To which Gary Sullivan responds: "You mean the kind of thinking and reading that led us to blogging in the first place?
:-) [as we used to say!]
Has the blogging moment, in other words, passed? I raised the subject - where else but on Facebook! - and was pleased to get these responses from Gary and Seth Abramson, with a late appearance by Jennifer Lowe:
Near as I can tell, the blogs are just about the only thing keeping the thinkers honest -- at least in the poetry blogosphere. I've got a bunch of doctoral students over here in Madison who I think would _love_ to engage Christian B. on the notion that the new unit of measure in poetry is the database (or archive). They might want to ask him, for instance, how using the archive as the fundamental unit of measure erases the critical questions we have traditionally asked about how individual archives are constituted, and replicates not just the degraded language but degraded enterprise of the traditional archive; they might want to ask whether these and other critical inquiries push back against blithely stacking archives vertically (What's closest to hand? The degraded language of journalism, cf. The New York Times! Let's "write" "The Day"!) in some benighted, masculinist Babel-project which (paradoxically) is entirely deductive in its conception, making impossible the sort of radically inductive ethical paradigm-shift *most* of the best thinkers of our generation have been advising since the late 1970s.
Alas, that sort of interaction will never happen -- but for blogs.
What think you all of this quote from Robert Darnton? - "Blogging brings out the hit-and-run element in communication. Bloggers tend to be punchy. They often hit below the belt; and when they land a blow, they dash off to another target. Pow! The idea is to provoke, to score points, to vent opinions, and frequently to gossip."
Has this person read Swift? Pope? Butler? Jeez -- I think a sense of history is needed. Some of our greatest writers not only _hit below the belt repeatedly_ as a means of agitating the Powers That Be but also did so at great and _careful_ length in prose and a couple hundred years (or more) before the Internet. The notion that critical inquiry has been _fundamentally_ changed by the advent of the blog is not entirely implausible, but certainly has to be approached with more care than Darnton shows in that one-off -- there _is_ a history to provocative literature. And that history illustrates that quite often there is significant substance beneath and behind the provocations, and that the forms of such provocations may change but the need for them does _not_.
I would suggest Robert Darnton read blogs by Ron Silliman, Nada Gordon, Nick Piombino, Josh Corey, Rodney Koeneke, Juliana Spahr, Peter Culley, Heriberto Yepez, Lemon Hound, Johannes Göransson, Brian Kim Stefans, Brandon Brown, Linh Dinh, Anne Boyer, Laura Moriarty, or any of the other genuinely engaged poet bloggers out there and see if this idea holds up.
It may be generally true of blogs. But I've also noticed that people who make their living in print tend to "be suspicious" of the medium, more suspicious than is probably warranted.
Provocations aren't quite the same as "critical inquiry" are they?
No, definitely not -- I meant intellectual provocations, the agitation of critical inquiry. My reading of history is that institutions and those empowered by them always "read" critical inquiry as a "provocation."
In fact I just found the full Darnton article, and (to his credit) it looks like his inclination is the same one as mine, above -- to go right to 18th c. England:
"Institutions" = shorthand for... what, exactly??!!
Don, we could take The New York Times as an example. It turns out -- this is just coincidence, I just noticed it -- that the subtitle of Darnton's own blog is "Roving thoughts and provocations from our writers." The Times is a journalistic institution -- it seeks to provoke, through thinking and inquiry, reaction by and discussion of larger institutions, like the White House, the United Nations, the CIA, and so on. But who's going to think through, and provoke discussion consequent to, the "thoughts and provocations" of Times journos [sic] like Darnton? There must always be a smaller fish -- just as we commonly say there must always be a larger one. If Darnton decries blogs I wonder if it isn't because he doesn't like having to look behind himself for a smaller fish, though as a member in good standing of The Grey Lady I can hardly see him being surprised that the ocean of criticism is vast and his reef is one of many. Don, we measure the depth of our belief in principles by setting them against the most trying examples -- like free speech for neo-Nazis. But we measure the depth of our commitment to an _Art_, like the Art of criticism, in the opposite way, by looking to our _best_ exemplars. Satire has both Pope and MAD Magazine; we look to Pope for value in the sub-genre, not Alfred E. Neuman. Likewise, as to blogging it would be fallacious to consider primarily or even largely those who comment in comment boxes -- which is not, actually, blogging -- instead of those, like Silliman, who have (however unevenly) kept discussions alive which weren't and aren't being had with sufficient regularity in the larger educational (wait for it!) institutions. :-)
P.S. And I think the "smallest" fora for critique always end up being those which are the most generally accessible -- printing a libel in 1710 was much easier than finding a bookseller. And yes, many of those libels were, well, libelous -- but as a form (and merely thinking of the form) they were also necessary to the operation of British culture and society during the Restoration, the Georgian Era and after. Without blogs print would be our only recourse, but there's the rub -- it would only be a recourse for a very small and select few, as print (like most mass media) is run in large part by conglomerates-cum-institutions.
I think it's a complex situation and difficult to answer. For me, blogging is not exhausted as a form, but it has mutated into writing specifically for the format:
But Nick Piombino, for instance, published the first three months or so of his blog, Fait Accompli, which turns out to be a pretty great read in print. Some adjustments had to be made for print, but it holds up well.
He also just published Contradicta, which was a series that he originally was doing on his blog, and which I don't think he necessarily thought of as a print publication. It's actually better in print, I think.
I think as video, sound, picture, and other links become a regular feature of blogging--a phenomenon of the last few years--the writing has warped more towards writing-for-the-web. Which is of course very different from writing for print.
I don't think as a form it has exhausted itself; but I do see it evolving. As a form of social media, it does seem be getting outpaced, though.
I can think of lots of other web-to-print projects that were successful, not all of them originating as blogs (e.g., Aleksandar Zograf's Bulletins from Serbia, which were email blasts, but had they been written a few years later, probably would have been a blog--a great book, btw.)
Nada has put together a really terrific manuscript from her blog posts and I have always thought Ron would have put out a book of essays built from his blog by now.
Oh I forgot to mention Mike Kelleher's blog. He's doing a brilliant project on it, going through all of his books one at a time in alpha order and writing a memoir through that process. It's usually hilarious and very moving. I would totally buy the book version, should it ever be published.
Sina Queryas has also published a print version of her blog - on which she herself recently asked the very question of whether the blogging moment has passed: her answer is here.
Late to the party, don't add this in any event, but, my two pixels: when the medium is so fundamentally different, so is the artifact of its use—the trace left behind by its creation. I refer you to the idea of "online disinhibition," AKA why some of us behave so badly on comment threads (http://www-usr.rider.edu/~
Then there's my own agenda-free personal experience that writing and reading online are nothing like writing and reading print. Writing a blogpost isn't the same experience as writing a nonfiction essay; and I would even argue that different brain receptors are involved in its production—much in the same way that "Internet porn" bears no relation to having to leave one's home and interact with another human being in order to procure an actual magazine or for that matter even video (however much free-speech liberals would like to think all these instantiations of "porn" are the same). In other words, we're using "writing" to mean two fundamentally different activities (in terms of process/brain function) which happen to look very similar (perhaps because they both result in some accrual of text).
Not only would I not buy the book version of most blogs, I don't even read most blog posts completely and neither do most of you, because the hand-eye experience of reading online is qualitatively different, and forces us into a particular kind of skimming. It's just like any other superstimuli—we assume based on prior experiences that we have free choice in our consumption of it and participation in it, but it's like nothing we've ever encountered before, and we are ill-prepared to interrogate (much less combat) its pushes and pulls. Poetry blogging = giant painted cardboard female butterfly = bacon double-cheeseburger. And with that happy metaphor I hush up.
Of course, we're aware of the Pillow Book, thanks to, um, Orientalism!
Further reading: José Saramago's blog - and Toby Lichtig's review, in the TLS of April 16, 2010, of the book derived from it, e.g., "This does does... prompt a wider question about the 'book of the blog' phenomenon, which risks forcing coherence on a body of writing that was never intended to be digested in this way."
See also: My previous post on "angry scatological" bloggolalia here and here.
Additional puny irony: my inclination to cut/paste this back/forth into my blog.
Pictured: drawings of the dodo.