transformation” (p. 69). He went on to say that narrative accounts “should center upon people and their intentional states: their desires, beliefs, and so on; and they should focus on how these intentional states led to certain kinds of activities” (Bruner, 1991, p. 70). Ash’s blog contains personal stories and experiences that read like an autobiography composed of vignettes. Interestingly, Ash started to share her personal stories when her followers begin asking her personal questions.

Bruner (1991) also examined why people, when prompted to tell a life story, will typically tell “something ‘interesting‘—which is to say a story that is at once recognizably canonical and recognizably noncanonical” and which “runs counter to expectancy or produces an outcome counter to expectancy” (pp. 71-72). Ash’s blog is full of events that highlight Bruner’s (1991) argument about the relation between the canonical and non-canonical. We see this most prominently in the stories that are prompted by asks from followers of her blog. While Ash gained her large following first by her earliest fan fiction posts, she later increasingly began to incorporate personal experience. On August 10, 2012, she wrote her first personal narrative in response to the ask “do you remember your first story?” In this post, Ash recalls a memory of when she broke a jar as a young child, and the memory of the jar inspired her when she spied one on a shelf as a third-grader to tell younger children a story about the creation of stars in the night sky.

Ash also writes posts that do not rely on asks, such as the post following the story of the broken jar. In the short post, “Wake Up,” she writes about going out for a jog and running for “a long time, a long way, until the pain gnawing through [her] is only a nibble and [her] toes are numb from the dew, and until the aggressive peacock guarding someone’s house chases [her] almost all the way back home.” Other posts are lengthier, such as an untitled post from September 13, 2012, in which she writes about being called out early in the morning to talk to the son of her recently deceased friend and American Sign Language teacher, Hiroshi. Throughout the post she refers to past events and mingles the memories into the present narrative. She references a memory of her brother at a rock concert as she swims in cold water to meet with the boy as well as providing second-person thoughts: “You think you are probably really stupid for doing this. You think you could get sick again—you think you should’ve put that strap on your glasses that keeps them stuck to your head, what if you lose them, and you think think think until your hand slaps the float broadside.

2. Narrative Blog

Kenneth J. Gergen and Mary M. Gergen (1983), in their examination of self-narratives, argued that one’s present identity is not a sudden and mysterious event, rather it is a sensible result of a life story (p.255). Regarding the temporal form in self-narrative, Gergen and Gergen (1983) claimed that “an essential aspect of narrative is the capacity to generate directionality among events in a way that structures the events in an orderly manner that moves toward an end” (p. 257). Ash’s blog itself does not move towards a specific end, as she posts a mixture of fan fiction, but each post about her personal experiences is episodic and has a beginning and a definite end.

While many blogs follow a loose chronology, Ash’s blog is neither linear nor chronological. She switches from past to present events, prompted by asks or by events she feels compelled enough to share with her followers. The plotting of the blog is more consistent when she is writing a multipart work of fan fiction but her personal blog is fragmented. While Ash’s blog provides certain stability in terms of narrative, the blog is made up of micronarratives, which are narratives that “relate events within brief durations” (Gergen & Gergen, 1983, p. 263).

As a narrative, Ash’s blog also contains many elements of tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and even romance. These elements are prominent in the micronarrative posts that relate certain brief events in Ash’s life. To a lesser degree, there are several posts in which she uses macronarratives that refer “to those events spanning broad periods of time” (Gergen & Gergen, 1983, p. 263). An example of a post using macronarrative is from August 30, 2013, in which an anonymous follower asked if she had ever been frightened of something trivial, and the resulting tale jumps from the age of seven to the time that she had recently graduated from college. Another post from May 09, 2013, involves her feelings on being called “fat” and describes how she lost weight due to her illness through a temporal shift from her senior year of high school to college and then post-college.

II. Community and the Blogger

Gergen and Gergen (1983) also examined the relation of self-narratives to social interaction, something that is profoundly important in in the interaction between Ash and followers of her blog. For one to navigate her social life successfully, she must be capable of making herself intelligible as a coherent identity (Gergen & Gergen, 1983, p. 265). Dennen (2009) noted that “self-disclosure and extraversion have been linked to the size of one’s blogging network,” and many of Ash’s posts are reblogged and commented on. People look to her fan-fiction and have created their own works based off of her fan-fiction posts, such as art work or poems.

Dennen (2009) also notes six common elements in which bloggers expressed their identity, 1) name and blog title, 2) profiles, 3) post content, 4) voice, 5) affiliations, and 6) visual design (Dennen, 2009, p. 27). While many in the Adventure Time fandom know Ash by her username and blog title, many more know her through her voice, post content, and her affiliations. Her writing is unique and often relies upon the second-person narrative and use of description which seem to be her signature marks of voice and post content. As her posts are episodic, one never need wonder about the references that she makes in new posts. If she does post something that is related to another event, she posts a link back to the earlier post so that new readers are not alienated.

Ash’s blog content is greatly affected by the dialogue that she shares with her readers. As Dennen (2009) pointed out, “determination of what is shared and not shared is carefully determined by a blogger, to communicate a desired persona in a manner that is comfortable to the author in a public forum” (p. 29). In recent posts, such as an unnamed post on November 12, 2013 and “Confirmation,” Ash vaguely hinted at and then affirmed her engagement to her fiancée, Yamino. As both are prominent members of the Adventure Time fandom, both have been careful in revealing details of their life together. Concerning other content on her blog, Ash often asks her followers for fan fiction prompts as well as taking commissions from some of her followers to write fan fiction. Currently, she has been commissioned to write a sequel to her Tower, Tower fan fiction, entitled Spindle, Spire, which has already begun inspiring fan art from her followers.

III. Conclusion

While one’s experience cannot become another’s experience, something still passes from one to another, and “this something is not the experience as experienced, but its meaning” (Ricoeur, as cited in Gergen & Gergen, 1983, p. 269). Ash’s experiences are her own, but readers gain meaning and maybe even a little something else from her posts. Although Ash never presents herself as more than what she seems, many followers refer to her as a “perfect human being.” Her personal experiences never end with a moral, and she never tells the readers how the events affected her or what to think. Clearly, she is an blogger who never presents herself as more than she is—a storyteller and human being.

previous next

The Writing of Narrative and Identity in Blogs and Clarissa. Kendra Sheehan.

From what I have observed in the blog I analyzed, articles about blogs, and Clarissa, writing is an act that allows one to form an identity. In blogs and letters, the writer has a distinct voice and distinct experiences unique to them. In the case of Clarissa and the blog I observed, writing can also be a cathartic act that allows one to express emotions and experiences.

Letters and blogs can help writers express their emotions when they have no one else to listen to their problems or thoughts. A blog can at times be nothing more than a diary, allowing bloggers to confess emotions or thoughts without judgment. Blogs also allow the blogger to write about subjects that can be directed at no one in particular, with the option to let readers comment or engage with the blogger. Similarly, Clarissa essentially writes herself into sanity after her rape in the sixth volume. She does not send the letters, and it is possible that they were not meant to be sent despite the fact several of them are addressed to others. In these “mad letters,” Clarissa breaks with writing traditions, scratches through lines, crumples the papers up, and even references Shakespeare. Writing allows Clarissa to organize her thoughts and feelings.

Like bloggers, Clarissa constructs identity through post content, voice (or writing style), and affiliation (Dennen, 2009, pp. 29-30). For example, Clarissa shares with Anna the poem, “Ode to Wisdom” that she has set to music. Similarly, bloggers are able to share links or images when they are feeling emotions that they cannot describe in their own words. In a particularly poignant moment, Clarissa references Shakespeare in “Paper X” of Volume VI. Here, (mis)quoting a scene from Hamlet, Clarissa goes from an emotionally devastated Ophelia to a staunch and determined Hamlet. Similarly, blogs allow the writers to relate their feelings to those of others by posting links and images. These links or intertextual connections add an extra dimension to the formation of narrative through writing letters and blogs.