Discourse Analysis of a Diary or Blog

In recent post, I shared some thoughts the meta analysis of conversations, known as discourse analysis. I applied the concept to the scientific practices where I proposed there was a conversation between three parties: the analysis, the synthesis, and the observation. While any particular scientist engages in all three, they will tend to emphasize one aspect and fill the others as part of some obligatory requirement to meet the needs of a publishing. For example, inevitably in any naturalist documentation of some observation in nature, he has to include a paragraph or two explaining how this confirms evolution, or how evolution played a role. He has to include that, but his primary interest is in documenting what he observed especially if it defies the expectations.

At the end of that post, I made the observation that my blog posts have an element of a discourse analysis. This is a pre-emptive discourse analysis. I’m providing the context and background for why or how I am thinking before I explain what I am thinking.

I will start writing a post with a particular goal in mind. I will start with the title. Most often that will be the title of the published post even when the content makes a different point and supports that point. The title will give no clue there there was that more substantive point was in the post. The title provides context. The reason why I started writing was because I chose that title. Changing the title after writing the post would be more proper in reflecting what the content of the post is really all about. But, changing the title loses the crucial context. My initial motivation for writing had to do with the title, not the content I would eventually write.

There are occasions where I would edit or replace the title, but it is rare. I feel a deep sense that it would be wrong to do so. I could not explain the feeling, but the recent contemplation about discourse analysis at least gave me a possible rationalization. The initial title provided the context. If I remove that context, the meaning and gravity of the post changes.

Very early on, I discovered the excerpt option when publishing a post.

My earliest posts would show up on my main page with an excerpt automatically containing the first few sentences. This is actually very appropriate for a blog because the link after the except says “continue reading”. The idea is that someone will want to at least read the rest of the sentence that got truncated. My first sentences are never that enticing. The first few sentences or paragraphs are like warming up an car engine, or tuning an orchestra. The actual content will come later when I get into the brain-to-fingertip pump fully primed.

I soon replaced this default excerpt with a paragraph at the end of the post, or nearly at the end. That is usually when I make some point I think is worth memorializing. In this sense the excerpt servers the traditional function of the title, but far wordier. I describe the important point of the post, but I also expose that I think that point is the primary one on in the post.

My organization of these posts reminds me of discourse analysis, but this is done pre-emptively. It is like an auto-biography, only instead of applied to my life, it is applied to my discourse. The discipline about discourse analysis is that it open to others to come up with their own interpretations. If I were more notorious, there would be others combing through my posts in pursuit of what I am really saying or thinking. In that project, I got the first word.

There is a very specific guidance about how to go about formal communication. A professional speaker or writer masters the practice of rhetoric. He organizes his communication in a very specific way with appropriate information described with appropriate length for the different sections of the overall argument. He choses every part of the communication very carefully. Part of that care is to excise as much as possible his thoughts about the matter that do no service to the argument, or may even undermine it.

I admire the mastery of rhetoric and had at times attempted to master it myself. As this site shows, I failed to learn proper rhetorical style, or I deliberately ignore it. I really do like the study of rhetoric, and I still think I should strive to mastering it. I have little intention to leverage rhetoric for my own persuasion goals. Instead the study of rhetoric is fascinating because of what it says about human communications, particular those communications that address large populations. There is a tried and proven approach to draw people’s attention, hold their attention, and eventually persuade them that you have a good point.

The problem with perfected rhetoric is that it strips the communication of all the context and broader social-political setting that motivated it. For example, we can still admire the arguments of Cicero even though his efforts were entirely motivated about the situation occurring at the time when ancient Rome was going through its version of a universal vaccination of the population and the consequent adverse reactions.

This rigidity in the rhetoric provides the opening for discourse analysis. Because the original writer strips the writing of the context and current setting, the discourse analyst has the opportunity to fill in the blanks with his own interpretations, sometimes many millennia after the words were written.

There was no single inventor of discoverer of rhetoric. It evolved as people learned what works and what needs to be avoided. It is also a very broad skill ranging from proper grammar and proper logic to skillful organization of the argument. There always was an element of discourse analysis in the dynamics of the debate between two arguments. The counter-arguer will dissect the opponent’s argument to find an plausible context or setting. He can then use that information to further persuade the audience. Note, that in this tactic, the counter-arguer’s goal is persuading the audience. He is less interested in understanding the specific person making the opposition argument. This is similar to discourse analysis where the goal is to persuade the current audience. There is less interesting in truly understanding the private mind of the original writer or speaker.

Given this history, there must have been an recognition of this vulnerability in excessively refined argument. The writer does not expose how he came up with his argument. This opens the opportunity for other people to fill in those details, sometimes to his detriment. It is interesting that there is not more personal reflection interjected into arguments, similar to what I am doing in this blog site, only I do it to an extreme the misses the point of making an argument.

Augustine of Hippo famously introduced a personal reflection into his published writing. I recall being told this was innovative both for literature and for argumentation. He used the first person singular in his writing. I suppose this is similar to a pre-emptive discourse analysis. Others may interpret his writings differently, but he got the first word in that debate. This is what I am thinking that leads me to making the argument I am making.

This innovation was not that popular despite his personal success. The preference is to complete excise any personal experience from the argument. The argument itself must be its own entity completely independent of the person making it, or the times he is making it. Often, the person giving the speech is different than the person writing it. There may also be multiple people mentioning the same talking points written by someone else.

Recently in this blog, I began using the Anchor.fm text-to-speech feature. In that case, the speaker is a machine. I like this text to speech because it uses artificial intelligence to apply reasonable inflection and pacing to match the written text. It sounds like a person speaking, but it also sounds someone different from myself. I would not use the same pacing and inflections. I also would pause at different places, and probably stutter or repeat more as I recognize spelling or grammatical errors, or worse.

When I started doing this, I compounded the discourse analysis because now they have to content with a different writer and speaker. If the Anchor.fm statistics are to be believed, I am getting an audience who only know of my blog though the audio version. The site reports the number of plays, but I suspect most of them are not played for the full length. In the cases they are played fully, it is probably with some player that is automatically cycling through podcasts and the listener isn’t paying attention. There is still the off-chance that someone is listening intently to the entire podcast. That person is getting my words with an artificial intelligent speaker. The writer is exposing his pre-emptive discourse analysis. The AI speaker is not exposing his context, but I wonder if careful study over time may expose it learning from use across multiple blog sites using the same engine.

I am not paying too much attention to other bloggers or podcasts. I do see some of them, and they have much more engagement that is well-earned by more careful presentation of the material. I imagine there must be other blogs similar to my own, but I don’t recall ever seeing any that would have posts the drag on talking about nothing for so long. There should be a way to find them, but I don’t even know how they would be categorized.

I used the analogy before that my blog is very much like a personal diary. Instead of writing in a notebook I keep under my mattress, I publish it in a blog hosting site. Unlike other blogs that attempt to keep in touch with their friends, families, or fans, I have no predefined audience. Like a diary, I don’t expect any specific person or group would read it. Unlike a diary, I do expect someone would possibly read. That person would be a complete stranger and read only one of the posts, not reading any others even if they found the one post to be interesting. That is my ideal audience.

I recall stating something similar when I first started this site. I strove to have content indexed by the search engines so that someone searching for something obscure may see my post in the search results. Early on, this worked exactly as intended. The search engines were respecting blogs as a possible source that may interest the searchers.

Also, the search engines would expose to my site what specific search strings the reader used. Sometimes I was delighted that the post they found was potentially relevant. Other times I was sad because the reader would be disappointed in the inappropriateness of this particular search result. It is probably because of the latter that the search engines began to improve their algorithm to give more priority to more trusted sites, and eliminating the random surprises. Around this time the search engines encrypted the search terms. I can still go to the search engine’s webmasters page to see this but that information is not as complete as I had at the beginning.

I think the typical expectation for a blog is that the most recent post is the one most important one. The audience wants to know most what the writer has to say recently. In may cases, it is just a health check to see that the writer is still active and perhaps unchanged. I had the different expectation where the blog site was like a shelf in a library. Someone eventually will come to the aisle and start reading a book, or someone would find one specific post from the card catalog. I think this does actually happen, but just like in larger libraries, there are areas that rarely get any foot traffic.

On this site, I have posts going back seven years. Those posts have some observation that even now I find still relevant. More importantly, that observation is buried under my auto-analysis of my discourse. The observation is relevant even though the original context is not. That is rewarding for myself. It is interesting to see the consistency of my thinking over time, especially if the reason for that thinking has obviously changed.

Early in the history of blogs, there were many people who used the blog as a kind of pre-publication of ideas, or the exposure of ideas that they have no intention to publish. People with good reputations were sharing some of their less developed ideas, sometimes with the intention that someone else would pursue them. That changed, or at least I don’t see these kind of posts any more. The same people are now much more careful with their blog posts, often using it as an alternative publication platform. Before they wrote posts with the hope that someone else will take and own the idea, but now they want to be cited and get credit for the more fully developed idea. I remain stuck in that former era. I want someone to find one of my ideas interesting and then take it as their own.

A discourse analysis of this blog should recognize the context I don’t find it worth my time to more fully develop or promote the ideas I write in my blog. Despite that, these ideas are worth my considerable investment in time to write them down.

I wonder whether this kind of thought recording could be useful for future data analysis or a government based on data. I earlier wrote an idea that there can even be compensation for people to record their opinions so that those may be available for analysis for government, hopefully for a better one than we have now. This would provide the discourse analysts a richer repository to study to find context and settings for other discourses. It would also make their job much more difficult. Context and setting are easier to construct when you have very little information about either.

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