14 March 2008

Memes and books

I have been looking at memes recently, in the context of my study, for they flourish in LiveJournal and in blogs in general. These are the modern, digital memes, some of them the equivalent of the old chain letters. The word itself was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, and he defines it as a "unit of cultural transmission". Susan Blackmore explains:

Memes are habits, skills, songs, stories, or any other kind of information that is copied from person to person.

Henry Jenkins
and his colleagues have been doing the 1,2,3 challenge, a sort of literary meme:
  • Look up page 123 in the nearest book

  • Look for the fifth sentence

  • Then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123.
In my memory, it was only one sentence, but three will give a better idea of the book you are reading (maybe the meme was thus amended by academics). On my desk, amongst others:

  • "But when the private individual and private life entered literature (in the Hellenistic era) these problems inevitably were bound to arise. A contradiction developed between the public nature of the literary form and the private nature of its content. The process of working out private genres began. (M.M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination)
This seems incredibly relevant to today's discussions on the shifting concepts of public and private on the Internet, and most particularly in personal blogs.

  • "However, such interpenetration does not necessarily mean that the two are combined. The transparency of blogging, especially when the authors are identified by name, leads to an unusual collapsing of the public and private sphere, a regression to rural life and concentric social circles. The very elements of blogging that make it most valuable - a networked audience, open conversation, low barriers to entry, and transparency - are also most threatening to established strictures of academic behavior." (Alexander Halavais, Scholarly Blogging: Moving toward the visible college, in Uses of Blogs)

There seems to be a theme here...

and then...

  • "Why can't we just hide?"
"Someone might find you."

"You have an answer for everything."

(Robert Crais, The Watchman)

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