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Resisting privacy: Problems with self -representation in journals and diaries

Andrea Stover, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation I investigate resistance to private writing (especially in the form of journals and diaries). My goal is to understand the nature of resistance to writing in general. I choose private writing as my focus for three reasons: (1) Most people equate private writing with freedom and safety, thereby seeing it as the most resistant-free genre; (2) I have always been confused about the distinction between the public and the private when it comes to my own writing practices. I do not feel free, safe, or particularly private when trying to write a journal or diary; (3) If I can understand resistance to private writing, I can apply my findings to the resistance students experience towards all writing. When I speak of diary or journal writing (and I use the terms interchangeably), I am referring to a genre used for private reflection and self-discovery. Throughout the dissertation I make distinctions between the concepts of public and private, especially as they relate to the four major categories of my study: identity, audience, time, and genre. But since the distinctions are by no means universal, I show how and why the boundaries between them need to be acknowledged as flexible, fluid, and dependent on the inventive imagination of each writer. Chapter one focuses on how people's conceptions of identity often interfere or clash with the practice of private diary writing. In a second chapter I examine student experiences of resistance or attraction to private journal writing based on long-held audience expectations and needs. I devote a third chapter to a study of Virginia Woolf's diaries in which she articulates how ideas about time complicate, and sometimes diminish, her ability to continue keeping a diary. In my fourth, autobiographical, chapter I explain how expectations and assumptions about genre (public or private) influence a writer's sense of safety and overall ability to embrace writing in any form. My conclusion examines the implications for pedagogy. In articulating the reasons for people's resistance to private writing, I show how unexamined assumptions about identity, audience, time, and genre provoke resistance to all forms of writing.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|British and Irish literature|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Stover, Andrea, "Resisting privacy: Problems with self -representation in journals and diaries" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950213.