Thursday, May 14, 2009

This is not a project

Dan Green's new project is a reminder of the limits of literary blogging. However high the quality of writing - with The Reading Experience among the best of course - there is always the undertow of an awkward form dragging itself back across the shingle of broken ambition (oh yes). Isn't a blog post just a carefree alternative to something more considered: a formal review, an essay? And if a full-length book is presumptuous, then wouldn't a collection carry more authority? Yes, we suppose. Hence the tendency to agglomerate; to secrete an aura of unity.

Looking over the 740 posts here renews the urge to move away from the haphazard direction of a blog (NB: I have nearly 70,000 words from an earlier blog that is no longer online!). In recent months this has taken shape in the posting of reviews here rather than in a more formal arena (the link goes to a list). And while I have begun to relegate chatter to Twitter, the longer form demands proactivity. While that waits, here's a selection that might be called The Best of This Space.

From 2004: Struck by Death, a post on Blanchot's review essay The Birth of Art on cave paintings. I have written a lot on Blanchot of course.

2005: The Decorum of Michel Houllebecq, my first reading of this notorious author via his novel Atomised.

2006: This was the year I seemed to focus on Nick Hornby and other powerhouses of London's circle of writers and journalists. First, a response to an essay he wrote about the joy of reading, then a diagnosis of The despair of popular authors (there is a part 1 too) - a worrying affliction yet to receive professional help. Next there was Daniel Johnson whose TLS review of Sebald's Airwar book had troubled me so much three years earlier. This time, it was his attack on Günter Grass that prompted a response.

2007: A review of JM Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. As with so much I've written over the years, this was partly in response to the astounding display of insensitivity from mainstream reviewers, people who really should know better (but then probably wouldn't be where they are today if they did).

2008 was the first year I spent recovering (or not as it turned out) from a head injury. There are fewer longer posts as a result. Once again though I took issue with reviewing and critical culture. The two blogs that stand out are Anti-events, a comparison of reviews of Alain Badiou's books and The Stroker, about Kafka's alleged porn stash.

Since then, the best posts on this blog have not been written by me but are translations by Charlotte Mandell. The first was of Jean-Luc Nancy's centenary tribute to Blanchot, then of Emilie Colombani's superb review of Blanchot's Chroniques littéraires du Journal des Débats. This year she has also given us Jonathan Littell's reading of Blanchot's essay "Reading".

I have to admit, I thought these latter posts would be huge hits with blog readers - the latter in particular as it coincided with Charlotte's mesmerising translation of his novel The Kindly Ones - and thereby might be more demanding in future. Yet the appetite for edranting jerks and chicklit gush continues unchecked, immune to the real thing. Perhaps my disappointment at this predictable revelation has caused me to ponder alternatives to this non-project.

I'll end with what I think is one of this blog's best posts: The huge difficulty of dying, a review of The Kindly Ones. Both the book and the review came as a complete surprise to me and, though posting 3,500 words in one block seemed inappropriate, it also indicates the value of blogging's contingent state (my reviews of Glavinic's Night Work and Solstad's Novel 11, Book 18 are also good examples). In October 2005, I wrote that a blog goes on because it operates within the specific orbit of its author, which also means its struggle with silence.

UPDATE: I forgot to include one of my more unusual posts: Non-writers' rooms.


  1. "Isn't a blog post just a carefree alternative to something more considered: a formal review, an essay?"

    Surely a blog post can be as ill or deeply considered a piece as its author wants it to be? Or is capable of making it. Why not a formal review or essay? Or are you saying that in order for writing to be so it must appear in a'conventional' media venue? Must be vetted and/or edit, approved by others?

  2. It is a rhetorical question Nigel - raising the issue of my frustration/disappointment/commitment to the form.

  3. Hi Stephen,

    I empathize. I generally write a blog to keep the mind ticking, and use it as a means to sift and examine any material that interests me. But the blog is ultimately something of a frustration.

    I'm hoping to enrol in a course of postgraduate study, while currently working full-time at an administrative post. Often I'll daydream that I can fulfil certain aspirations by looking at Kafka, or T. S. Eliot, or Wallace Stevens, who held down dayjobs while pondering the big questions. But the reality is far more mundane than that: I'm not yet able to write university projects that attract me, so I'm confined to expressing myself in other ways.

    I think that blogs can provide an excellent forum for self-expression: from academic-standard essays, to approachable reviews, to daily observations. The medium gives people a voice. Simon Sellars created the J. G. Ballard website as a means of developing his theoretical ideas. The humble website, which began with all the straightforward formal characteristics of a blog, blossomed overnight into an authoritative resource.

    I count This Space among those blogs that offers something interesting, while provoking discussion. It's not a project in a traditional sense, and it doesn't obey many of the hallmark traits of an average web journal, but a community is springing up around it.

    Blogs tend to co-exist among their creator's other 'more legitimate' projects, but I think they are also legitimate projects in their own way. Their form gives notice to details you don't tend to read elsewhere, and to me that can only be a good thing.

    All the best,

  4. Thanks Rhys. You might like to know that I did the final year of a part-time MA whilst working full-time. Following that course was the best thing I ever did as I could follow my own interests. Perhaps it's a matter of finding the right course (mine was Modern European Literature!).



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