To Delete, or Not to Delete

I spent much of last night lying awake, primarily suffering under what I’m pretty sure was a bit of bad salmon. I wasn’t anywhere near as sick as I could have been, but I did at one point wonder whether TSA would let me board my plane today if the bucket of fluids I was carrying could be demonstrated to have originated within my own person. That eventuality has blessedly not materialized.

But what all that lying awake tossing and turning and trying to decide whether I’d feel better if I just forced myself to puke did was give me ample time to think about my last brief entry here, and whether it was ill-conceived. Or whether it was just the PS that made it sound ill-conceived, raising the specter of stalkerdom where it needn’t have been raised. And whether I should delete the PS, or the whole thing, or just pretend like it never happened, or just simply relax, because all this anxiety was probably bacterial in origin.

This morning, all of this has me thinking about the old post-editing controversy of 2003. In fact, I thought about this a couple of weeks ago, when I had lunch with my dean; we were discussing my blog (which, yes, he has read), and he asked whether I ever regretted particular posts. I had to tell him yes, and that what I regretted about them was usually something tonal — too much whinging, for instance, or too much knee-jerk thoughtlessness. The beauty of the blog, of course, is that the comments allow for a modulation of that tone, a development of a thought, a slight shift of direction. Because of that I’ve never regretted a post enough to delete it.

Last night, however, or more properly very early this morning, I was seriously considering deleting the last post, mostly because it seemed, in the midst of the abdominal cramps, to make me look like an unremediable idiot. I’m now not sure it does quite that, but it still makes me a little nauseated, so this post is, in effect, doing the work of modulation. Also of pushing that last post down off the first screen.

But now I’m wondering: What are the ramifications of deleting entries? Under what circumstances does deletion seem appropriate?


  1. As a LiveJournal-user I’ve come across a lot of deleted posts, for the exact reason you state here. LJ’ers tend to be a bit wackier and more personal than the other blogs I read, and they also tend to delete their posts or make them private when they encounter ramifications, or suddenly think an entry too personal. I can understand deletion when you use your blog as a journal, and wrote things down in a moment of desperation. Maybe you want to come back to it, and rid the world of your drunken rant on broken hearts.

    Different ways of using blogs, also make for different approaches to deleting (and editing) entries. With a vast audience, you cannot delete your entry unnoticed, and will have to state you deleted the entry and why. In that case I think it’s better not to delete. A follow-up post will do the trick of explaining things better.

    On my own blog I haven’t deleted one post. (I did make an occasional post private, because it included pictures that weren’t online anymore.) Whatever silly things I have written, I’ll leave it on there. Things did get mulled over before I wrote them down, especially the longer posts. I do have the habit of editing whenever I notice someone didn’t understand what I was trying to say, or I made a blatant mistake. I will note this with “eta” or in a smaller footnote. And I usually correct spelling mistakes and bad grammar (which happens quite often, as English isn’t my mother tongue).

    Deletion tends to give the feeling you don’t stand by your own words. It feels like arguing with someone and then saying “I didn’t mean what I said.” But you did mean what you said, because otherwise you wouldn’t have said it. The thing is being able to say why you have said it. You can’t take back what was written. You can only pretend it was never written.

    Re. you previous post: I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with it. I haven’t read the article you’re linking to, but I think the link clears everything up. The PS is a bit strange, maybe, but why wouldn’t you send a book to a reviewer? Anyone who writes on a public forum (be it “The New York Times” or a personal blog) can be contacted. And since writing for the newspaper is Walter Kirn’s job, maybe you can try his workplace for an address?

  2. I read the previous post the same way as Frances; it didn’t strike me as an embarrassing thing to think or post. Public figure discusses something, you’ve just published a book directly relevant to what he’s discussing, so why not join the two? It’s a good thing for academics to be doing; if there were more of it, we might not hear the “ivory tower” jibes so often. Which was why I googled around for a few minutes to see if I could help… I’d never known who he was before yesterday, so there was no stalkerish intent.

    That said, deleting a minor passing request seems a far cry from deleting a more developed piece.

  3. The deletion question is interesting, and one that’s relevant to me right now for personal reasons (as I am reposting my blog, but not all the posts). I have decided that discretion requires me to remove some of the things I’ve previously posted – but going back through everything, the big question has been: does this post really incriminate me professionally, or does it just not add anything much to the blogosphere? I don’t have qualms about hiding things that I’ve decided aren’t very wise, professionally speaking, to discuss publicly, but what about the posts I think are just boring or silly? Because I’m reloading stuff and that takes time, I’ve been leaving them out, but there is part of me that feels this is wrong, because they’re part of the whole shape and progress of the blog. I guess the question is whether one thinks it’s important to preserve the whole process of one’s trajectory of thought – the blog as a fly trapped in amber, so to speak – or whether it’s possible to edit the blog like a book, and present it as a more finished project. I kind of prefer the fly trapped in amber metaphor, but for the moment the other is easier for me, and I don’t really have any good reasons for preferring one model over the other.

    (Though I should add that I didn’t see anything embarrassing about your previous post!)

  4. Thanks for these responses. I haven’t ever deleted a post, and the longer I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that I’d probably only delete one if I belatedly felt it that it was hurtful to someone else. I feel pretty strongly about the ways that all of the posts here, the carefully considered ones as well as the totally flippant, knee-jerk, stupid ones, reflect something important about who and where I was at the moment of posting; to delete those posts, for better or for worse, would be to disown that self. But I’m also always aware that my name is all over this blog, and that everything I write is read publicly, by folks who know me as well as folks who don’t. Because of that, I tend toward discretion in posting. On the other hand, I’ve got tenure, and so I don’t have to worry quite so much about the professional ramifications of what I post here, which gives me the luxury of assuming that the only effect of any silly or ill-considered posts will be a bit of personal embarrassment.

    Why, exactly, I felt some embarrassment around the Kirn post is a mystery to me now. Perhaps because I know perfectly well how to get in touch with him — either via the NYTBR or via his publisher — and so felt goofy for having asked. And somehow it was the PS that tied the knot for me. But whatever; call it something I ate.

  5. What’s embarrassing about initiating a little reader participation? Your question illicited a response which uncovered information about a guest stint.

    The embarrassment might be in the brevity of the entry that doesn’t mention the book being reviewed (‘The Din in the Head: Essays,’ by Cynthia Ozick) — makes it more difficult to find the entry in a search of relevant commentary on the Kirn piece “The Canon as Cannon”.

    The embarassment probably stems from the links-without-context nature of the entry. It is far removed from your usual posting style which is sensitive to the modes of narration.

    BTW, what book did you (do you) want to send Kirn?

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