Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Boreham and For Whom Does One Write?

In these last couple of posts I have suggested that F W Boreham lost (or gave up?) a sense of writing to his local context (Hobart and Melbourne) because his international publishing was taking off. This caused him to cut out local references he earlier would have included and omitting references that if left in, would cause his writing to date over time.

It must be recognized that this practice probably has meant that his writing has not dated like many of his contemporary writers. Yes, there are still some phrases he used that have gone out of fashion and objects and activities he alluded to that have been superseded in the 21st century but the essays and sermons he penned 100 years ago are still immensely readable.

The challenge of disengaging from the local context through acquiring a wider audience is a significant contemporary issue for theologians and other writers in the public sphere.

If you are writing a column for a local or city paper you might find in today’s electronic age that your article can appear with scarcely a delay in other newspapers across the country and throughout the world.

I am writing articles on a number of blogs and web sites. Even the one which has the most distinct geographical focus, Experiencing the Emirates, is read by people in other countries. I am aware of this when I write. Today I have had comments about my articles from Hobart, Melbourne and Singapore.

Addressing this issue, over which authors and publishers have little control, public intellectual Edward Said asks, “For whom then does one write, if it is difficult to specify the audience with any sort of precision?”

Said identifies the dangers of making assumptions about the imagined readership and expecting that the virtual readers will immediately understand the writer’s language and allusions.

Addressing writers and intellectuals about their public role, Edward Said concludes, “All of us should therefore operate today with some notion of very probably reaching much larger audiences than we could conceive of even a decade ago, although the chances of retaining that audience are by the same token quite chancy. This is not simply a matter of optimism of the will; it is in the very nature of writing today.”[1]

People who write theology in this newly expanded public space are also confronted by questions about the context of their subject, the focus of their readership and the risks of communicating with an unknown audience.

Any thoughts or comments on this?

Geoff Pound

Image: Times have changed. The transport Boreham was using when he commenced his writing career. Photo taken by FWB of his wife, a friend and his daughter, Mosgiel, NZ.

[1] Edward W Said, ‘The public role of writers and intellectuals’, The Alfred Deakin lectures: Ideas for the future of a civil society (Sydney: ABC Books, 2001), 470-471.