Blog Post

"Life Writing" and Writing Our Lives

I was recently made aware of Andrea Lunsford (PI of Stanford Study of Writing) by my friend Al Harahap and through Professor Kory Ching's graduate seminar, "Teaching Writing in a Digital Age." The articles and videos I have come across and been pointed to on the Web that talk about her have gotten me really interested in her work and projects on digital literacy and writing. In particular, I have, in the past couple of days, latched on to what Lunsford terms"life writing": the writing one does for him or herself, friends, family, the community, etc., and which may happen on multiple media platforms.


I started thinking about "life writing" and the numerous connotations that this loaded expression could have. In this video, Lunsford talks about "life writing" as "writing that doesn't have anything to do with school; it's for yourself." Referring to blogs and journals as examples, she notes one difference that the new technologies have made on writing: audiences are everywhere now, and the author-audience boundaries are blurred.

"Life writing." What could "life writing" mean in the contemporary culture of reading and writing using/in new media? Writing about life; writing that is alive and active (in the video, Lunsford observes that students prefer writing that makes something happen in the world; good writing is active and performative); life writing itself; writing that becomes life itself in the process of being written, etc. Because "life writing" is laden with such varied--yet closely interconnected--meanings, it points to the profound implications that such writings with new media technologies have on memory and the imagination, faculties instrumental in propelling us forward and sustaining us in life. How does blogging or videoblogging change the stream of human memory? In what place of the human memory do records of a person's Tweets or Facebook status updates reside?

When one's memory is mediated via such digital means, do these digital records provide more concrete representations of one's life, and is thus a more reliable means of remembering, so that one does not have to keep trying to remember and create fictions that propel us forward in life? But, if, as Keith Oatley so eloquently puts it in "Effort after Meaning," "fiction...in which one searches for truths other than those of mere actuality, as if from the inside, may be the real expression of the human effort after meaning," how do the imagination and the ability to create fiction change if life is always writing itself in the act of "life writing" as writing continues to move to online networks and websites? Is something lost in the process of "life writing" in the digital age? Does "life writing" require that we think about new ways to construct our imagination and memory? If imagination and human memory have become parts of the larger social, public networks, is this burgeoning similar to the changes in authorship in the digital age? How do we re-learn the ways in which we hold on to memory in our personal lives, when it is part of the bigger world? How can we access what is purely our imagination and intuition, when they are always connected and dispersed in the Interwebs?

These are more questions than I had initially anticipated when I started writing this entry, but writing this blog entry (life writing?) has given me some things to think about. Far from saying that writing with new media has adverse effects on the human imagination and memory, I propose, rather, that we may think about ways in which we can re-envision how new media technologies change our conceptions of memory and the imagination. More importantly, Lunsford's idea of "life writing" remains a crucial concept that is at the very center of reading and writing in the contemporary culture of digital media: reading and writing practices that are social, collaborative, interconnected, and active. The dynamism of contemporary "life writing" practices points to the extent to which humanism (or posthumanism) has reached new heights, and we may, perhaps, be more alive than ever in such active acts of reading and writing.

 

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