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March 25, 2007

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Blogging

An entry on "Blogging and Identity" at Frank Wilson's Books, Inq has generated an interesting discussion. But it would be richer for a reference to Erving Goffman's work -- especially the essay "On Face Work" in Interaction Rituals, or just about anything in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

I'm too distracted by the looming piles of clutter in my study to do more than point out this item on the latter book. It's an adequate if by no means compelling overview, no substitute for reading the original. (Goffman himself wrote so well that it is amazing he could find employment as a sociologist.)

Seems as if there ought to be some classic Goffman-influenced analysis of the blogosophere out there somewhere. I am not aware of one. If you know otherwise, please chime in.

Unfortunately it doesn't appear that any of his work is available online. For that matter, I can't even find any discussion of "On Cooling Out the Mark," in which Goffman builds an insightful account of social psychology out of a description of what happens when a group of con artists must deal with the danger that their scam might blow up in their faces. It originally appeared as a paper in a professional journal and was reprinted in The Goffman Reader.

I reread it every year or so, amazed at how rich it is. Whatever its status may be in sociology or psychology, "On Cooling Out the Mark" really ought to be honored as one of the great essays in post-WWII American literature.

More from Josh Glenn at Brainiac.

Posted by smclemee at March 25, 2007 1:30 PM


I posted an early variant of this with Frank Wilson.

The blogosphere/identity issue didn't remind me of Goffman. It reminded me of "Borges and I" ("Borges y Yo"), one of Jorges Luis Borges' most famous short essays. It appeared in "Labyrinths" (1962) and "Dreamtigers" (1972), but I can't find when it was originally written in Spanish (probably much earlier -- ergo, he missed Goffman's 1959 text).

In the piece, Borges posits two people named "Borges" ("The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to") -- the writer created by his writings, and this Borges, the personal one, the "real" one. Borges being Borges, he playfully confuses things ("I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography" -- a good trick when you're blind). But then, theirs is a complicated connection, one with certain tensions: "It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me."

Utlimately, it's even a tragic relationship, a trap, the writer and his writing, even human consciousness or self-awareness itself -- just another one of Borges' impenetrable labyrinths: "Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

"I do not know which of us has written this page.

Posted by: book/daddy at March 26, 2007 12:41 PM

Did you mean "On Cooling the Mark Out"? A quick Google finds the text and these comments from your co-blogger as well as a bunch of JSTOR papers that use the idiom.

Posted by: Aaron Swartz at March 26, 2007 2:11 PM

I know the Borges piece but hadn't thought of it in this connection -- good call.

And yes, that is the Goffman paper I meant. (To my ear "cooling out the mark" flows more naturally, so I misremembered the title.) Glad to know it's available.

But the transcription could use a copyedit, and it's not easy on the eyes in that format. Recommend reading it in print, if possible.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at March 26, 2007 2:23 PM