Tag Archives: blogs

The Blog Apology: A Genre

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.

This ‘n That

I’m working on a little longer piece on Emerson, again, but thought I’d just put up a collection of unrelated stuff in the interim.

 

Me On Teleread

I actually don’t remember if I said anything about this, but I should have if I didn’t. Dave Rothman over at teleread.org was kind enough to ask me to blog on his space. David says he wants the perspective of a humanist to complement all the techies. He was kind enough to not say “I want someone who doesn’t know jack about technology.” In any case, my first post over there went up last week. I may have forgotten it because I posted a version of it over here as well. Still, I’m very interested in the conjunction of technology and reading, so teleread is a good place for me to further that thinking.

On Being Healthy

The Canadian Council on Learning tells us that daily reading is better for you than fiber. Oh, wait…I think we just found out that fiber doesn’t do anything for you except forestall diarrhea. (For more on diarrhea, see my completely fascinating post on this topic.) In any case, I’m happy to discover the following.

Reading each day can keep the doctor away, says a report that concludes sifting through books, newspapers and the Internet — on any topic — is the best way to boost “health literacy” skills such as deciphering pill bottles and understanding medical diagnosis.

Daily reading, not education levels, has the “single strongest effect” on the ability to acquire and process health information, the Canadian Council on Learning said Wednesday.

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The learning council reported Canadians aged 16 to 65, who said they read daily, scored up to 38 per cent higher than the average on the health literacy analysis.

Daily readers over 65 years old scored as much as 52 per cent higher than the average for their age.

“Although it may not be a panacea, this report makes a compelling case that reading each day helps keep the doctor away,” said the report.

I think it’s wise to have a tad bit of skepticism about stats like this. I wonder if there are correlations between regular reading and social class, for instance, and if so is the relationship to health a function of reading or a more general issue of access to health care, material resources, and knowledge itself. Still, why look a gift horse in the mouth. At this rate I am going to live a good long time. Actually, I better stop blogging because it’s definitely cutting in to my reading time. (Who am I kidding, I just don’t watch TV anymore.)

Reading More or Reading Better

A blog over at Metafilter raises the typical objections to the notion that we’re in a reading crisis. So what if we’re reading less literature; we’re reading more than ever on the web, right?! On the other hand, they also point out that Americans ability to read at all seems to be declining, pointing to the following study at the National Center for Education Statistics:

On average, U.S. students scored lower than the OECD average (the mean of the 30 OECD countries) on the combined science literacy scale (489 vs. 500).

The average score for U.S. students was:

  • higher than the average score in 22 education systems (5 OECD countries and 17 non-OECD education systems)
  • lower than the average score in 22 education systems (16 OECD countries and 6 non-OECD education systems)
  • not significantly different from the score in 12 education systems (8 OECD countries and 4 non-OECD education systems)

Ummm….One big problem, guys. Science and Math literacy is not the same thing as reading and writing literacy. And so I’m not quite sure what this has to do with whether people are reading literature any more or not. Though I’m sure Dana Gioia over at the NEA would be glad to claim that reading Moby Dick helps people with their algebra. Of course, it could be that reading skills have declined so far that the folks can’t even tell what science and math literacy really is.

Links:

A number of people have been kind enough to comment about the blog or link to my blog in various ways over the past several weeks. A few of them:

Free listens: A blog of reviews about audiobooks. What a great thing. I’ve said that I wish there were more sorting and evaluating of some of the free stuff on the web. Heresy of heresies, I don’t think massing blog stats necessarily tells me much about quality. I mean, videos of Brittany Spears’ pudenda are among the most popular on the web. Does that really tell us anything…about the quality of the video, I mean. Not about the state of America… or the state of Brittany Spears body parts. I haven’t had a chance yet to listen to the audiobooks to see if I agree with the judgments, but I’m glad someone is taking up the flag to do such a thing.

The Reading Experience: Daniel Green has me on his blogroll, and I’ve had The Reading Experience on mine from the beginning. I think Daniel is a little narrower in his literary judgments and tastes than am I, but I admire anyone immensely who has left academe and made it on his own. His blog is always thoughtful and often provocative.

There’s Just No Telling: “Monda” has commented on my blog before, and has a lovely sight devoted to reading and writing. From what I gather she is a teacher of creative writing, who all deserve to be sainted.

Brad’s Reader: Brad lists me as an interesting read. And I didn’t even have to pay him.

There are others that I’ve missed, and I’ve got to stop somewhere in any case. So if you’ve linked to me and I’ve missed you, let me know. I’ll keep you in mind next time I do this.

Ephemeral, all too ephemeral; Or, does anybody remember what Russell Jacoby wrote yesterday?

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.