Virginia Woolf’s seminal “A Room of One’s Own” argues that women have not produced great literature historically because of culturally-enforced poverty. Historically, women have not had independent power or prestige or wealth, and so could not, as a rule, write great works. Though Woolf’s point is contentious (African American literature is a prime example of a body of work shaped by protest of oppression, rather than utterly silenced by it), it has some real heft: poverty of body often bespeaks poverty of opportunity and breeds poverty of soul. People desperate for their next meal are not also preoccupied with writing The Great American Novel. More subtly, Woolf argues, those who must self-abase and submit themselves to those who could supress their writing will have a far more difficult time writing courageously.
Woolf may well have said the same of any group who has historically been denied the power to disseminate their perspective through writing. If we apply her thesis more broadly (to poor and marginalized men as well as women), the invention of the printing press may be seen as a major historical advancement, not only of technology, but of liberty. By making printing radically cheaper, the printing press made it possible for the writings of even the powerless to be read by a general audience .
The advent of the internet is akin to Gutenburg’s printing press in terms of its importance to the distribution of the written word. Incontestably, it is another quantum leap in terms of the ease and availability of publication, reproduction, and dissemination of literary works. You don’t have to be an annual participant in NaBloPoMo to realize that a 14-year-old in a Michigan basement has potential access to a world-wide readership, even though she has no access yet to a job or a car. Most blogging systems are free, and incredibly user-friendly. Chances are if you have opposable thumbs and are under 40, you have a blog-or at least a reason for not having one.
If Woolf’s thesis is correct, then the internet is yet another door thrown open to those who previously would never have been heard. While certain discourses are priviledged in academia, politics, and journalism, a blogger need not conform to these larger power structures in order to write and publish. This is affirmed by the wild popularity of blogs like Dooce, where an individual succeeds in garnering a readership by journaling about daily life and motherhood. The blogosphere is perhaps especially noteworthy for the number of women who write there, particularly mothers; there is an ease, a casual spirit, and a freedom to write in a different voice that seems to attract people who wouldn’t be heard otherwise.
Blogging is not arduous and does not demand the conformity to literary convention the way the publishing industry does, and the fact that it can be done casually in one’s spare time may prove Woolf’s point. For those voices that are still marginal in terms of the mouthpieces of culture, blogging is a radically “less expensive” way to write. Because it costs less in time and money, it does attract someone like a stay-at-home mom, who otherwise would probably not have the social resources to write-or to be listened to. Of course, book offers are made to successful bloggers, welcoming them to what is still the mainstream of literature. But such opportunities only come after they’ve established that this different way of speaking through their blog can draw an audience. And, to Woolf’s rousing cheers, it does. ‘