The Internet Never Forgets

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There was a standoff in the kitchen this morning – the dog inside at the cat door, one of the cats outside, each staring the other out and neither daring to move. I thought to intervene and put a stop to their agony but before I had a chance, the cat in all her majesty dismissed the dog with a brief flash of paw and stalked through the cat door to the inside, bypassing the upright dog.

Upright and uptight, our dog has no hope against the cats, not just because there are more cats, not just because two of the cats are female, but also because the cats take command in a way in which the yappy, friendly dog cannot.

I thought from cartoons I had seen as a child that dogs chased cats, but from my experience recently – since we came in possession of a dog and since talking to others about their pets – dogs are more intimidated by cats and cats can be ferocious.

Instinctively, in my mind I create a gender divide for cats and dogs – cats as female, dogs as male, which is ridiculous as are most generalisations and yet they are easy to make.

In more recent years I have become aware of the pitfalls into which we collapse when we make such basic assumptions and binaries and yet we do it every day. This is where I find the last of the keynote speakers at the autobiography and biography (IABA) conference, Lauren Berlant’s writing both challenging and exhilarating.

Berlant writes about ‘Intimate Publics’. I would tell you here what I think she means by this but I have yet to grasp the concept fully, even as she has tried to tell me about it herself in an email.

Why is it so difficult for me to understand the dense language of theory? I start to read Berlant’s essay on intimate publics and the words on the page are readable. I can understand them, one word after the other, but there is something in the way she has tied these words together that evades me.

I am a creature of my age perhaps, a victim of my limited education as a child when the nun’s taught us to absorb the facts through rote learning. Never mind that we could not understand the facts we had memorised.

I should speak for myself here. I could not understand much of what I learned as a child particularly in science and mathematics. I imagine therefore that I have a block against some theory, as if I am looking at a page of numbers or a list of mathematical equations that I cannot compute.

I once sat an aptitude test for librarianship as a seventeen year old, in the days when we were encouraged to apply for all the respectable jobs a young woman might undertake – nursing, teaching, social work – and I had trouble sorting out the order of a series of red and white, differently shaped flags. The detail evades me, though I believe I must have failed in this basic spatial test.

Berlant said at the conference that she has trouble writing and that her sentences can be too long and convoluted. Her interlocutor, Jay Prosser, disagreed and reeled off a number of beautiful sentences she has crafted.

For me the difficulty lies in the degree to which Berlant deals with abstractions. I cannot accommodate abstract thought. I need a story to hold me to the page. My brain is constantly looking for an image onto which I might latch an idea, but when it comes to the abstract ideas, whatever they are, such concepts as ‘intimate publics’ evade me.

‘Read what other people have to say about her ideas,’ my oldest daughter says, after I explain my difficulties in understanding Berlant’s writing. ‘Read the reviews. That way you’ll begin to understand her ideas and it’ll give you some idea of what she is on about before you tackle her directly.’

I am troubled by language, the way even people who speak the same language have so many different ways to say the same things. Interdisciplinarity and ideas that cross over from one framework to another seem to create new frameworks.

On another but related note, to do with knowledge and understanding, I have read recently about the horrors awaiting us given our growing realisation that the Internet never forgets.

Does this frighten you, too? Everything we post on line will be recorded forever, for posterity and anyone can hold it against us if in ten years time they choose to dredge up some wayward indiscretion on our part, or some hint of deviance from the past.

The Internet needs an inbuilt facility for forgetting some argue, rather like the human mind. If things are remembered with all the accuracy of facts, our memories cannot undergo any of the transformations our brain processes normally put our experience through – some experiences get repressed, some forgotten, some concertinaed, some distorted.

Without an inbuilt delete button we lose our capacity for change. We get stuck in rigid stereotypes and an overload of unchanging and therefore immutable information that renders us constipated and dull.

We need an internal delete button on the Internet to help with the overload, and to allow us to continue the process of change that goes on throughout our lives from the moment we are born. But someone has yet to invent a way of introducing it so we do not fall into the trap of unlimited information and no capacity to forget.

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63 Comments on The Internet Never Forgets

  1. Ropi
    July 31, 2010 at 7:34 am (7 years ago)

    I am quite good at Mathematics, but never liked tests, because I am nervous on them. I was very reluctant to learn Biology and Chemistry, but fortunately none of them are necessary to study applied economic.

    Reply
  2. Pandora Behr
    July 31, 2010 at 8:45 am (7 years ago)

    Oh, so ture – the internet does need a Forgetting button.
    I also struggle with language at times. In the words if Eliot "That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all." I seem to be misrepresented soooo often. Just because you thought or said something yesterday doesn't mean you think it today…

    Great blog.

    Reply
  3. Lorenzo
    July 31, 2010 at 10:36 am (7 years ago)

    Very interesting reflections. Perhaps forgetting and information overload will be the same thing in this internet age. Forgetting will not be lack of information but overabundance. The impossibility of retaining, sifting through or recalling so much information will mean much of it is, if not irretrievable, at least unretrieved. Perhaps this is not all that different than how our brains are cabled and our mines work.

    Reply
  4. persiflage
    July 31, 2010 at 10:53 am (7 years ago)

    Some people are naturally dense. I looked at this writer and my mind bounced straight off. There is a woolliness and a complexity which, to my mind, fails to elucidate the subject. I much prefer the simple distillation, the clarity, and, at times, the simplicity, the reduction of complexity to the essentials. The homing in on the truth, the shearing off of irrelevancies.
    I never could comprehend mathematics or science, but do think that to some extent, that it was a failure of teaching. There have been some wonderful books on the history of thought, which illuminate complexity and which thereby gladden the human soul. Seminal documents, such as the Declaration of Independence,, which never lose their power.
    As for the Internet and never forgetting, I am probably more gladdened that saddened or worried by this. When I consider how much knowledge and understanding has been lost over the centuries, even while our understanding and knowledge has increased so extraordinarily widely and deeply, I want us to remember all that is precious of the history of humanity.

    Reply
  5. Jim Murdoch
    July 31, 2010 at 1:12 pm (7 years ago)

    When I was growing up one of Mum’s cats was called Tom because he looked like Tom from Tom and Jerry. A most unusual cat. Afraid of nothing. Not even water. I followed him once to see where he vanished for days on end. When he came to a pond much to my surprise he didn’t go round it. He swam right through the middle of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. We had a family friend called Willie who acquired an Alsatian pup and wanted to show it to us. We warned him not to bring the dog anywhere near the house but Willie was cocky and said his dog would chase our cat off. Yeah, right. The dog got his head into the back door and Tom was on him. We found the dog two doors down whimpering and with a bloody nose. He never attacked a dog outside the garden. But the garden was his and woe betide any creature that crossed the garden gate. He was a stray, had a bad back, a bald patch on his head and he dribbled. And I loved him dearly.

    Berlant sounds interesting. Her blog posts are quite readable – I’ve decided to follow her – but no doubt she can get quite heavy. I too have a similar problem with dense writing. It’s why although philosophy fascinates me I’ve read so little of it. I’ve read about it so I have the gist of much of it but the writing itself eludes me. In that respect I can see what your daughter’s driving at. The thing is I’m not stupid but I so often feel stupid. I think part of the reason is that academics do like to hear the sound of their own voices. They also like to put a wall up between their readers and what they’re trying to convey. I read a definition recently where the writer used the expression “the near-totality of words” – what he meant was “nearly all the words” so why not say that? It’s amazing how foreign English can be made to feel. I think most people struggle with abstract through. That’s why we love metaphors. They cut to the chase. You see – ‘cut to the chase’ – it’s such a simple cinematic image.

    As far as the Internet never forgetting well that depends. There are a lot of things that I’ve posted in the past that are no longer there and things I’ve saved from other sites that I discover have now vanished. It depends where the data is held and who’s paying the bills. My writing is all held online in a free account in the Cloud and so I imagine will float around out there forever. The problem is the account is password protected so that’s that. It’s like a bank account. When someone dies and no one knows about the money it’ll just lie there forever gaining interest. But most of the stuff had been published by people who have closed their sites or stopped paying their service providers and it is gone forever. I can see sites in the future looking at old files and sending out e-mails saying if you do not reply to this e-mail in x no of days you will lose your data.

    I think people are learning, a bit late perhaps, about the potential consequences of saying too much online. Many people use avatars and I can see that happening more and more in the future as a way of maintaining some level of privacy. It’s harder for writers because we want to be known but even there I still keep details of my extended family to myself.

    The problem that most of us will have is that we’ll store all this information and simply forget it’s there. I’ve joined loads of sites that I can’t remember joining. Luckily I use a small bank of passwords so I don’t usually have a problem seeing what it is I’ve joined if, years later as happened yesterday, they decide to drop me an e-mail to see how I’m doing. I’m the same with applications. I see something cool, download it, use it once and forget it’s ever there.

    Reply
  6. The Weaver of Grass
    July 31, 2010 at 5:35 pm (7 years ago)

    I do think it is very easy for us to get preconceived ideas about our inability in some areas (often the result of a very poor teacher). There are so many differing approaches to the way one tackles a subject that often it is only a case of getting through the minefield on the right track. At least that is what I believe. Interesting post.

    Reply
  7. Anthony Duce
    July 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm (7 years ago)

    I've wondered about legacy and being remembered. I don't think it matters if its been recorded or available on the Internet. Chances are it's more a question of volume, over population, to much recorded by too many, then just existing to be found, much less remembered. I wonder if the next generations will be as interested in what was said or done? I wonder if they will care about the math and the invention we struggled through trying to learn what those before thought they had figured out? I was never good at math, it almost stopped me from graduating and being an architect. But it was that same math as an architect and the evolving technologies that I used a lot to be successful in the profession. I'm confused I guess. I don't think those coming after us will bother to go back very far, or try very hard to remember much of what we leave on the Internet. What we say when younger and wish forgotten when old, available or not will still fade away even though it's out there somewhere in the cold. And who's to say if its discovered that the interpretation will be the same. My example would be the famous artist's works that they thought were trash, that now have become part of the threads explaining their success. Of course then again, some of the affairs and kinky stuff in the same legacy gets in the way. No, it just makes them more interesting…. Who knows. I liked your post today. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Marylinn Kelly
    July 31, 2010 at 10:16 pm (7 years ago)

    My confession: I did not even follow the links you offered. Given the tip-off of dense material, I elected to save my cells for what I am able to comprehend. There are so many different styles of learning, which they certainly never acknowledged, if they knew, when I was growing up. There is a line in the movie, OH, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? when one character says he thought the leader of their gang of escaped convicts should be someone with the capacity for abstract thought. I admire simplicity, for it isn't simple. To find universal language that is not ambiguous, that is clear and, my hope, visual as well is challenging. I have no wish to be the smartest guy in the room. I would rather be the one that can find a way to make something accessible. Writers, academics, people who make me feel as though I don't get it…life is too short.

    As for the internet eternal…for now, we're stuck with it…we have no idea what awaits. One enormous cosmic surge and it would all be erased, would it not? In the simpler world of my fantasy, not everything is a double-edged sword.

    Reply
  9. Lally
    August 1, 2010 at 3:18 am (7 years ago)

    Hey Elisabeth, here's another fan of your blog who also has a problem with convoluted syntax and made-up jargon in the service of expressing ideas that only makes them more difficult to grasp. I think it's a learned taste that most of the time isn't worth the effort in my experience. Keep up the good work (and word(s)). Hmmm, is this comment gonna be on the web forever, 'cause I've written a few deliberately difficult to interpret easily poems and bits of prose etc. and do appreciate some others' examples of difficult language constructions just for the kick of their diversion from the norm or original uses of language and ideas or etc. But still, that's original creative work, not critical or supposed expository prose…etc.

    Reply
  10. Rachel Fenton
    August 1, 2010 at 4:13 am (7 years ago)

    I like the patterning of forgetting and remembering (seemingly at random). Always, I remember I need to post a letter as I pull into the drive…repeated failings/opportunities…

    what point would a button be? We cannot choose to forget.

    I think of Philip Larkin's "The Winter Palace"..

    Reply
  11. Ruth Quibell
    August 1, 2010 at 5:50 am (7 years ago)

    Hello Elisabeth. Interesting post.

    You know, I'm not especially scared about confronting something I've written long ago. Maybe I'm being incredibly naive here. But I like the idea of coming back to it, and being reminded of why I wrote it. That the internet will remember what I can't actively hold in my head. Even if, and I suspect this will happen, I cringe at my younger self.

    Reply
  12. Elisabeth
    August 1, 2010 at 7:12 am (7 years ago)

    My father was an accountant, Ropi and good at mathematics, but I grew up in a family where mathematics belonged mainly to the men and the humanities to the women.

    This is another of those false gender divides but it's amazing how powerful these things can be as blockages to learning.

    Thanks, Ropi. Tests and exams can also be intimidating and not necessarily an accurate measure of knowledge and understanding.

    Reply
  13. Elisabeth
    August 1, 2010 at 7:27 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Pandora. I agree. It is a significant feature of people, we change our minds and what we once believed can change. Our states of mind shift as do our perspectives over the years, unless we are too rigid in which case we have a problem.

    The Internet can help us collect and order data, but it cannot help to decide what matters as much as a person might.

    Reply
  14. Elisabeth
    August 1, 2010 at 7:31 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Lorenzo. As you suggest, I expect that we will suffer – as if we do not already suffer – from too much information. It forces us therefore to be more selective.

    The person who cannot sort out what's useful and helpful from what is not, will most likely drown under the weight of it all.

    Reply
  15. Enchanted Oak
    August 1, 2010 at 5:49 pm (7 years ago)

    Abstract thought used to be a love of mine when I was in college. How exciting it was to follow someone's convoluted discussion and actually to get it! I felt terribly smart.
    But like many commenting here, it's the concrete image that speaks most to me now. As a poet, I must use them and therefore venerate them.
    And my tolerance for deliberately dense writing has diminished. I am frustrated by writers who think that more is better and obtuse is intelligent. Simplify! Simplify! It is to me the mark of great thinkers that they can present complex ideas in simple terms.

    As they are for you, many theories are difficult for me to understand without a good teacher to interpret them for me. My IQ might be too low. As for math, although I loved mathematics as a young person, my high-school geometry teacher ruined everything for me when he exiled me to the library to learn alone from a textbook, as punishment for talking in class. A teacher who is also a good interpreter is worth her/his weight in gold.

    And Elisabeth, I swooned when I read your sentence referring to an "interlocutor." I used that heavenly word once in a college paper (I was an English Literature major who believed it essential to use big words unearthed from the thesaurus), and it impressed the hell out of me. Still does!

    I'm off to browse Berlant and see how smart I am…. Ha!

    Reply
  16. Zuzana
    August 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm (7 years ago)

    Wonderful post.;)
    I so agree, I too refer to dogs as makes and cats females.;)) Perhaps it has to do with the way my native language work; in it the genders are female for cats and males for dogs, even if the English language is not that way.
    I am getting slowly used to the net and the fact that what I write will remain in cyberspace for ever. I guess I like that fact that I am leaving an electronic imprint that will outlive me; that is the scientist in me.;)
    As for subjects in school, I hated math and physics, but I loved biology and chemistry. In my case most of my love-hate had to do with the teachers we had in different subject.;))
    Hope you had a lovely weekend,
    xoxo

    Reply
  17. Eryl Shields
    August 1, 2010 at 8:52 pm (7 years ago)

    I spent three years studying philosophy and still can't go straight to new theories/theorists. I need to get some sort of purchase by first reading what Wikipedia has to say, then reading at least one good secondary text and only then trying the original. When that route isn't available, because the theorist is current I have to rewrite, paragraph by paragraph, in my own words with a narrative. As you can imagine it all takes a rather long time.

    The internet never forgetting doesn't bother me at all as I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to trawl through my dribblings: I have no plans, currently, to run for office or anything.

    Reply
  18. christopher
    August 1, 2010 at 10:46 pm (7 years ago)

    I have always wondered. I have noticed that some people do refer to cats as "she". Not everyone does this. If cats are she then who is he? Dogs. I had never paired cats and dogs because in my life they have always been very different creatures. Now I get it. If pets are only cats and dogs and if cats are she then dogs are he. But the world never divided like that for me because birds, snakes, and ferrets are pets too, and guinea pigs and rats and many more, including pigs. At least that's what happened in my kid world.

    As for the intimacy on the internet part, and the huge layers of chaotic data, I don't worry much. The self centeredness of people in general protects the data within the hugeness of the whole thing. I only fear intelligent keyword searches by thought police. If that is happening any time soon then all bets are off, because the searchers would be paid and would do their duty, but otherwise I feel my data is protected from malevolence.

    I think there is a blessing in the intimacy provided by the frankness and honesty that some of us display. One of the critical pieces of this confusing life is frank sharing across the lines. When I really know what you are like then I have permission to really know what I am like. We can pathfind for each other.

    One of my mentors pointed out that he was not able to be honest with himself until he started being honest with others. There was a depth he could not get to before he cleared the underbrush out by honesty with other trusted people. If I express myself honestly here, knowing that it is certain that someone will read it, then I engage in just that process. If another sees this going on, it is like a little bit of permission to be honest themselves. In this way honesty is contagious and the world is better for it. At least that is my hope.

    This requires of me that I release myself from my stories to minimize the risk. In some real way I am no longer my history.

    Reply
  19. christopher
    August 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm (7 years ago)

    I have always wondered. I have noticed that some people do refer to cats as "she". Not everyone does this. If cats are she then who is he? Dogs. I had never paired cats and dogs because in my life they have always been very different creatures. Now I get it. If pets are only cats and dogs and if cats are she then dogs are he. But the world never divided like that for me because birds, snakes, and ferrets are pets too, and guinea pigs and rats and many more, including pigs. At least that's what happened in my kid world.

    As for the intimacy on the internet part, and the huge layers of chaotic data, I don't worry much. The self centeredness of people in general protects the data within the hugeness of the whole thing. I only fear intelligent keyword searches by thought police. If that is happening any time soon then all bets are off, because the searchers would be paid and would do their duty, but otherwise I feel my data is protected from malevolence.

    I think there is a blessing in the intimacy provided by the frankness and honesty that some of us display. One of the critical pieces of this confusing life is frank sharing across the lines. When I really know what you are like then I have permission to really know what I am like. We can pathfind for each other.

    One of my mentors pointed out that he was not able to be honest with himself until he started being honest with others. There was a depth he could not get to before he cleared the underbrush out by honesty with other trusted people. If I express myself honestly here, knowing that it is certain that someone will read it, then I engage in just that process. If another sees this going on, it is like a little bit of permission to be honest themselves. In this way honesty is contagious and the world is better for it. At least that is my hope.

    This requires of me that I release myself from my stories to minimize the risk. In some real way I am no longer my history.

    Reply
  20. Kath Lockett
    August 1, 2010 at 10:59 pm (7 years ago)

    I'm not so sure that we do need a 'forget' button on the internet because sometimes I've gone back to read old posts and whilst some of them are cringingly bad, they reflect my thoughts – or what I wanted other people to *think* I was thinking – at the time, and years later can reveal a lot of other aspects that the younger me had no idea about.

    Or something like that. Don't get me started on reading and understanding theoretical concepts or mathematics as my brain and the willingness to try – literally shuts down. It's the mental equivalent of a six year old child shutting their eyes and blocking their ears, chanting, "La la la, I'm not listening, la la la…."

    Reply
  21. Robert the Skeptic
    August 2, 2010 at 1:47 am (7 years ago)

    Although more are aware of it today, many during the early days of discovering e-mail did not realize that it is, or can become, public fodder. How many times have we seen in the news stories about the embarrassing content of e-mails which were not intended for public scrutiny?

    Some missives can be terribly incriminating. As a computer tech during that segment of my career, I used to warn people not to put anything in e-mail they would be embarrassed for someone else to read.

    I am very aware of how "public" and permanent my blogging is, and how fleeting anonymity here is as well. That's why I never write anything that I think could come back to haunt me or that I wouldn't continue to defend were I so required.

    Reply
  22. Kass
    August 2, 2010 at 2:17 am (7 years ago)

    I'm not very charmed by obscurity. People who enjoy philosophy are a little like lawyers who say everything is arguable, including reality. When philosophers start talking about a thought being aware of itself, I feel lost and shallow. A logical analysis of discernible facts does not lead me to deduce that you can really know more than you know you know.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 10:13 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Persiflage. I read a book on theory once, Theory with a capital 'T' in which the author argues that such Theory is difficult to write about without the use of complex and difficult to decipher language because it seeks to broaden our understanding and must therefore involve new ideas couched in often new language.

    I understand this to some extent. New words might need to be created to cover new ideas but I think the ways in which these ideas can be elucidated are best expressed in plain and simple language.

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  24. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 10:50 am (7 years ago)

    As ever Jim, your comment here could be a post in its own right, filled as it is with fantastic information and stories.

    I'm grateful for this and for the parcel that arrived today – your latest collection of poems, 'This is not about what you think'.

    It's good to have the book in hand, much better than simply seeing it on screen. The Rorschach is very womanly to me. Thank you for sending me a copy. I feel privileged.

    I enjoy the image of your old cat, Tom with his bad back, bald patch and dribble. The sight of him must have been enough to send other animal folk – cats and dogs – a running.

    I'm glad you're following Lauren Berlant. I don't think my comments do her work justice. She is a brilliant and innovative thinker and I enjoy the fact that she tries to explore her ideas on her blog. She's also very approachable via email. And unbelievably generous in trying to explain her ideas. I'm just slow to catch on and I'd love to understand them better.

    I checked out Cloud. I don't fully understand this either, but it sounds like a useful way to keep hold of information in cyberspace. I'm not so organised myself. You should see my messy desk top.

    I'm also determined not to let the thought police and the naysayers get to me, but it's easy to get anxious when you let our mind run a muck with all sorts of improbable scenarios that feed off your paranoia.

    Thanks again, Jim.

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  25. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 10:53 am (7 years ago)

    Well Weaver, I often compare the way I was educated at school in comparison with the way my daughters learn. There's no comparison. The emphasis now is on hands on understanding. If only I tell myself I'd had more time and space to understand things better then, I'm sure I would not feel so intimidated now.

    Thanks, Weaver.

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  26. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:00 am (7 years ago)

    Marylinn, I wish I had not put you off Lauren Berlant. As Jim says, he finds her writing accessible.

    We have a radio program here in Australia called 'The Philosopher's Zone'. I love to tune into it because the fellow who runs the program makes philosophical ideas infinitely accessible. I then relish them.

    For a wonderfully easy to access local Australian philosopher, a young man who also writes well, I can recommend, Damon Young's blog. See: http://damon-young.blogspot.com/

    He's worth it also for his interest in writing. I think you'd enjoy his blog, Marylinn. Thanks.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:07 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Anthony. Your comment here reminds me of the way in which I too look back over my life and find things that I once found impossible are now manageable. You with your maths for architecture and me with my writing.

    When I was young I loved turgid language even when I did not understand it. Now I recognise the simplicity of language is of great value.

    I wonder could the same be said of maths? One of my brothers says that maths is simply another form of language. If you're good at languages you ought to be good at maths he says. I was good at languages at school – the European languages – as a child but not maths.

    I think there are also emotional blocks to learning which I suspect were my biggest burden. Thanks again, Anthony.

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  28. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:13 am (7 years ago)

    Michael Lally, it's lovely to see you here. Even when I write my comments, quite apart from the posts, I worry from time to time about how they might be interpreted in years to come.

    At the same time I'm inlined to agree with others here: who's going to look? There are so many zillions of words on the Internet, who could be bothered filtering out mine and yours, unless of course we become famous or politicians, which is unlikely?

    Thanks, Michael.

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  29. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:17 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks Rachel. I had not read Philip Larkin's Winter Palace. A wonderful poem, and as you suggest, very apt.

    For anyone else reading this comment here who has not yet read Larkin's poem it follows:

    I give all that the cold shoulder.

    I spent my second quarter-century

    Losing what I had learnt at university

    And refusing to take in what had happened since.

    Now I know none of the names in the public prints,

    And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces

    And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.

    It will be worth it, if in the end I manage

    To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.

    Then there will be nothing I know

    My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.

    Thanks, Rachel.

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  30. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:23 am (7 years ago)

    It's wonderful to see you here, Ruth.

    I'm with you when it comes to reading back over past writing and reflecting on how much you've changed even when it makes you cringe.

    As for a delete button in cyberspace. If someone offered it to me, I'd make sure I had back up copies elsewhere of everything I've ever posted on line.

    Like many writers, I keep it all, my own writing and that of others whose writing has come my way and captivated me. You never know when it might come in handy.

    Thanks, Ruth.

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  31. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:30 am (7 years ago)

    Hey Enchanted Oak, after your sojourn to Berlant's blog I wonder whether, like Jim Murdoch above, you found her writing accessible.

    As I've said in previous comments here I think I have done her a disservice. I do not think Berlant intends to be obtuse. I think she tries hard to explain her complex ideas.

    It's my frustration with myself I had wanted to convey.

    There are of course some who seek to obscure ideas with big words, but I don't think that Berlant is one of them. I sense she is keen to communicate.

    Thanks for this wonderful comment Enchanted 'interlocutor'.

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  32. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:34 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Zuzanna.

    I suppose these issues apply everywhere in all languages.

    So many ideas get 'lost in translation' even within the same language. How much harder it must be for those like you who must grapple with many languages. I admire you greatly for making the effort and for sharing your thoughts here. It's good to know that your traces will be here forevermore.

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  33. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:34 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Zuzanna.

    I suppose these issues apply everywhere in all languages.

    So many ideas get 'lost in translation' even within the same language. How much harder it must be for those like you who must grapple with many languages. I admire you greatly for making the effort and for sharing your thoughts here. It's good to know that your traces will be here forevermore.

    Reply
  34. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:39 am (7 years ago)

    Eryl, you're right. To understand these things we need to make an effort and the best way is to read and read again and then try to put the ideas into our own words.

    Putting things into your own words forces you to grapple with these difficult ideas. I'm afraid I don't always have the discipline for this. So perhaps I ought not complain.

    Learning takes time.

    I'm glad too that you're not so concerned about what's set in concrete on the Internet but I'd hardly call your writing 'dribblings'.

    You're one of my admired blog writers. Thanks, Eryl.

    Reply
  35. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:52 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Christopher for your comment here, admirable for its depth and honesty.

    I think you are right about the glut of information on the Internet and the degree to which it protects levels of intimacy among like minded souls.

    I too fear the possibility that the 'thought police', in paid positions or seeking in some ways to discredit others, might do active and focused searches to dredge up information against unwary bloggers.

    Information taken out of context can be misused.

    Let's hope this does not happen on any large scale. Let's hope it does not happen to us and our fellow well intentioned bloggers here.

    Thanks again, Christopher.

    Reply
  36. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 11:57 am (7 years ago)

    Janet Malcolm writes about letters as 'fossils of feeling', Kath.
    I love this expression. I think it's an expression that can also apply to our blog posts, 'fossils of feeling' they give us access to past states pf mind that we might otherwise lose track of, however as you say cringingly awful they may later appear.

    I think the idea of a forget button is in some ways intended as an aid to protect unwary Internet users from other abusers into the future. But hopefully in the long run it won't be necessary for any of us.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  37. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 12:04 pm (7 years ago)

    Hey Robert, I just noticed the sunglasses in your profile picture. Are you traveling incognito? I don't blame you if you are. It is the safest course.

    Most of us try some ways of traveling in disguise. We are selective about what we post. It's the hassle for any person in the limelight and bloggers put themselves into some sort of limelight however limited.

    Again, as I've said in earlier comments, I think it's only a problem if others want to misuse, or take words out of context.

    That said, bloggers can also behave in abusive ways.

    I think your idea of email behaviour is a good one. Do not put up on line in emails or blogs anything you would not want others to read. The trouble is there might be the odd person we'd want to exclude from the category of others.

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    August 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm (7 years ago)

    Kass, you can take your words: 'I'm not very charmed by obscurity' in two ways.

    The dense theoretical language I write about in this post does not charm you any more than the invisibility some people crave whether on the Internet or elsewhere. I suspect you mean the former, here.

    I'm not charmed by either category of obscurity, Kass, though I suppose sometimes it might be necessary.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  39. Kass
    August 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm (7 years ago)

    I didn't intend it, but I'm happy to have obscurity be taken both ways. I was mostly referring to dense theoretical language.

    Wonderful responses and comments here. Especially enjoyed Christopher's and Larkin's poem.

    Reply
  40. TaraDharma
    August 2, 2010 at 3:41 pm (7 years ago)

    I feel I am in very good company, here. I'm unfamiliar with the author, and your description of her writing does not make me want to read her work. I, too, lack the math gene (coming from a family of math wizards) but have made a pretty good life nevertheless.

    Abstract thought: if it can be simply put (relatively) I can comprehend…though I appreciate Buddhist teachings and writings, most of them baffle me. I'll read a long paragraph and think, "oh, they just mean LIFE IS RANDOM." So why not just say it?

    I'm not worried about the internet. I have a friend who worries that some of my blog posts are too personal, but I say the personal is universal. I'm thoughtful about what I post, and always ask myself if I would want my parents to read this!! If it passes the parent test, well, I'm home free. Being 53 does not mean one stops caring about what the folks think….

    Am enjoying your blog. Thanks for stopping by mine.

    Reply
  41. Tommaso Gervasutti
    August 2, 2010 at 6:16 pm (7 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth, I am happy to read new posts from you… about your latest one: ok internet never forgets but you can also delete what you don't want anymore to appear?

    Best, Davide

    Reply
  42. Rachel Fenton
    August 2, 2010 at 8:37 pm (7 years ago)

    I think the first line on the Larkin is: "most people know more as they grow older"…

    Reply
  43. Phoenix
    August 2, 2010 at 9:35 pm (7 years ago)

    It's interesting; you noted that the internet with its permanent memory is unable to change – and it's fascinating to note that those who spend the most time on the internet are those who do not want change or growth. Those who are the most stubborn, the most terrified…they seek out solace with others of that kind. On the internet.

    All things must grow and change. Therein lies our survival.

    Reply
  44. Roland D. Yeomans
    August 3, 2010 at 5:59 am (7 years ago)

    Hi, Elisabeth, Roland here.

    Just zipping in to say thanks for visiting my blog. And also to say I, too, believe that most absolutes are wrong. The truth lies somewhere in the realm of moderation.

    In my blog at the moment, I am writing a fictional account of me being trapped in my own fictional world — where the ghost of Hemingway has usurped my blog and is running it his way — absolutes and all.

    So his response to you on my blog is just as tempermental and frank as he was himself.

    I just wanted to zip over here and thank you personally for caring enough to comment. Your continued visits would mean a lot to me.

    I am experimenting on my blog. And like with all experiments, there are glitches. I didn't want the words of the ghost of Hemingway to you to be one of them.

    We writers are a strange breed. Gypsy, my cat, just sneezed as if to say at least I was a strange breed.

    Thanks for the comment and come again. I promise next time Hemingway will mind his manners, Roland

    Reply
  45. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 6:59 am (7 years ago)

    Oh Roland, I hope I didn't give the impression in my comment on your latest post on rules for writing that I was offended.

    I am not, but I'm glad to hear that it's Ernest's ghost who's speaking and not his real life alter ego.

    Yours sounds like a terrific experiment.

    I'd like to talk to Ernest, but I suspect we might not always see eye to eye. No matter, it will be good to argue about writing and to consider his/your perspective from many different angles.

    Thanks Roland, or should I say Ernest?

    Reply
  46. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 8:17 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for coming back, Kass. I am often amazed at how many different things we can read into other people's writing, contrary to the writer's intentions.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the poem.

    And thanks, Rachel for pointing out that first line of Larkin's poem, which I had missed in my too eager cut and paste: "most people know more as they grow older"…

    Reply
  47. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 8:24 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, TaraDharma. I agree with your notion that the personal is universal but I'm afraid I would not pass the blog posting test. I'm not too sure I'd want my parents to read what I have written, though they are unlikely to do so.

    My father is dead and my mother does not use computers, at least not yet, though she is now in her ninetieth year beginning to learn to use email.

    I suppose that test would depend on the nature of one's parents. There are your parents and then there are mine. There are my external parents and then there are those I carry around in my head.

    For me one of the most important tasks I've had to learn as a writer is to shake my parents from off my shoulders. Thanks again, TaraD.

    Reply
  48. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 8:28 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for your comment here, Davide. I used to think it sufficient to delete unwanted comments, but IT experts tell me that it isn't always so easy to eradicate all traces.

    Like burglars, who can break into heavily fortified places, a determined and skilled person might still find the 'incriminatory evidence' even after it's been deleted.

    Reply
  49. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 8:32 am (7 years ago)

    It's interesting what you write about certain people who use the Internet as a means of reinforcing rigid views, Phoenix. Equally the Internet can be and is used as a means of creating change.

    Think about the way people use the Internet to undermine dictatorships and the like.

    But I take your point. Dictators and the like can also use the Internet to reinforce their dominance. It all depends on who has the power and whether or not they can maintain it.

    Reply
  50. From the Kitchen
    August 3, 2010 at 10:46 am (7 years ago)

    Elisabeth: Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I've just had a nice visit to yours and shall return. I've enjoyed a number of books by your fellow Australian, Geraldine Brooks (who now lives in my native Virginia). It truly is a small world.

    Best,
    Bonnie

    Reply
  51. Pat
    August 3, 2010 at 11:01 am (7 years ago)

    Thought provoking. I love language and the beauty of poetic works but the older i get the more I yearn for clarity and simplicity. Anything too obscure or oblique and the shutters come down.

    Reply
  52. little hat
    August 3, 2010 at 11:24 am (7 years ago)

    Great post. So many detailed responses indicate how much thinking it triggered (I'll have to make time to come back and read them all).
    My two shillings worth – I don't think that not being able to understand theory is necessarily a poor reflection on us (I'm identifying with you on this). Sometimes it's as much about the theorist being unable to communicate the ideas simply and effectively. The art of great communication, to my mind, is to make the complex accessible. I often enjoy the didactic panels for children in Art Galleries. Why? Because the writer has captured a complex idea in a few words without losing the essence.

    As for forgetting. I am naive enough to think that once I can't see it it doesn't exist. Anyway I'm not writing for posterity – well maybe at one level I am, but at another level I'm writing simply to find out what I'm thinking – hoping I haven't offended anyone in the process.

    By the way do you know of an Australian, Bridget Brandon, who runs a "Life Stories" business in Sydney. She runs courses aimed at helping people unearth and capture their memories. I was a student of hers in 1980. At that time she was running clowning workshops – based around innocence and vulnerability. It was a dramatic and life-changing moment for me. I've never recovered.

    http://www.storyworks.com.au/pages/aboutstoryworks.html

    Reply
  53. Jane Kennedy Sutton
    August 3, 2010 at 3:06 pm (7 years ago)

    I don’t think I am ready to tackle something as challenging as “intimate publics” this morning, but have made a note of it in case there’s a time I’m feel my brain click into high gear.

    It’s funny that what’s so great is that everything (old and new) is on the internet and what’s so awful is that everything (old and new) is on the internet! Maybe someone will come up with something for us bloggers that causes a post to self-destruct after a certain period of time.

    Reply
  54. Kit Courteney
    August 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm (7 years ago)

    Do you know, I rather like that 'the Internet never forgets'… I like the thought of things that I (or anyone) has said and that it cannot be 'unsaid'.

    To me, that is 'history'.

    Reply
  55. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 10:43 pm (7 years ago)

    Bonnie, From the Kitchen, it's good to see you here – in my kitchen, as it were.

    Geraldine Brooks is a wonderful writer. You're fortunate to have her near. It is indeed a small world.

    Reply
  56. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 10:49 pm (7 years ago)

    Thanks Pat. Like you my shutters come down as soon as I encounter something thickets too difficult to make sense of and yet there are times when even in the thickest of forests something shines out at me that says, no wait a minute here. don't shut down, persevere, try to tease t out, there's a clearing nearby and you'll get a different perspective of only you hold onto your bearings. That's my thinking with Berlant.

    I also think much of this dealing with difficult and dense conceptual theory comes with practice. Like deep reading of poetry needs practice.

    Unless we want to enjoy such writing we do not bother to practise and therefore we miss out. But you can't do everything. There's so much to read out there. We have to limit ourselves in some way or other.

    Thanks again, Pat.

    Reply
  57. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 11:03 pm (7 years ago)

    I inadvertently put this comment on the previous post, Steve where it makes little sensesorry.

    I haven't heard of Bridget Brandon, Steve, but I'm a Melbournian. She's from Sydney, I see. Her work sounds fascinating though and if she lived her I'd check her out.

    I'm interested in your thought that once something is out of sight it's out of mind – not your words exactly.

    I think we tend to operate in this way because there is just too much to hold onto otherwise.

    Imagine the shock a person might receive when someone years after an event draws attention to something now perhaps controversial that the person had written and then forgotten. It happens.

    Whenever I go back to re-read old writing of mine, I get a bit of a shock. I forget what I have written sometimes within minutes of writing it.

    I remeber once at a writers' festival someone asked Tim Winton a qestion about a chaacter from his book, Cloud Street. He hesitated in answering Winton said because he had written that book so long ago he'd forgotten much of the detail.

    It's human to forget, otherwise we'd be top heavy with thoughts and ideas and could not move.

    Thanks for visiting Steve/Little Hat.

    Reply
  58. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 11:08 pm (7 years ago)

    There are suggestions around, Jane, that people have to option to employ a post self destruct button in the future, or at least to allow an optimal period of time to pass before posts get deleted.

    For the sake of the future, my own and others, I have mixed feelings about this, but of course some things need to go.

    I hope you have time to at least check Berlant's ideas out. She is worth a visit despite my suggestions her ideas are difficult. They're worth it.

    Thanks, Jane

    Reply
  59. Elisabeth
    August 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm (7 years ago)

    I'm inclined to agree with you Kit, that history is made of the traces that remain, but I suppose it's like everything. You can't keep all the traces.

    If we were to give a full account of our lives we would need all the time taken to live this life to recount it.

    We have to be selective about what gets included in historical accounts and therefore historical accounts become distorted in one way or another. Of course there are mutiple factors in this, including who gets to tell the history, and record it etc.

    Even so, if a post delete button became available, I don't think I'd use it much, except in unusual circumstances.

    Even then, I'd keep a back-up copy of the deleted post for my own records.

    Like many writers, I'm a magpie, I tend to keep all my writing, however good bad or indifferent. I never know when I might need it.

    Thanks, Kit.

    Reply
  60. Annotated Margins
    August 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm (7 years ago)

    I often think about the permanency of writing on the internet, which is why I pour over and rewrite what I submit to the public, and even then I'll press the upload button and hold my breath. I don't feel comfortable plipping a rough draft into the universe. I let my stuff sit for a day or two. And even in trying to be careful, I've reread past writing and gasped… "Oh, Mike, what have you done? Let's hope nobody reads anything you write." And yet, I keep writing.

    Reply
  61. Elisabeth
    August 13, 2010 at 11:57 am (7 years ago)

    It's amazing, isn't it Mike? You, like me and many others in the blogosphere, keep writing against the waves of anxiety that flood through us.

    The terror is that what we have written will come back to bite us in the future.

    Perhaps that's the lot of all writers but because the Internet is instant it feels so much worse.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Mike.

    Reply
  62. who
    July 7, 2012 at 9:23 pm (5 years ago)

    The only I would might ever give a second thought to are the things which I have typed in comment boxes but failed to click the "post" button or else intentionally entered an incorrect word verification sequence.

    But even then, there I had written words I believed in, albethem words to clarify to me that that was where my words had been taken/observed from (the unposted portions that are often a temporary waystation for my rattling thoughts, as apposed to have been taken from my mind)

    Reply
  63. who
    July 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm (5 years ago)

    On second thought, I take that back, but only after I realized that I once knew a a man named Herlado, of Latino decent, whose middle name was Baughmgardner, which started with the same letter of middle name of me.

    Not that it means I am any more likely to run into Heraldo, because of that obscure link of the letters that begin our middle names. Such coincidences only become common when the link is something more akin to residing in the same state and town. Only then is it much more likely we end up in us bumping into each other on the street or st elsewhere. But my shyness has little to do with being embarrassed by my words posted or even lost in cyberspace.

    Reply

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