Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Blogging: my two cents

Earlier this month, I participated in a kind of virtual seminar, "The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time." The moderators, Patrick Kurp and D.G. Myers, were very tolerant of my lollygagging ways, and eventually posted my thoughts at A Commonplace Blog, cheek-by-jowl with responses from Terry Teachout, Frank Wilson, Mark Athitakis, and various other worthies. Here's a sampling of what I had to say:
Q: How do you respond to this statement? "Blogging is just another hobby, like stamp collecting or hockey."

A: Or like fishing, chess, cooking, sex, music, scrimshaw, gardening.... The statement is quasi-true but its assumptions are pathetic: that anything you do outside of your professional life is trivial. Many people are at their happiest and most fulfilled when practicing their so-called hobbies.

Q: How has the experience of blogging changed the way you write?

A: It hasn't.

Q: What about the sometimes vicious nature of the beast?--the ad hominem attacks, and the widespread tendency to confuse harsh disagreement with such ad hominem attacks.

A: The Internet is real life on steroids--unless it's not. I don't think people are any kinder or more vicious online than they are in real life, but the remote nature of their interactions, and the absence of adult supervision, turns many human beings into assholes. Even Pericles might have behaved like a frat boy under such circumstances. The great thing is that you can delete comments, trash emails, and generally ignore the stuff that bothers you. I was on a panel with Lee Siegel a couple of years ago, and he was complaining about the coercive nature of the Web. I said that I didn't find it any more coercive than the radio. If you don't like it, pull the plug.

Q: Some say the golden age of blogging has already passed, that blogging has failed to fulfill its early promise; and the evidence which is given is that no one becomes famous from blogging any longer. Do you agree?

A: This question made me smile. Blogging is in its infancy, still (as my father likes to say) on the nipple. In fifty years, to pass the time in our warren of underground, climate-controlled fallout shelters, we can muse over whether blogging lived up to its delightful promise. Hell, we can blog about it. As for the fame thing--outside of gossip, gadgets, and porn, the mighty Internet trifecta, bloggers tend to address a small audience. The level of fame is minuscule. So the lack of fame is meaningless.
You can read my entire thing here. And please do check out the entire series of thoughtful, mostly non-ornery responses.


Thursday, September 17, 2009


Baker, again

My review of Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist has just been posted over at the B&N Review. While I was writing it, I felt like I was wrestling with a long, complicated piece. Now that it's been posted, it looks compact and straightforward, with nary an ace up its sleeve. Perhaps what I was wrestling with was sleep deprivation. In any case, here's a sample bit:
This brings us to the crux of the matter. For Paul, like all of Baker's narrators, is a man with an idée fixe -- a man firmly mounted atop his hobby horse. (The same might said of Baker himself, whose fascination with, say, old newspapers led him to accumulate an entire warehouse of them. But his fixations keep changing, as per his smorgasbord metaphor above.) And what Paul really hates is blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter, the sort of thing Shakespeare found perfectly serviceable for 18,000 lines of dramatic poetry. The modern, footless, freewheeling stuff favored by so many American poets is bad enough, "merely a heartfelt arrangement of plummy words requesting to be read slowly." But blank verse (and even rhyming iambic pentameter) is worse: another kinky French import, like structuralism or Béarnaise sauce. In Paul's view it has warped the progress of English poetry, by drawing it out of its natural four-beat orbit.
You can read the whole thing here.

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