They’re a species of webcam photo. The light is a little hyperreal, all LED-blue and sharp. Like webcam photos, they appear a little bit voyeuristic, always “candid.” Maybe this feeling is just because I grew up watching grainy women take off their clothes on streaming webcams, quite intentionally and without a sliver of genuine voyeurism but, nevertheless, with a feeling of being transposed to somewhere very much not where I was supposed to be. Photos of bloggers, alone, illuminated by computer screens lack this exoticism. Instead, you get a version of the traditional writer’s head shot except maybe you get to see the writers hands. That’s something.
Context is important, here. When photos of bloggers, alone, illuminated by computer screens are presented, they usually claim to be a view into the writer’s workspace. This could be interesting, if you played around with the notion that the workspace exists as some weird confluence between the writer’s body and the machine; a fluid, spacio-temporal locus. Instead, they’re usually just an excuse to use readily available, artificial light and showcase how urbane a space said writer lives in. Else, they’re patronizing, narrow focus portraits of being solitary, alone in the dark. Always the dark. The possible truth of either situation doesn’t forgive its depiction. The photos are kitschy.
I wonder if anyone can picture the space I’m writing in? It’s like trying to picture someone based on the sound of his or her voice. I’ll cheat and tell you. My laptop sits on an old walnut desk in the corner of a wood paneled room decorated with ’70s era New York Giants memorabilia. Prior to this, it was the bedroom of an illegal apartment on the second floor of a rowhouse in Albany, NY. Because I slept on a Queen-sized bed, because I don’t sleep soundly and spent too many years on “college twin” mattresses, I couldn’t swing the door all the way open and the closet was only accessible by actually being on the bed. I kept my TV in the closet along with all my books. Any attempt to photograph either space would seem tragically revealing about my character, but wouldn’t be particularly representative of, for instance, my writing.
Photographs of bloggers, alone, illuminated by computer screens are reductive. This is a slight variation on calling them “kitschy.” I use the term kitsch because photographs of bloggers, alone, illuminated by computer screens trade on a particular kind of illusion. For the most part, it’s that the photos depict someone at work. Not that this is unique; every posed photo of a tradesman in a newspaper functions the same way. Still, the illusion is pernicious. Writing doesn’t lend itself well to visualization. True, as Wittgenstein said, “thinking” manifests more in the act of speaking, or drawing, or typing than it does inside ones head, somewhere. But typing occurs over time and writing isn’t embodied, especially writing for the internet.
I don’t deny that the space where I write influences my writing. I feel a certain sort of dissonance, writing about post-structuralism or poetry from this glorified rec. room. This sensation must influence my thinking, give me a little lick of modernist alienation. I still write the stuff. Some years ago, it occurred to me I’m most motivated to write when traveling, sitting on the floor of somebody’s living room or between hotel sheets. Ordinarily you can’t get me near a chat program, especially not something like Skype, but when traveling I have a tremendous urge to reach out. I read more, too, at least I read better, with closer attention. A lot of time has been sunk trying to find the significance of this.
Kitsch is the wrong term because it’s a technical term and I’m slightly misusing it. There’s a lot of specificity about ethics and “critical distance” that I’m glossing over. I say “reductive” because, for the purposes of this piece, I’m not a blogger, alone, illuminated by a computer screen. For the purposes of this piece, I’m not anybody. A strong statement coming from someone who writes about himself so frequently, I know. Really, the extent to which I matter begins and ends with the person reading this, some day’s time from now. The actual act of writing can be solitary and awful and is quite often done in the dark. You already knew that. The part that matters occurs far away from me and you can’t take a picture of it.
Photographs of bloggers, alone, illuminated by computer screens are easy. They are, already, the image everyone has of the writer who writes on the internet. Only by grace do the photos not include people posed in their pajamas or with cats. They’re tautological without the benefit of being true.