Having been away from this blog for awhile, I am struck by my vaguely perceived need to offer explanations, as if I needed excuses for beginning again or for stopping in the first place. And it was also evident to me that I found this impulse, unresisted, littering blogs across the web. The blog of my friend and former student, Carmen McCain, is rife with repeated apologies for her inconsistent blogging. Another friend and former student, Liz Laribee, also seems to apologize for not blogging about as often as she does blog. I know that in the past when I’ve gone on unexplained hiatus, I’ve begun again with an apology. Just for grins I did a quick Google search for “apologize for not blogging more” and got 16,600 hits for that exact combination. Apparently we are legion and we are a sorry lot.
There seem to be several versions of this particular literary genre. In one variety the blogger abjectly denounces herself for moral turpitude, admitting to various venal weaknesses like preferring Facebook or watching television rather than keeping to the rough moral discipline of the keyboard. Others beg busyness, or grovel repentantly in admitting they were only sick and surely could have opened up the lap top. Some seek remission of their sins by requesting the reader’s empathy, including long and engrossing lists of ills and misfortunes that make the travails of the biblical Job look like a trip to the gym with a particularly rigorous drill instructor. My particular favorite is the blogger who apologizes but lets the reader know that he was really up to much more important or much more interesting things and that we are lucky he is back at all. In some instances it seems that people spend a good deal of their blogging time ruminating about how they should be blogging more, much as I talk about how little time I have for exercise while I am sitting on my couch in the evening.
Many such blog posts recognize that they are enacting an internet cliche by apologizing, but do so anyway. I’m intrigued. What does this apology signify about blogging as a form of writing, about the kind of audience the author imagines, about the relationship with that audience. Novelists do not apologize for the years or decades between novels, nor for that matter do essayists, short story writers, or poets. It seems more important to have something worth saying than to say something with great regularity. While such writers may flog themselves for not writing, they do so privately or to their editors and fellow writers–readers be damned. Newspaper columnists will announce their absence for a sabbatical, without apology I might add, but mostly they go on vacation without comment other than the dry, italicized editorial note that “[Insert opinionated name here] will return in September after his vacation to the Bahamas where he is working on a book and enjoying his family.”
Only bloggers bother to apologize for not writing.
As if their readers really cared.
I suspect this has something to do with the illusion of intimacy that is made possible by interactivity. I have come to “know” a number of people through my blog or through twitter and Facebook, and since this electronic transmission is the sum total of our human experience together it is a little bit akin to having kept up a loose friendship by phone and then having not phoned for a good long time. On the other hand, I suspect too that it has something to do with the fact that bloggers suffer from the anxiety of silence. The writer who publishes in the New York Times knows that her work will have readers. The writer for the Podunk Times knows they had at least one reader who thought their work was worthwhile since an editor decided to publish it.
The blogger, on the other hand, flings words into space like dust.
The apology has the appearance of a statement intended to right a wrong I the blogger have done to you the reader by not blessing you with my words and wisdom these last two some odd months and days.
In fact, the apology is a bloggers plea. Hear me now. Confirm my existence as a writer of some sort or another by clicking on my blog anew. While I may truly have ignored you if I know you or, more likely, while I may truly have no idea on earth who you are, I need you nonetheless. To drive up my blog stats. To share me on Facebook. To “like” my post and so like me. To “follow” my blog to the ends of the earth even when there is nothing there to follow. Though I am bloggus absconditus, wait for me like the ancients waited for the gods. Make me matter.
And so I am back. For today, with no promise for tomorrow. Without apology.
One of the surprise pleasures afforded by Twitter has been following The Paris Review (@parisreview) and getting tweets linking me to their archives of author interviews. I know I could just go to the website, but it feels like a daily act of grace to run across the latest in my twitter feed, as if these writers are finding me in the ether rather than me searching for them dutifully.
(In my heart of hearts I am probably still a Calvinist; the serendipity of these lesser gods finding me is so much better than the tedious duty of seeking them out).
This evening over dinner I read the latest, a 1978 interview with Joyce Carol Oates, a real gem.
Do you find emotional stability is necessary in order to write? Or can you get to work whatever your state of mind? Is your mood reflected in what you write? How do you describe that perfect state in which you can write from early morning into the afternoon?
One must be pitiless about this matter of “mood.” In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind—then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so. Joyce said of the underlying structure of Ulysses—the Odyssean parallel and parody—that he really didn’t care whether it was plausible so long as it served as a bridge to get his “soldiers” across. Once they were across, what does it matter if the bridge collapses? One might say the same thing about the use of one’s self as a means for the writing to get written. Once the soldiers are across the stream . . .
Oates doesn’t blog, I think, and I wouldn’t dare to hold my daily textural gurgitations up next to Oates’s stupendous artistic outpouring. On the other hand, I resonated with this, thinking about what writing does for me at the end of the day. I’ve had colleagues ask me how I have the time to write every day, my sometimes longish diatribes about this or that subject that has caught my attention. Secretly my answer is “How could I not?”
Ok, I know that for a long time this blog lay fallow, but I have repented of that and returned to my better self. Mostly (tonight is an exception), I do my blog late, after 10:00–late for someone over 50–like a devotion. I just pick up something I’ve read that day, like Joyce Carol Oates, and do what English majors are trained to do: find a connection. Often I’m exhausted and cranky from the day–being an administrator is no piece of cake,( but then, neither is being alive so what do I have to complain about). Mostly I write as if I were talking to someone about the connections that I saw, the problems that it raised (or, more rarely, solved).
It doesn’t take that long–a half hour to an hour, and mostly I’ve given up television entirely. I tell people I seem to think in paragraphs–sometimes very bad paragraphs, but paragraphs nevertheless–and years of piano lessons have left me a quick typist. Sometimes I write to figure out what I think, sometimes to figure out whether what I think matters, sometimes to resolve a conundrum I have yet to figure out at work or at home, sometimes to make an impression (I am not above vanity).
But always I write because the day and my self disappears. As Oates says above, the activity of writing changes everything, or at least appears to do so. Among the everything that it changes is me. I am most myself when I lose the day and myself in words.
Yesterday on Facebook I cited Paul Fussell saying “If I didn’t have writing, I’d be running down the street hurling grenades in people’s faces.”
Well, though I work at a pacifist school and it is incorrect to say so, that seems about right.
In the latest edition of the Chronicle’s Digital Campus, Martin Weller makes some strong claims about the significance of blogging. Recognizing the difficulty of measuring the value of a blog in comparison to traditional modes of journalistic publication, Weller believes that blogging is ultimately in the interest of both institutions and scholarship.
It’s a difficult problem, but one that many institutions are beginning to come to terms with. Combining the rich data available online that can reveal a scholar’s impact with forms of peer assessment gives an indication of reputation. Universities know this is a game they need to play—that having a good online reputation is more important in recruiting students than a glossy prospectus. And groups that sponsor research are after good online impact as well as presentations at conferences and journal papers.
Institutional reputation is largely created through the faculty’s online identity, and many institutions are now making it a priority to develop, recognize, and encourage practices such as blogging.For institutions and individuals alike, these practices are moving from specialist hobby to the mainstream. This is not without its risks, but as James Boyle, author of the book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008), argues, we tend to overstate the dangers of open approaches and overlook the benefits, while the converse holds true for the closed system.
The claim that an Institutional reputation is largely created through the faculty’s online identity startled me when I first read it, an index no doubt of my deeply held and inveterate prejudice in favor of libraries. But I have been trying to pound away with the faculty how utterly important our online presence is, and the internet–in many different modes–gives us the opportunity to create windows on humanities work that are not otherwise easily achieved–at least in comparison to some of the work done by our colleagues in the arts or in the sciences. Blogging is one way of creating connection, of creating vision, and I think that with a very few exceptions like the ivies and the public ivies, it is very much the case that your online presence matters more than any other thing you can possibly do to establish your reputation in the public eye and in the eye of prospective students and their parents.
That is fairly easy to grasp. The value of the blogging to scholarship in general, or its relationship to traditional scholarship remains more thorny and difficult to parse. I’ve had conversations with my colleague John Fea over at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, and we both agree that in some sense scholars still have to have established some claim to speak through traditional modes of publication in order to give their scholarly blogging some sense of authority. People listen to John about History because he’s published books and articles. [Why people listen to me I have no idea–although I do have books and articles I have nothing like John’s reputation; it may have something to do with simply holding a position. Because I am a dean at a college I can lay claim to certain kinds of experience that are relevant to discussing the humanities].
I am not sure it will always be thus. I think the day is fast approaching when publishing books will become less and less important as the arbiter of scholarly authority. But I think for now and perhaps for a very good long time to come, blogging exist in an interesting symbiosis with other traditional forms of scholarship. Weller quotes John Naughton to this effect: “Looking back on the history,” he writes, “one clear trend stands out: Each new technology increased the complexity of the ecosystem.”
I’ve read some things lately that say blogging may be on its way out, replaced in the minds of the general public, I guess, by Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. But for now I think it remains an interesting and somewhat hybrid academic form. A forum for serious thought and reasonably good writing, but not one that claims to be writing for the ages. In some respects, I think the best blogging is more like the recovery of the eighteenth century Salon, wherein wit that demonstrated learning and acumen was highly valued, and perhaps a basis of academic life that stood unembarrassed next to the more muscular form of the book. Blogging is one clearly important addition to the scholarly ecosystem, playing off of and extending traditional scholarship rather than simply replacing it.
In my own life right now, as an administrator, I have too little time during the school year to pursue the writing of a 40 page article or a 400 page book–nor, right now, do I have the interest or inclination (however much I want to get back and finish the dang Harlem Renaissance manuscript that sits moldering in my computer). I do, however, continue to feel the need to contribute to scholarly conversation surrounding the humanities and higher education in general. Blogging is one good way to do that, and one that, like Weller, I find enjoyable, creative, and stress relieving–even when I am writing my blog at 11:00 at night to make sure I can get something posted. Ever the Protestant and his work ethic.
David Rothman over at Teleread announced today that I’ll be blogging for them on a semi-regular basis. As I’ve indicated on this blog in the past, I think Teleread is a very good portal for getting good information about all things reading, with a special emphasis on e-books and the general interface between the digital world and books. Also, though I’m not involved in this whole end of things, they function as an advocacy group for universal computer and open library access. A worthy cause in my estimation.
David wasn’t dissuaded by my protestations that I don’t consider myself an expert on reading, e-books, or blogging. I’ll try to keep it from being too much the amateur hour.
But wait, some people are saying that blogging is THE amateur hour, to the destruction of our civilization. So perhaps I’ll just do my best to contribute to the end of all things.
Seriously though, as this blog reaches its one month anniversary, I’ve realized that I’ve been thinking at least as much about how blogging works as writing as I have about how reading is functioning in our contemporary culture. Russell Jacoby, whom I generally respect for his now somewhat ancient call for a renewal of public intellectual work, wrote a kind of scathing dismissal of the contemporary academy, and along with it a rather sniffy dismissal of blogging.
I think Jacoby’s categorical thinking is part and parcel of our problem in grappling with the nature of reading and writing—and thinking and intellectual work—in the contemporary world. It is true that blogs are somewhat ephemeral, but on the other hand, how many of the many periodical essays of the 1950s do people really remember. Moreover, if blogging specifically eschews the media of print and permanence, we might ask what kind of intellectual work, what kind of cultural work generally, is being done by this kind of writing?
It seems to me to apply the standard of permanent value to any public intellectual work is wrongheaded. The things Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling had to say in the 30s, 40s, and 50s can hardly apply to our world at the dawning of the 21st century. But more importantly, they did a specific kind of public intellectual work that was appropriate for the media and age in which they worked.
Blogging can be “id writing” as described in the NyTimes the other day. But it can also be a kind of intellectual and cultural work much different from those that we are used to. The 1950s saw both a lot of what we now envy as influential public intellectual work, and it also saw the explosion on the scene of Playboy magazine. Perhaps this was why people claim even yet today to buy it for the writing.
My point is that magazines and middle to upper middle brow journals were a media through which to do particular kinds of intellectual work. It seems to me that blogs and other kinds of interactive and multimedia formations are the site of potentially important intellectual work today.
But what is the nature of that work. How does it differ from that of the past. Well, for one thing, I think it aspires more to the kind of interchanges that go on in coffeeshop culture of the 18th century, where intellectual work was not yet located (imprisoned?) in as yet undeveloped academy. It’s even much more like the intellectual work that goes on in classrooms or in informal exchanges with colleagues and students after a lecture or reading.
Academics mostly sniff at this kind of thing as beneath their consideration. But it seems to me that it is precisely out of these kinds of exchanges that enduring and important intellectual work comes from. This is why I decided to start blogging a month ago. I wanted to imagine an intellectual space, a conversational space, that wasn’t imprisoned by the conventions of academic work. I also wanted to imagine doing writing that was more like the energy I feel in conversations with good friends about topics I care about deeply.
I think, honestly, that this will lead to another kind of writing that is more conventional. I still want to publish a book on the reading in the contemporary cultural imaginary. On the other hand, just because I continue to envision a more conventional form of intellectual work, I think I’m coming to think that we are mistaken if we think that blogging or other kinds of intellectual exchange on the web can only be justified if they lead to that kind of thing. If they do, great. But if they don’t they are their own kind of good. When Jacoby criticized blogs for the ephemerality, he is holding out the standard of books, and even more books that continue to be read decades after they are written, as the only worthy definition of intellectual work. I dispute that. The immediacy of blogging, the effort to grapple in written words with difficult problems, the opportunity to have friends and strangers read or respond, these are their own goods. This is a kind of intellectual work worth doing regardless of what other forms it may lead to, and regardless of whether it leads anywhere else at all. Just as the engagement I have in my classroom is its own good and produces knowledge worth having in me and in my students, the process of writing, of thinking through issues on a daily or weekly basis, is a knowledge worth pursuing even if it disappears next week or next year.
Well, enough for now. I’ll try to come back later and put in some links for Jacoby’s piece and some other things I refer to in this post. Right now I’ve got to go party with my wife. She thinks I love my blog more than her, so I better go prove her wrong.
Since getting started on this blog I’ve been thinking a lot about how we image reading, and more broadly knowledge. The classic picture of a man or woman, body slumped in a chair or reclining on a bed or laying under a tree, head inclined in to a book. This is our sense of what reading is, and in a larger sense of how knowledge is gained and demonstrated.
It’s a difficult image in some respects because, in fact, we can’t really tell whether reading is going on at all simply from the fact of its physical representation. For all we know the person who seems as if they are half-asleep may in fact be half-asleep. Think of the association of reading fiction with being in dream worlds. The act of reading itself, especially silent reading, is in some respects unimage-able. We can’t see the translations that occur between marks on a page that become letters and words and then are associated with meanings in the mind. We accept on trust that the student with her book open in the back of the room is, in fact, reading, rather than drifting into a half-world as we lecture on at the front of the room.
I think working on the blog has made me acutely more interested in the physical image of reading. How could I choose relevant images for a blog taken up with something so ethereal as reading? My avatar came from a library at Upsala University (I think, I can’t remember). I was taken by the classic image of the hunched body at the desk, but also that it was obviously a middle-aged man, somewhat monkish. Finally, that you couldn’t see the face—which seemed to me to be something about reading and something about what I wanted the blog to be. Reading is a kind of facelessness, a kind of disappearance of the self that is itself enriching and expansive. This is why I think all the focus on reading as creativity and self-assertion among so many poststructuralists—people like Roland Barthes who want to turn reading in to an alternative form of writing—is missing something that’s relatively essential and important. The disappearance of the self in reading is precisely what we desire. The loss of self is goal, not dread outcome of the process of reading.
One thing that struck me in searching for an appropriate avatar—which I pursued by searching Google images—is that images of reading are almost exclusively associated with books. Reading means, so far as the visual imagination is concerned, reading books. I sifted through a couple of dozen pages of images and came up with not one image of a computer or a computer screen. Indeed, realizing that I was interested in pursuing the conjunction of reading and writing, I thought it was a little ironic that my wordpress template has a pen at the top. Of course, I have the option of putting in a computer keyboard, and tried to find one, but perhaps the point is made. In our imaginations, reading and writing is still a matter of pen and paper. As I said yesterday, my colleague is not even certain that what we do on things like this blog is properly called writing. Why call it blogging if it is writing plain and simple. Similarly, we surf the web, we don’t read the web. It’s a new and different process, for which we don’t have adequate visual images.
My same colleague objects that we won’t go with electronic books because we like the physicality of things. Well…I didn’t point out to her that, in fact, Kindles and Sony readers and my 17-inch Macintosh computer screen are all physical to a fault. But somehow we imagine that computers have no physical presence. Without physical presence they cannot image that most insubstantial of things, the reading process. In actual fact, I think that we have constructed a certain kind of “physicality” that we associate with books, while we are only beginning to develop a sense of the physicality of computers.
Along these lines, our library at school is hosting a very nice work of art by a couple of our students. A book with reading glasses. I’m having trouble optimizing this to fit on the page, but you can access ” Vision of Knowledge” by clicking on the title. My general sense is that computers make both books and reading glasses anachronistic. We can read on the Internet, and if the text is too small, who needs glasses. Just hit text zoom.
The other interesting thing about this image is the text itself, which, of course, we read. “A vision of knowledge.” My general sense is that despite the tremendous emphasis on the Internet as a resource for knowledge and learning, we continue to imagine, to have visions of knowledge primarily through our cultural repertoire related to books. Again, a quick google search for images related to the word “knowledge” called up dozens of pictures of books, various diagrams of the brain, and a lot of variously dull and variously interesting charts and graphs. One thing that didn’t come up were images of computers. I scrolled through about 100 and some odd images before I got to any image of a computer at all.
I’m not sure that there’s any great lesson to be drawn here. However, I think that if we can’t picture something, this means that we don’t quite know what to do with it, that we don’t quite know what it is, at least for us. The digital world is inescapable, but at least with regards to reading and knowledge we still don’t know exactly what it means, how to imagine ourselves as a part of it.
Side note: There’s a lot of stuff out there on the gender of reading, of course. There’s an absolutely fabulous book of images entitled “Reading Women” that I recommend highly. At one point I thought ALL images of reading were women, though this, of course, isn’t true at all.
Who after all, has time for reading any more. I certainly don’t; I’ve got to get this blog written.
Anyway, a healthy sampling of the industry covered in Boxer’s review. These include, among many others:
We’ve Got Blog: How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture compiled and edited by John Rodzvilla,
Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel
Republic.com 2.0by Cass R. Sunstein
Blogwars by David D. Perlmutter
The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove
We’re All Journalists Now: The Transformation of the Press and Reshaping of the Law in the Internet Age by Scott Gant
Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World by Hugh Hewitt
The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen
Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, foreword by Tom Peters
Blog! How the Newest Media Revolution Is Changing Politics, Business, and Cultureby David Kline and Dan Burstein
I’ve read none of these save for some excerpts on the web, but what I can gather from the titles and from those excerpts, as well as from a few extant interviews with several of these authors, most of them view the blogosphere with some fear and loathing. From what I’ve seen, this is unfair, but I did pick up a couple of good interviews that you can judge for yourselves, a video interview with Lee Siegel and a radio interview with Daniel Solove.
Anyway, back to Boxer’s review. I’m most interested in what she has to say about the ways in which blogs change writing and reading. This, after all, is why I got started on this blog in the first place, thinking that it would be an interesting way to keep myself writing and thinking about reading—thinking all the while that I would be pointing toward a conventional book. I still think that, but I’m not quite so sure about how natural or inevitable the connections are. As one of my colleagues pointed out, we don’t even call it writing. We call it “blogging” as if we had to come up with a different verb to get at the phenomenon itself.
In Boxer’s words:
“Are they a new literary genre? Do they have their own conceits, forms, and rules? Do they have an essence?
“Reading blogs, it’s pretty clear, is not like reading a newspaper article or a book. Blog readers jump around. They follow links. They move from blogs to news clips to videos on YouTube, and they do it more easily than you can turn a newspaper page. They are always getting carried away—somewhere. Bloggers thrive on fragmented attention and dole it out too—one-liners, samples of songs, summary news, and summary judgments. Sometimes they don’t even stop to punctuate. And if they can’t put quite the right inflection on a sentence, they’ll often use an OMG (Oh my god!) or an emoticon, e.g., a smiley face 🙂 or a wink 😉 or a frown 😦 instead of words. (Tilt your head to the left to see the emoticons here.)
“Many bloggers really don’t write much at all. They are more like impresarios, curators, or editors, picking and choosing things they find on line, occasionally slapping on a funny headline or adding a snarky (read: snotty and catty) comment. Some days, the only original writing you see on a blog is the equivalent of “Read this…. Take a look…. But, seriously, this is lame…. Can you believe this?”
I’ve noticed all this, of course, in my own digital peregrinations, and it makes me think that I’m really not writing a blog at all. As I told a friend earlier today, I don’t think I really blog at all. I write too much, there are no pictures—or too few—and I don’t use four letter words with aplomb.
I also use words like “aplomb,” which is a sure sign of geekishness in blogworld.
I am also, in my general estimation, too organized for my own good. Thirty years of English studies have left me incapable of writing in something other than paragraph form. The one sentence paragraph still strikes me as an oxymoron, save for the occasional literary effect.
(Secret confession—I also go back and correct my blog grammar. Cardinal sin, I know, but I can’t help myself. I wish I could throw off subject/verb or number disagreements with the same aplomb—there’s that word again—that I see throughout the blogosphere, but I’m appalled when I find a misplaced modifier and wonder what kind of example I am setting for all those students whose lives are being ruined by poor grammar.)
More seriously though, I do think that the fragmentary and fluid quality of blogging is very different from the things we normally consider when thinking about critical reading and coherent argument. Does this matter? I tend to think it does. My guess is that students increasingly have difficult times making arguments, or having patience with extended arguments elsewhere, because they are more used to the kind of ad hominem and ejaculatory declamations they get on the web. “Dude, check out the moron talking about evolution on YouTube.” Of course, they get this from Bill O’Reilly any more as well, so perhaps we can’t blame blogging.
Secret confession II: I only use the word “ejaculatory” in written prose. Perhaps I am afraid my late adolescent students will start snickering in class. Perhaps I am afraid my inner adolescent will start snickering in class.
I have also noticed the tendency of bloggers to cite and not write. I’m intrigued by this. I see two things happening with the tendency for many blogs to be compilations of text and image pulled in from elsewhere. On the one hand, it’s the part of blogging that’s much more like conversation than it is traditional expository writing. It’s like sitting down with friends and saying, “Dude, check out this cartoon in the newspaper.”
Ok, so most people who use the word “dude” don’t read newspapers anymore, but you get my general drift. This part of blogging is like sharing things with friends. Correlatively, reading blogs is a little bit like sitting down to talk with friends.
The other thing that I think is going on is that the compilations are a kind of sampling. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, there’s a sense in which texts and images in the current world are more like raw materials that have to be compiled in new and interesting ways. Just as collage is interesting partly for the individual elements, but even more for the way those bits come together in a new whole. Whereas writing has usually been conceived of as commentary on or representation of an external world, there’s a way in which blogs are reorganizations of or recreations of the visual, verbal, and audible text of the internet. The internet is the external world and the blog is its recreation. A kind of perfect self-referentiality to the degree that bloggers eventually start sampling one another, as even I have done in this blog. Bloggers sample other bloggers, and one sign of your importance is the number of times others will say check this out, and then copy your whole blog in to theirs.
Boxer goes on to note the pervasive emphasis in the blogosphere on scatology, pornography, and profane invective. As she puts it.
“Blog writing is id writing—grandiose, dreamy, private, free-associative, infantile, sexy, petty, dirty. Whether bloggers tell the truth or really are who they claim to be is another matter, but WTF. They are what they write. And you can’t fake that. ;-)”
Well, she’s not wrong here, to the degree that I’ve bothered to plough around the blogosphere. On the other hand, I have noticed a generally different tone in blogs devoted to books and reading. They generally don’t get their work done with profanity or inane references to enlarged or swollen body parts. It may be that I don’t get out enough, but I see no books-and-reading bloggers out there making their way by telling people they disagree with to go do an anatomically impossible act to themselves or by telling the authors whose books they dislike to put their texts where the sun don’t shine.
(You see, I am far to polite, discreet, and refined to even spell out the bad words)
Seriously though, it seems to me that Boxer is wrong to make as grand and encompassing a characterization as she does. Blogs strike me as being as various as …well…books or conversation. Different regions of the blogosphere develop different tendencies and propensities, different likes and dislikes. One thing I like about blogs on books is that they don’t pretend that using profanity is somehow inherently useful, don’t assume that dirty jokes necessarily communicate anything worth thinking about, don’t assume that being shocking is the same thing as being insightful.
My guess is that book readers have reconciled themselves to their anonymity and have less need to be noticed on their blogs. By contrast, some bloggers are the internet equivalent of Brittany Spears. Anything to get attention.
I have no proof of any of this, but it seems to me that blogging is something like a third sphere, something different from either orality or literacy. Combining some aspects of both, but going beyond either with its nearly infinite ability to play the bricoleur.
AT least this is what I see as the possibility. I am a hopeless essayist. I need to let out my inner id. Let the blog flow. Death to the paragraph. Vive la Fragment. Spoken with a good French accent.
I suppose I should just start by saying that I’ve never blogged before, and really only got started reading blogs recently. I spent an hour trying to figure out what template to use, and am still not quite sure I’m happy. I’m not sure what to anticipate about readers of this blog, or whether I would be distressed if the only people who read it are family who feel obligated or students curious about their prof. Nevertheless, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to think of “what looked best.” After getting the page up, I read somewhere that choosing generic terms like “Read” or “Write” for a title and domain name is also a bad idea. So I’m off to a poor start.
Still, I guess what I’m interested in is the peculiar shape of those everyday things people do without thinking, like reading and writing. In Michel de Certeau’s phrase, The Practice of Everyday Life. So if the title is banal, perhaps at least I’ll figure out some mildly interesting things to say about these banal topics.In part my new interest in blogging springs from being a teacher and trying to think about how my students communicate, the media through which they read and write, and how that media affects the way they read and write.
All of this is, I realize, old hat to experts in the field of electronic communication. But I guess one thing that’s intrigued me about the world of blogs is how things like expertise count and do not count. Do degrees and essays published and lectures given and promotions received–all the typical means of accruing status and clout in the traditional worlds of academe and even print more generally–do these things really count for much in a world of blogs? I guess it would be naïve to say that they don’t count at all, but my general sense is that people don’t read an academic’s blog because she is an intellectual. When an academic accrues some status on the web (how “status” is determined on the web is an intriguing side interest) I think it’s because she reads and writes well, does it in some kind of imaginative and effective way. The triumph, again, of rhetoric, if in a very different shape and form. This I’m interested in exploring.Thus the title of this blog: “Read, Write, Now.” I’m interested in what’s happening with reading first, and then secondarily how that’s related to writing. I got interested in the topic first with the general explosion of interest in the so-called “reading crisis.” I say so-called not to indicate a cynical disregard for the concerns being raised by the NEA and so many others. Indeed, I really do think that something critical is going on with reading, and I’m not so convinced as digital utopians that what’s happening is all to the good. I’ve snuck a look at my daughter’s Facebook page and those of a number of my students. If this is reading, it’s not hard to imagine why reading comprehension shrinks apace, as does the tolerance for a text even so long as the one I’m now writing. I wonder about the possibilities of democracy in a culture where educated persons have difficulty giving sustained attention to a document as long as the Declaration of Independence (a text I used to require as a short assignment). Still, the nature of what’s happening and its consequences are unclear to me and I want to figure that out and reflect on some of those issues over the course of the next year or so. Additionally, one of the things that fascinates me most is the way reading is imagined in the present. Not so much what reading is, but how the idea and image of reading is functioning in our current cultural climate. Finally, I admit it, “Read” is broad and vague and all-encompassing enough to let me join the millions of others who write about books they like or don’t like.
“Write” probably follows naturally from read. Until very recently I’ve considered myself a writer first—a self-definition I’ve discarded in favor of “Reader”, if for no other reason to poke fun at my students who claim they really love to write but hate to read. Let’s give readers the prestige for once. I’m interested in the interaction of reading and writing. How what we’re reading shapes what we write, and perhaps just as importantly, how the way we write affects the way we read. I finished an MFA at the University of Montana, and I’m still convinced these many years later that it did more for me as a reader than my later graduate studies at Duke.
“Now” may be least important—or too hopelessly vague as a topic–but I guess I’m primarily interested in the shape of reading and writing in the present. How are we different from previous generations, and should we care? Given that the title puns on an imperative—Read right now—I hope, too, that the “now” reflects my own sense of urgency, my sense that reading is important and not to be taken for granted.“Now” also means I can talk about whatever the heck I want, just in case I get bored with reading and writing. Or in case you do.