In which half-baked connections are made between American poetry and Internet social networking.
Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is like an 19th-century personal homepage, in which the poet constructs his profile/identity with the stuff he sees in his neighbors, peers, family, friends, and countrymen. He gives shout-outs to his peeps. He writes of himself and of them seamlessly, “I am large, I contain multitudes” … Whitman sees his identity as part of many collective identities, defined by its connections and its connectedness.
On the other end of the spectrum sits Emily Dickinson, the quintessential recluse, who wrote:
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Dickinson, too, equates identity with publicness, with connections to other people. Of course, she explicitly sought to avoid such connections throughout her life — perhaps this poem reveals that she was seeking to minimize the existence of her self.
When we are online, when we post information about ourselves, our identities are cybernetically extended; they overlap — and in a way include — other people’s identities via our various kinds of social networks. Our social networks overlap in the same organic-ish way that computer networks overlap. We are always plugged into multiple systems, to multiple networks both social and functional.
The beat poet Frank O’Hara conceived of something called “Personism”, in which our thoughts and ideas are defined best when they are addressed to another person (instead of to oneself or to an imagined ideal). O’Hara’s Personism Manifesto is a bracing, albeit somewhat obscure, rumination on this concept. In it he argues that when we think of new ideas we think of them as being regarded and considered by others, sometimes by particular individuals. If this isn’t the essence of creating online personas, I don’t know what is.
I’m not aware of any blogs, of course, which exist for no-one to see. Where is the Emily Dickinson of blogging? We may never know.