Leviathan, Narcissism and Blogging


I recently re-read Paul Auster’s Leviathan. My favourite character is Maria; artist, fantasist, detective, a classic Auster character. We are introduced to her like this:

“Her subject was the eye, the drama of watching and being watched, and her pieces exhibited the same qualities one found in Maria herself: meticulous attention to detail, a reliance on arbitrary structures, patience bordering on the unendurable. In one work, she hired a private detective to follow her around the city. For several days, this man took pictures of her as she went about her rounds, recording her movements in a small notebook, omitting nothing from the account, not even the most banal and transitory events: crossing the streets, buying a newspaper, stopping for a cup of coffee. It was a completely artificial exercise, and yet Maria found it thrilling that anyone should take such an active interest in her. Microscopic actions became fraught with new meaning, the driest routines were charged with uncommon emotion. After several hours, she grew so attached to the detective that she almost forgot she was paying him. When he handed in his report at the end of the week and she studied the photographs of herself and read the exhaustive chronologies of her movements, she felt as if she had become a stranger, as if she had been turned into an imaginary being”

My first thought on re-reading this passage was: if Maria were around today, she’d have been a blogger. I have been blogging for over a year now, and I’ve never really stopped to ask myself why I do it. With Maria’s help, I’m beginning to form an understanding.

I have always written, I find it very cathartic, but I have also been an obsessively private person, and have taken ridiculous measures to protect my writings from the eyes of unpermitted observers. Even those close to me; especially those close to me. Then, with minimal encouragement from my friend Mr G, last year I overcame this introversion and started writing a blog. Out there, in the public sphere. Where everyone could see it. Then people starting reading it, and giving me nice comments (and some nasty ones too), and it started to feel good. Now it seems perfectly natural for me to share the contents of my brain with an anonymous audience. I now wonder if I could stop if I tried to.

But I secretly suspect there may be a huge narcissism to blogging. Even though I am writing with the intention of creating something others would enjoy reading, I suspect the main person I am writing for is myself. This means that somehow, last year, I went from extreme introversion to extreme narcissism in the space of a few months. This seems rather out of character for me.

Which is where Maria has helped in my introspection. I think what I am doing with a blog is objectifying my thoughts, experimenting with a new way of looking at myself, asking what I might learn if I were to see myself as “a stranger”, or an “imaginary being”. You see, over the last two years I have been living through a very strange situation, one that has completely changed my outlook on life. It has forced me to examine myself in greater detail than I ever have before, re-evaluate my moral standpoint and made me question myself and my place in society. I’m not talking about fatherhood this time; it’s something I haven’t blogged about yet, as it’s all a bit close to home at the moment. But I’m sure I will soon, as I seem to have no issue with laying myself out on the slab these days.

They say the things that don’t kill you make you stronger. In this case, forcing myself to question a lot of my assumptions, philosophy and world-view, the things that can’t kill me seem to have made me a blogger.

-- 22nd September 2007 --

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