Blogging as Writing

Emma Goldman (no, the other Emma Goldman, silly) of Notes on the Atrocities is putting aside the politics of the moment, for the moment, and running a “Literary Week”. And, so far, it looks pretty good (and I’m not just saying that becuase she had the good foresight to quote me as an example).

Yesterday’s post introduced a short, short story, a metafiction entitled “Democracy, by Martha Shulman” (Links apparently bloggered; go to her home page and read all the entries for the week of May 26), about a frustrated interview with the author of a book on Democracy. Or, rather, three books–or, even better still, three versions of the same book, each radically conflicting in its analysis of the promise and practice of democracy, each ideally adapted to its American, European, and South Asian audience, respectively. Encountering the chain-smoking author in a diner in Sheboygan, our narrator tries to get the “real” story behind “Democracy”. Instead, she receives a fifteen minute discourse on the author’s son’s golf habit.

I don’t pretend to know what it’s all about–is the author hinting that our focus on meaningless trivialities obscures our relationship with democracy, as she herself is obscured in her haze of cigarette smoke? Or that democracy, a malleable and subjective force in life, is somehow like the strange proclivity some have for their particular pasttimes? Or is the son’s futile attempt to play golf in the Wisconsin winter–using red golf balls in the hopes that he will find them in the snow–a mirror of the futility of declaring democracy to be one thing and one thing only? Like most good literature and popular culture, the story evokes more than declares, leaving us rather more wondering than enlightened. Or maybe I’m just missing it completely. In any case, what it reminds me of, obscurely, is an essay by feminist anthropologist Kamala Visweswaran, describing her attempt to interview a woman who played an important role in the Indian revolutionary movement. Visiting the woman, now an important local power and a figure of strength and perseverence, in her office, Visweswaran’s attempts to draw out a narrative of this woman’s involvement in the movement towards India’s independence is repeatedly diverted into a recounting of her late husband’s actions. After finally giving up, Visweswaran is ready to chalk the interview up as a failure, but when she stops to think about it, she realizes that, in denying the anthropologist her story, the woman has denied Visweswaran the power to remake her life. Gayatri Spivak has asked “Can the Subaltern Speak?”; Visweswaran discovered that while she may not be able to speak, she can certainly refuse to speak, and thus refuse to be the subaltern for anthropological consumption.

Moving on to Tuesday, Emma explores the different motivations behind bloggers’ activities, and the way their (our) use of language reflects those motivations. In doing so, she explores the emergent nature of blogging itself, the definition of an activity through its practice.

Blogs are neither pure diary nor journalism–they occupy a space in between. Like diaries, they’re informal, personal, and conversational. But because information is now so immediate and accessible, blogs are more immediate and less reflective than diaries. And they form a public forum of opinion about events as they unfold, placing them in context (personal, ideological) that news avoids.

As to defining “good” and “bad” blogs–this is a more interesting question. So much of the information we receive has the appearance of neutrality (“objectivity” being an artifact of modernism) , but exists for the purpose of selling. Whether it’s direct commercial speech, or speech presented as the hook to sell ad space or commercials, the consumer is always aware of the actual motivation behind the words.

Goldman posits blogging as an attempt to reclaim language from the marketeers and propagandists, to construct a space ofr “authentic” expression–sometimes raw, sometimes polished, sometimes intensely intimate, and sometimes highly abstract, but always somehow personal, an alternative to the journalistic faux-neutrality that hides its objectives behind the mask of rhetoric, and to the affected speech of corporate spokespersons and politicos, speech that refuses to take responsibilty for its implications, speech constructed around the potential of its own denial.

Because my own words are included in her survey of blogging style, I will refrain from discussing that section, except to goggle in wonder at being included in the same thought bubble as Jeanne d’Arc of Body and Soul, who I think is a far more consistent and compelling writer than I am. I will, however, note a semi-criticism, hopefully in good faith. Goldman focuses highly on a fairly particular sort of blog, the lefty political blog. While she does a fine job of teasing out similarities and differences in both style and intent in that sphere, I wonder how her catagories hold up against the freeper crowd, the daily journalist, the friendship blog, and so on. While I think the generalities would hold up pretty well, I think she would find differences between these different spheres of activity at least as great as the difference between Atrios’ succinct thought-poems and my own wordy, rambling posts.

That aside, Emma does us all a service in her analyses, especially in focusing on lesser-known writers alongside “big dogs” in the park. I am looking forward to the rest of the week: Wednesday’s topic, “Prose poetry. Does it always suck?” sounds particularly juicy, followed by Thursday’s focus on the Internet and storytelling. Friday is the old standby, TBA, from whom we’ve all taken at least one or two courses.

Update:I just noticed a small error–when listing other kinds of blogging, I mention “the daily journalist”. Since I’ve made a point of asserting that blogging is not journalism, I hope it’s obvious that I misspoke, there. I mean “daily journalist” in the sense of “keeper of a daily journal”.

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