17 March 2007

Are Blogs Flawed As A Medium?

Part (2)

At the risk of performing a perfunctory gloss on a tangled and ongoing debate, I'm directing you (and blogging only as a referer, with a minimum of original critical thought, which makes today's earlier post a self-indictment) to Scott Eric Kaufman's dissection of the dust-up surrounding this article in n+1 (link is to an excerpt). An original thought below the fold:

The entire debate's peculiar to lit-blogging as a subculture, which makes most of the particulars assume the towering proportions of storm-in-a-teacup, and anybody not in the know will have to work very hard not to be bewildered by some of the audience assumptions.

All of which makes me think (but not too hard!) about the fragmentation of culture, once so ostensibly hegemonic and universal, and the way that blogs, with their intersection of public discourse and private conversation, start to make the very notion of some sort of common public sphere impossible.

It makes a post like this difficult, since I'm not plugged into a prefab online community of blogrolls and ideological dispositions. Who am I couching this to? The debaters, who are exponentially better informed than I and locked in grudge matches? The limitless uninformed masses who couldn't care less?

This isn't (or didn't start to be) a theory blog, and God knows I'm not working on a dissertation, so academia itself seems impossibly esoteric. But restarting as I am requires questioning some basic assumptions, aloud and at length, and that's made even more difficult by the pint of Jameson on the windowsill next to my coffee this morning.

(to steal from Kaufman's links again, see Edward Champion's clever - but perhaps self-defeating - prefab blog post, which makes me feel cliché all over again).

Maybe I'd be better off keeping this to the level of link farming: just read Kaufman - he's put the time and sweat into the roundup, and I found the confluence (two conversations about blogging as a medium! two throwaway lines mocking Slate!) interesting enough to take a break from red cabbage and whiskey.

For those uninclined to work through storms in teacups, I'll quote from his conclusion, which dovetails (is there no original thought anymore?) with a post I've been working out in my head for some time, and which brings to mind Wendell Berry in his frequently anthologized find-nature essay "An Entrance to the Woods," from his Recollected Essays, 1965-1980.

Here's Berry first:
[...] For a solid hour or more I drove sixty or seventy miles an hour, hardly aware of the country I was passing through, because on the freeway one does not have to be. The landscape has been subdued so that one may drive over it at seventy miles per hour without any concession whatsoever to one's whereabouts. One might as well be flying.

[...] Our senses, after all, were developed to function at foot speeds, and the transition from foot travel to motor travel, in terms of evolutionary time, has been abrupt. The faster one goes, the more strain there is on the senses, the more they fail to take in, the more confusion they must tolerate or gloss over - and the longer it takes to bring the mind to a stop in the presence of anything.

[...] The machine is running now with a speed that produces blindness.
With Berry in mind, take a look at Kaufman:
The entire “Intellectual Situation” is a meditation on the relation of speed and technology to the cultivation of thought:

The true mood of the form is spontaneity, alacrity—the right time to reply to a message is right away. But do that and your life is gone.

As with email, so too with cellphones and blogs. The dearth of analytic vim in any blogging community is not necessarily the fault of the individuals comprising it, but a symptom of the temptations of the genre. It is tempting to write book-chat. It is tempting to turn a blog into group therapy. It is tempting to post the same sort of fluff found in Slate. It is tempting to link to the same YouTube video everyone else has. Unless you consciously fight it, the inertia of generic norms will exert its influence on you ... and your blog’ll be the worse for it. That lit-blogs are singled out speaks to their potential—to the potential of people who are still devoted readers—to bring to their blogging the same spirit of resistance they demonstrate every time they choose to read instead of write an email, use their cellphone, or turn on their Wii.

And: is dipping into storms in teacups not my own a waste of time? That is, and a girl in the Art of Nonfiction asserted this three weeks ago: Is there no human common ground? "I don't believe that anything is universal," she said, by way of explanation for disliking Montaigne, who had written, "Every man has within him the entire human condition." If we have nothing in common, why bother to write (or read) at all?

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