Remediating Orwell's Diaries 08.14.2008, 11:45 AM
posted by sonja drimmer
Why they've elected the blog format and the seventy-year anniversary is left unsaid, but they're questions that I think are not only interesting but important to consider for a project of this kind. There's little discussion of the motivations behind the project and readers are asked only to "gather [their] own impression[s] of Orwell's face from reading his most strongly individual piece of writing: his diaries."
But what happens when (a famous author's) personal diaries get remediated in blog form?
In the case of Orwell's diary, it walks and talks like a blog, but it isn't quite a blog. The site uses a standard template from Wordpress, with a double banner-- one for the Orwell Prize and the other announcing the site as the "Orwell Diaries" in a sans serif font above an image of a few lines from the diaries. (Speaking of which, I'm curious as to the singularizing of what, in its original form, is plural-- will each new diary be presented in a different format or be somehow marked? Or will the blog unify several diaries into one, continuous format?) To the right of the title banners is an image of the author at work at his desk. And running down the far right of the page are links to the about page, archives, categories, and a series of media pieces on the project. The first two posts announce the arrival of the blog, and it is not until the third post that Orwell's writing begins.
In that post, the diary entry has been transposed almost exactly from Peter Davison's edition of Orwell's Complete Works, footnotes included. What's different is the addition of tags (in this case, "animal" and "snake") as well as a category ("domestic"), a link to Richard II in Sparknotes, and a place for reader comments. I think, from this and the following few posts currently online, it's safe to say that the blog format is being used here to replicate the printed book, with a few bonus add-ons.
But because the publishers have decided to release the entries in real-time, I have to think that the intentions for the blog may have been more than just that. By publishing the entries in correlation with the days in which they were written, the blog brings the writer's thoughts into our time. These aren't a fossilized and completed set of prestigious memoirs, but rather quotidian reflections just like our own (an impression assisted by the sometimes-banality of Orwell's entries).
My question is what can be done to enhance the present-ness of Orwell without altering the entries themselves? What font choice would you select? Different fonts to reflect different moods? Would you find a self-reflexive piece of his writing and stick that on the "about" page? What about the banner? Would you include links to the day's weather forecast in Morocco? What about links to current or contemporary news articles for the more political entries to come? Despite 70 being a nice, round year, I've never ceased to be astonished by the prescience of Orwell's political insights, and how much more relevant this project might be if we brought the author further into our time by associating his personal thoughts with current events--in this case, via links to those events.
Above all, if one is going to remediate Orwell's work, why not translate it creatively instead of using the web as a book with heightened intelligence?
That said, I think it's an interesting way to bring Orwell's diaries to a larger audience, and I'm certainly glad to get a daily fill of his thoughts and observations.
Posted by sonja drimmer on August 14, 2008 11:45 AM
Laura on August 14, 2008 1:06 PM:
I've been following the Orwell diary blog. I find it interesting that you focus on the font, layout etc. I read the diary in my RSS reader, along with the blogs of my friends. Everything appears in a uniform font, colour, etc. I have only been to the main website part of the blog once, when I got the RSS feed location.
So for me the entries appear very similarly to those being written in the present day. I feel they are quite immediate, without needing any alteration.
I wonder what proportion of readers will use the RSS feed, as opposed to the main site itself? And how that compares to how people track the blogs of their friends today.
Judith Elaine Bush (judielaine) on August 14, 2008 3:19 PM:
I've loved following Dracula in blog form, in "real time," as well as Pepys' Diaries. Diaries are, as you note, more blog-like, but Dracula was a revelation stretched out. To have news items about a ship's arrival and departure mixed in with news of today, reflections interspersed with my friends reflections on their own personal joys and horrors, built up a very different experience of suspense. A different sort of remix -- with life?
Pepys' diary is currently in August of 1665, the Great Plague of London. His growing awareness of the seriousness of event, from a mention of others' worries to Pepys' will writing and setting of his affairs in order, experienced in this "real time" manner is illuminating and thought provoking.
Reading Laura's comment above: i find myself often passing out of my feed to the website itself to read others' comments at Pepys' diaries. The annotations by such a diverse community of experts (and the Q and A support) had been an enriching reading group.
Now off to add Orwell! How wonderful!
Chris Meade on August 18, 2008 10:24 AM:
My great grandmother, an artist who trained at The Slade, went on a world cruise in 1914, accompanying her husband, a research chemist. Every day she painted a tiny water colour of what she saw from the ship: sometimes just seascapes and sunsets, often exquisite images of harbours and coastlines. When she returned to Cambridge a year later, there was a field hospital on Jesus Green and the world was changed forever. The diary is absolutely beautiful - and, as it would need full colour illustration, basically unpublishable in a conventional form. But I've always thought it would work beautifully as a blog, growing day by day over a year, especially as she wrote an accompanying text. Such a blog would beed an appropriate hosting organisation I think, but am sure interest in it would build. Thanks to this post I'm thinking again about how to take the idea forward!
Richard W. Symonds on August 19, 2008 2:44 PM:
Well, it's fired my imagination - as I'm sure it will for others :
Bryan Alexander on August 22, 2008 5:38 PM:
Thank you, Judith!
I find myself stymied at the next reiteration of Dracula, wondering if I need to "make it new".
Marin Dacos on September 4, 2008 2:21 PM:
Very interesting! Thanks for the link. I've published a long note about the Orwell's diaries project. Unfortunately, it's en french...