The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Corporate demon or sub-useful blight?

Posted on: March 19, 2007

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”.

15 Responses to "Corporate demon or sub-useful blight?"

“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.”

This is about the best reason for launching a lit blog that I’ve heard. This is a fantastic site, also – thanks for the great content!

Criticizing blogs for not sounding like Cicero is like criticizing people for not all being Nobel Prize winners. I suppose these sorts of journalists think print, even when electronic, should the exclusive domain of Those Who Know How To Write, and the rest of us should just be silent and deferential. The idea of the audience being able to talk back instantly, publicly, and directly probably scares the daylights out of them.

I’ve been following all of this, and I’ve gone through identity crises too. And then I tell myself I shouldn’t because, ultimately, I’ll do what I want to and people who don’t like it can read something else. But it IS hard not to be upset if I think other people might not like what I write or think that I’m just a tool of the publishing industry, or whatever. But — your point about the many types of blogs is a good one and, thank God, not everybody has to be doing the same thing. I get most upset when people seem to think all book blogs should be academic or be serious literary criticism or whatever else.

[…] worry! — but it does make me think about what it is I’m doing here. Imani has a post in which she talks about having gone through multiple identity crises as a result of following this […]

Anne thank you very much!

Sylvia they do seem to be projecting their own ideas on what a “lit-blog” should be on to the entire set and judging all by that standard. At the beginning the n+1 clique certainly seemed to be against the very idea of a ‘blog’ and wished to anoint the intellectual elite with another more suitable name to separate them from us poor riff raff.

Dorothy yes, that’s what I felt too. For about 2 minutes I was dejected, thinking of every post I ever did that had a lot of parasitical links, and wondering how long it would take me to blog like Kugelmass, for example.

They seem to be responding to the idea which some bloggers espouse of being the new vanguard of literary discussion as the print publications wane. Obviously not everyone sees their blog in such a way and I would be bored out of mine if every site was trying to be the new NYTBR (god help us). I shan’t be ashamed of having a simpler style.

“It is at times confusing and generally embarrassing.”

You are so, so so, so so so, so so so so so so so so so so so so so so correct. I mean, you are really dead on right, right there.

Oh another one of these. You know it’s always the blokes that start these kind of rows because they are obsessed with the value of what they do. Is it ‘objectively’ valuable, will people ‘appreciate’ me, will I be recognised for the misunderstood genius I am. Blah, blah. I object to money being paid for crap (cf national press) but the blogworld is a free place. Free for people to do what they want, the way they want to, and everyone is free to visit and read or not as they wish. Just do your thing, and let it change, let it develop, that’s ok. It’s not rocket science, it’s just expressing yourself in a large, varied community.

The whole argument hurts my head. It’s like kids on the playground and only the “right kind” of kids are allowed in the sandbox which is perfectly ridiculous. The internet is a big place, there’s room for everyone and every voice. I started blogging for the same reason you did Imani. I’m not an academic or a serious literary critic and I don’t want to be. All I want to do is talk about books I like with other people who like books too.

Darby hahahaha, that really does sum up the entire situation.

litlove oh the withering tone of your comment sent me into peals of laughter. You’re exactly right, it isn’t rocket science and the preponderant tone of some discussions would suggest otherwise.

Stefanie yes, we will stick to our love of books and the rest can continue to ponder the latest reflex that is destroying civilisation.

Imani, no litblog existential crisis is necessary. n+1’s target, I believe, were specific blogs. Namely, the ones engaged in all the fighting.

Keep doing what you’re doing. It works. 🙂

Thanks for the encouragement, mary.

I read somewhere a very apt description of this spat: it’s like two frat houses fighting to be named number one. Who the eff cares; just please bring your product to the table and urge your audience to read and be critical of what they read, rather than participate in all that dick navel-gazing. For pete’s sake.

Apologies, the word “dick” should be crossed out, not emphasized.

I think I came across that description too. I guess some folks are still stuck on the idea that you’ve gotta be outrageous to be seen? Something something. (I took care of the “dick” for you. 😉 )

The present quarrel is so inflamed by the warm heads of either faction, and the pretensions somewhere or other so exorbitant, as not to admit the least overtures of accommodation. This quarrel first began (as I have heard it affirmed by an old dweller in the neighborhood) in ancient times. By now thousands of kilobytes have been exhausted, and the virulence of both parties enormously augmented.

Now, it must here by understood that the blog comment is the great missive weapon in all battles of the learned, which, conveyed through the World Wide Web, infinite numbers of these are darted at the enemy by the valiant on each side, with equal skill and violence.

Anger and fury, though they add strength to the sinews of the body, yet are found to relax those of the mind.

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