So this is ‘personal publishing’, as John Lennon didn’t sing. It has, I have learnt, a ‘frontstage’ and a ‘backstage’. Right now, I am backstage, typing this, preparing it for frontstage viewing. I have even found a canny picture to accompany it, suitably stage-y, and with a mask to boot (ooh, exciting). In fact, I’ve been reading a lot about personal publishing and pictures this week, and I’m not sure I believe it all. But then, this is only the end of week 2 of a long journey – there is much more to read.
According to Eisenlauer (2011), himself adopting linguistic terms from Halliday (1985), social media images – avatars – can ‘demand’ or ‘offer’: the pictorial equivalents of Halliday’s ‘Give me a drink!’ and ‘Would you like a drink?’. According to this analysis, on facebook I demand that drink (for I am looking directly at the viewer), yet here, I am offering you the drink.
In some senses I can relate to that. After all, my facebook page is non-acadmic, it is personal in the sense of ‘free time’ – if you want it, you take me as I am. Whereas this webpage, this blog, is indeed an offering of my research, a sneak preview, a live commentary, for you, dear reader (for you are lonely in your singularity) to do with as you see fit. These are the humble musings at the start of a journey; the facebook page is me me me – my family, my (other) life.
That gloss is certainly possible. It is not, however, the reality. The facebook image was supposed to be a photo of the Eiffel Tower. My companion was taking a long time perfecting the shot. I playfully stuck my head in front of the lens to hurry him on just as the shutter closed. By accident, a rather jaunty picture of my last days of living in Paris holds a dear place in my heart, and so I chose it for my facebook profile. Unlike many users of that site, I have never changed it. (Nor have I ever pressed the ‘like’ button. Just because I can doesn’t mean I will – there is an instance of an ‘offer’ that I, unexpectedly from the offerer’s point of view, choose to refuse.)
The avatar on this site has a far less interesting story. Two weeks ago, I needed a picture. I failed to find a decent, recent photo, so decided to take my own. I have eyesight problems (the pink glasses may be funky but I don’t wear them through choice), so had to switch off the flash. But the flashless pictures were all too dark. Ach well, I decided to hold the camera over my head, eyes cast down to avoid the necessary flash, that’ll do. This blog’s first reader looked at me incredulously when he saw the photo (for he was looking at the computer over my shoulder) – ‘why on earth did you choose a photo where you’re not looking at the camera?’ he asked. When I queried why that should be necessary, he hesitated, before replying, with a hint of Celtic wit, ‘you’re supposed to have a picture of you in your office, studiously surrounded by books – manuscripts, I corrected him – indeed, with one open in front of you, perhaps touching it…’
And what would such a photo have said? Oh yes, an academic in her milieu. Perhaps I would be looking at the books (ahem, manuscripts), and you would be disturbing me. Perhaps I would be writing, making notes in my pink notepad. Then I would have a true image that was an ‘offer’. We would also have a fully-fledged manuscript authorship image, wouldn’t we? Machaut in his study, busily writing. Manuscript F-G, the most author-focused of the core manuscripts, presents just such an image at the head of its music section. In contrast, manuscript E for the Louange des dames presents a group of singers, with a manuscript on a barrel, clearly having fun (and, this reader wonders, perhaps drinking the barrel’s contents somewhere ‘backstage’). What is noticeable about the core Machaut manuscripts is that the traditional dedication to the patron, where the author offers the book to a noble personage, is missing. Instead, in the famous frontispieces to manuscript A, it is the mythical creatures of love and nature who offer their children to Machaut, to the author. Our author is not looking at the viewer, but at his visitors, yet he is not offering anything. Should we use one of these frontispieces as our ‘Machaut avatar’, the ‘offer’ would be misleading, just as it is with my own photo. Of course, these images were painted long before the printing press, never mind the Internet. But my point is that authority does not have to look us in the eye.
Again, according to Eisenlauer (2011), personal publication does not carry the authority of traditional publication. Apparently, even a blog is a ‘collaborative text-creation process, at least to some degree’ (p. 134). Well, the only other person here with me is the dog, and he’s not been too helpful. Oh, wait a minute, you mean online collaboration. But we are still backstage; as I write this, it is entirely my voice that is speaking. However, should my reader care to comment (and should I choose to accept it), there will indeed be another voice, one that is clearly distinguished from mine. Of course, I can choose to edit my text at a later date, but only I have the permission to do that.
I am being deliberately obtuse here (just for a change). Of course, i can claim no credit for the design of the site, which was made using a WordPress template, devised by some clever person on the interweb. But there is the point – that person is anonymous. Silent. It was me who chose the pink background (it matches the glasses), the images, the text, the links. I am the author of this ‘text’. The designer of the background template (which I have adjusted) therefore holds less power of authority over the content of this site than does the typesetter in a printing press, and far less authority than the scribe(s) of a medieval manuscript. For while the pink background, the snippet of artwork, the photo, and all the page elements do indeed work together to create the whole, it was I who put them there. No medieval author can claim that – I say that as a Machaut specialist, for he, if any, is a candidate – indeed, few modern-day print authors can claim full control over the typography and layout of their books, unless they self-publish. Publish personally. Personal publishing on the internet.
Of course, personal publishing can be collaborative, as Hoem (2004) has discussed, and as is demonstrated in the medieval blogosphere – if I may call it such – by In The Medieval Middle (http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/). I am even part of a fledging collaborative site myself over at the Medieval Song Network (http://www.medievalsongnetwork.org/). But it ain’t necessarily so, and, as my multimodal literacy increases, that is something which I shall bear in mind.
Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 1584 (Machaut ms A)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 9221 (Machaut ms E)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 22545-6 (Machaut ms F-G)
Volker J. Eisenlauer, 2011. ‘Multimodality and Social Actions in “Personal Publishing” Text: From the German “Poetry Album” to Web 2.0 “Social Network Sites”’ in Multimodal Studies: Exploring Issues and Domains eds Kay L. O’Hallaran and Bradley A. Smith (NY: Routledge), pp. 131–52
M. A. K. Halliday, 1985. An Introduction to Functional Grammar (London: Edward Arnold)
Jon Hoem, 2004. “Personal Publishing and Media Literacy”, http://infodesign.no/artikler/personal_%20publishing_media_literacy.pdf , accessed 15 Feb 2013.