As the Wheel of Fortune spins again, I am attempting to shake off private blues to regain control. Privacy proves baffling in that respect: control. Privacy appears to offer control, but in today’s climate it takes plenty away too. After a grilling yesterday in the use of ‘motive’ and ‘intention’, here lies a drop in the ocean on ‘exposure’ and ‘control’.
Exposure has benefits and weaknesses. Often in exposure there is desire to put right a wrong, to desperately have one’s say, or to disclose murky secrets. Often it has a ridiculous share of vanity attached. It is rare that exposure doesn’t have a motive or a selfishness to it.
But then selfishness is sometimes needed. To swallow with silent dignity insults and injuries done to us offers no reward, no justice – it just ploughs away at self-sovereignty. Whilst I have a great respect for those who value their privacy, I have noted before my opinion that a lower public profile too easily means to be forgotten.
Publicness, and the ready availability of material, both lead to some degree of laziness and apathy. I suspect the cause of Knightmare on DVD, which requires people to create forum accounts to register interest, is hampered by this very problem. Will I travel distances to a library to hold by hand something I can retrieve on my screen? Unlikely.
As such, this translates itself to personal contact and self-promotion. Will people react to what is displayed in front of them publicly? Perhaps. Will they actively go looking for it? Probably not. It is a drug that infiltrates the culture of thought as well as the medium of communication. As a writer who values privacy, there is a very difficult moral balance here between wanting the kind of exposure that comes through people discovering, rather than me publicly promoting. There’s not as much of it to go around. Or so I thought.
Time for rue smiles. The traffic to this blog remains quite low. Of course I would like it to be higher, but there is greater reward in knowing that the numbers are there not because I have advertised the blog to death and compelled friends to follow. But there are signs spreading, slowly, that I exist.
The sacrificial migration of some of my articles to HubPages has yielded close to 1,000 views in a few months. This, I discovered recently, is largely thanks to wonderful Gareth Malone fans, who have flagged the article several times on Facebook, to my pleasure and slight embarrassment.
Making small contributions within the academic circle, meanwhile, does not go unnoticed. It is a surprise and a shock to surface on the radar of the academic blogs that you bookmark and follow. Writing on Marvell and London is noticed on Early Modern History (albeit with a [perhaps deliberate] mistake), which prompted me to improve the piece. Conference material in Geneva was singled for discussion by the engaging Gaby Mahlberg, with whom I panelled, although this space has laid quiet enough to remain undercover.
Perhaps the most alarming exposure has been the promulgation of my Masters dissertation online. A digital copy had to be provided for Edinburgh’s digital archives as a condition of graduation. Since then, I discover, it has now registered its appearance on the British Index to Theses, and, perhaps more dauntingly, at the top of the list of Luminarium, the undergraduate haven for early modern material. Alas that the dissertation is so badly written… it’s not the greatest advert.
Measure for Measure
And there comes the crux. Exposure is one thing; Control is another. There is a subtle echo across two of Marvell’s Latin poems, in 1651 and 1676, about committing words to talkative paper; a sign that his concerns about exposure and control started early in his literary career.
You can’t have it both ways, of course. You can’t hope for a certain kind of passive attention and then complain when it appears. What we do want is some measure of control about the picture of ourselves that appears.
Privacy is one thing, control is another. It is a fascinating interplay, even if a horrendously tormenting one under the wrong circumstances.