Corporate demon or sub-useful blight?
Posted March 19, 2007on:
Have you been following the latest ruckus between print publications and lit-bloggers? It is at times confusing and generally embarrassing. There are many lit-bloggers who consciously aim to fill in the space left by ailing national book reviews. I think it is safe to say that most of us have either different or more modest ambitions.
If you remember Dorothy at Of Books and Bicycles posted an excerpt from an n+1 article that is reportedly about how technology is quickening the rise of brain-draining, soul-sapping activities, blogging being only one among several anti-intellectual strongholds. This key paragraph seems to be the major bone of contention.
People might have used their blogs to post the best they could think and say. They could have posted 5,000-word critiques of their favorite books and records. Some polymath might even have shown, on-line, how an acute and well-stocked sensibility responds to the streaming world in real time. But those things didn’t happen, at least not often enough. In practice, blogs reveal how much we are unwitting stenographers of hip talk and marketing speak, and how secondhand and often ugly our unconscious impulses still are. The need for speed encourages, as a willed style, the intemperate, the unconsidered, the undigested. (Not for nothing is the word blog evocative of vomit.) “So hot right now,” the bloggers say. Or: “Jumped the shark.” The language is supposed to mimic the way people speak on the street or the college quad, the phatic emotive growl and purr of exhibitionistic consumer satisfaction – “The Divine Comedy is SOOO GOOOD!” – or displeasure – “I shit on Dante!” So man hands on information to man.
The great Mr. Hallberg of The Millions was one among few who had actually read the article and he provided two considered, reasonable replies titled Keepers of the Flame and Love: A Burning Thing. Unfortunately the comment section in both is combative. If you don’t mind a bit more the of chaotic gossip and aimless flaming I suggest browsing last week’s posts on the matter at Ed and at Mark where he, perhaps hastily, decided to post his e-mail correspondence with Keith Gessen, an editor of the journal in question. (Sarvas has since wisely abandoned that route and posted his last word complemented with n+1′s refined response.)
The two comment threads that interested me the most were the ones at Long Sunday and The Valve. One of the best points made in these was that there are many different “genres” of lit-blogs so such a general article, without any specifics, comes off as lazy and useless. Roth and others assert that it was clear they were talking about Gawker and I thought, Gawker? What does it have to do with literature? (It’s the model apparently that we are aping.) He also seems less inclined to view blogs as vomit.
I’ve gone through several identity crises since. Am I a corporate shill for the BBC? I see my site as, among other things, a place for the kind of book discussions I’d like to have IRL but can’t because no one in my circle of friends reads or is at all interested in most of the things I read. It’s also more or less a journal where I sort through my ideas about the books I read, which in turn encourages me to be a more active, thoughtful reader. Perhaps my photos of book purchases are subconsciously vile product placements, done in the naive expectation that I’ll be submerged in review copies.
I could be a parasite. My exploration through the archives of Paris Review (and I intend to go aaaaaallll the way back to the 50′s) is little more than hot air to blow up my empty nattering. (And it may be linked with the “ethos of capitalism” thing.) I also got the vague feeling that my linking to and being a member of Metaxucafe has compromised any chance of my site vaulting to revered heights.
Roth hoped that with polemics we could all be more self-critical, willing to change our ways if we identified ourselves among the shitters on Dante. I left the confusing cloud of that discussion sure that I would want nothing to do with a journal who has an editor that thinks Scott Esposito is “well-intentioned” but “ignorant”.