Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blogblog: on litblogs and critblogs

Dan Green proposes a new category of book blogs: critblog. It's a useful distinction because, as his post explains, the proliferation of literary weblogs has been led by "superficial chitchat and literary gossip" rather than critical engagement with the oracle. His post reminds me of the daily shock of trawling through dozens of RSS feeds with only the slightest glimmer of interest. While hoping for reviews, speculation, discussion or just original links, I read instead three dozen reports of the death of a famous young author - as if I or anybody else was unaware of Ed Champion's grim post from several days before.

This year I've wondered if the blog form had run its course. Did it reach a peak around 2006 as a friend has suggested to me? But what would reaching a peak mean? Dan laments the growth of blogs that do little "to the development of the litblog as a medium" - indeed, they circumscribe it to a bland daily digest - and reveals his plan to "inaugurate a new project" encompassing "more formally-developed critical essays, specifically essays on contemporary American fiction". I'm sure this is a good direction in which to go (as The Quarterly Conversation has proven). However, we should be clear: this is not blogging; a blog brooks no development. That is, if development is the cultivation of a project moving toward a positive fulfilment.

In 2000, when I began writing on Splinters, the idea was to draw attention to the essays, reviews and interviews on the wider site; an eddy in an otherwise stagnant backwater. It also enabled me to write on literary issues without having to expand an aside into an essay or review. Priority was always given to the longer form. Over the years, as blogging's profile rose, I still took time out to write long about Celan, Roubaud, Blanchot and, later, Sebald and Richard Ford, as well as individual reviews, believing this would rid myself of a certain lack. Perhaps there was a hope that the two would combine to form a distinct voice against the prevailing potatohead culture. If such a hope lived then, it's dead now. If we accept that winning is profile and popularity, the potatoheads have won. See, for example, the Guardian Book Blog's suspiciously minimal blogroll. The literary intellectuals at the newspaper evidently prefer to promote chicklit chat even though it makes Loose Women sound like an Oxford High Table.

Even though?

Anyway, such hope is a mirage looking back into the desert of the past. I have always written for reasons that are clear to me: to understand and unpack why, despite being island-bound and monolingual, I sense such an affinity to writers from the European mainland, and why English commensense realism and the happy freedoms of postmodernism* are irredeemably alien to me. If there are readers out there who recognise this feeling and who might then be saved from the dutiful reading of the latest potatohead favourite in order to find their own way, then my efforts have not been in vain.

*Postmodernism is a misnomer. It is the Victorianism of our age. Postmodernism is to Modernism what Victorianism is to Romanticism: a relapse, a celebration of unwitting failure, a backslide into the snug of timeliness and commerce. Modernism is still to come.

The amusing thing about the rise of the blogging idiots - some in their unstately pleasure-domes, some in their Nick Cohen caravans - is that they herald not the decline in newspaper book coverage and, with it, the associated glorious benefits to all, but its success. Rather than facing up to books as unique interruptions to daily life, newspaper book coverage has corralled literature into the interminable chatter of culture. Blogging follows. However, blogging has the small advantage of being able to make the silence of literature its focus. A literary editor would not sanction such pretentious nonsense, as the absence from newspapers of our best reviewers attests.

But I must have said this all this before. Repetition is a necessity of blogging and I used to be happy with that. Yet now, as the delay in the fulfilment of writing becomes a cage rather than a clearing, another indistinct form becomes more attractive. How many blogs have been written in order to open the way for what blogging has replaced?! The question would then be: can another form maintain this spirit of need and enquiry toward its imaginary completion?

Imagine then, a book.


  1. "How many blogs have been written in order to open the way for what blogging has replaced?!"

    No doubt most. But surely there must be more required than this ulterior motive to keep one going? An intrinsic love of the process...of reading, recording and responding to that which fascinates? of the connection, albeit limited, which can come from such activity?

  2. I am interested by this taxonomy but I think there is an other way of dividing up blogs: into those which are written by professional writers and those by people who are not [yes, yes, the whole notion of blogging is to subvert this essentially commercial distinction]. The former may be using their blogs (as I do) for mixed motives, sometimes to advertise their wares or activities, sometimes to make general literary comments or criticisms. The latter are more "pure" in the sense that they write for no ulterior motive but an interest in literature and in understanding it more clearly. Their freedom from prevailing "potatohead" norms is their great strength and their critical freedom sometimes unsettles the writers of repute because to these the blogosphere seems a dangerous place of free thought and uncensored opinion whereas they live in a world controlled by sanctioned views, publicists' fixing, literary editors' predictable choices and rankings (and exclusions). I see no way of turning back: the literary blog is here to stay and the crappy ones are the price we pay for the excellent ones like This Space.

  3. Are bloggers free? Or are they like people writing from some prison? Like maybe the prison of a communications industry, a newly autocratic media, that has totally taken over, via the computer.

  4. "Modernism is still to come."

    And still to come, and still to come, and still to come.

    How will we recognize it upon its arrival?

  5. I would like to propose categories along the lines of Whatinthefuckisheonaboutblog. One of the distressing detriments to blog categorization is that they miss out on a good blog's vital qualities: namely, the crazed perspective of the blogger.

  6. The more there is to read does not mean that there is more reading. But the fact there is only one who reads is enough.

  7. Well aren't you a well read and interesting fellow (not an ironic remark). I got here via a 2005 entry about Adam Phillips. What I'm dying to know is, whatever happened to Nick?



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