Friday, February 6, 2009

Function of Lit-Blogging Part II

A few days ago, I expressed some of the frustrations I've been harboring with the general attitude and practice of lit-blogging. I don't think I did a great job communicating exactly what I find aggravating and even hindering about the lit-blog community, but I doubt I'll correct my inarticulateness with another denunciation. Instead, I'll try to express what it is I like to read.

To put it very basically, the blogs I enjoy reading seem to be written with the idea that posts which fall off the frontpage will continue to inform and affect the next thing written. There is a high degree of unity that goes beyond smug self-referentiality. These blogs read as a sort of sustained self-education, either because they are concentrated around one core conceit (e.g. Contra James Wood, The Criterion Contraption, Stuff White People Like) or because they are focused on a densely related set of problems (FiveThirtyEight, Post-Bourgie, Rough Theory, Vertigo, Jezebel). They are centripetal, not accidental, not meandering, focused less upon what the author "came across" or "happened upon" than what the author went looking for and found. These blogs are more than literary social bookmarking tools—browse, read, tag, comment, share.

***
This blog is much more like the blogs I don't much care for: wholly dependent on what I "happen upon" in my reading, whether that's what I found on the web today or what book I picked up for vague reasons or no reason. I've been struggling with how to change that, how to add to or change this blog in ways that will make it less adventitious, short of imposing a mandatory reading list on myself or ceasing to blog about anything but a narrow subject. I want to keep a little randomness: I don't object to randomness—I just don't like the self-satisfied surrender to entropy that comes with the idea that I'll blog about whatever catches my fancy.

I already have a project of sorts going: hoping to fill in some gaps in my reading, this year I wanted to focus my reading choices on literature by women, persons of color, and literature-in-translation or, in my blunter terms, "I would like to resolve to read no novels or poetry by white American men for the next year." This isn't so much a project as a series of decisions about what to read, but it offers, I think, the chance to organize what I read in a specific way and the chance to produce more cohesive posts.

My choice of readings fits in very well with a set of issues and problems that I deeply want to tackle, but have had a hard time paring down to fit into a post about a single book. Looking at literature from a transnational perspective has become, for obvious reasons, a vital position to be able to occupy as a critic or even just as a reader. I would like to turn myself more in this direction, perhaps a bit awkwardly at first, but solidly.

It's not that I want to churn out boilerplate interpretations of any novel that comes my way; at least, it's my goal for this not to be the effect. Instead, I hope to choose what I read a little bit more carefully and prepare my posts a little more diligently, less apt to dash off a quick post on whatever comes to mind. I also want to do a good deal more blogging about criticism and theory: I mentioned Franco Moretti's 2-volume behemoth The Novel, which I'm hoping to work my way through selectively. There are some other very valuable anthologies and collections of essays on relevant topics: I've had this really great book edited by Ilan Stavans called Mutual Impressions: Writers from the Americas Reading One Another sitting on my bookcase for awhile.

I hope that the forthcoming changes and additions will make this blog much more interesting to read, rather than less. I am eager to try some things out not just in terms of what I write about, but also how I write it. Hopefully you'll bear with me, and tell me what you think works and what's interesting or valuable.

8 comments:

Tom E said...

I just have to say that "Stuff White People Like" bugs the crap out of me. It was funny at first, but hitting the same note over and over again makes the stale stale and then just downright annoying. I get it: middle-class white Americans are kind of self-centered.

That being said, your approach to lit-blogging seems right, and I'm looking forward to reading what you come up with in your "project."

Andrew Seal said...

It got stale once Lander got the book deal, I think. But what I meant was that (it seemed to me), in most of the entries, Lander's notion of who or what "white people" were floated a bit as he wrote. Previous entries helped shape future entries—he was reacting to himself and trying to refine his core concept by reconsidering things he had previously written. That has (for the most part) kept it interesting for me.

Edmond Caldwell said...

To tell you the truth, one reason CJW might hang together as it does is that it started out as part of a book (an "experimental" novel actually), and many of the posts (particularly those on essays of Wood's which predate the publication of How Fiction Works) are reworked and sometimes expanded passages from the manuscript.

I've often felt that the material and the approach didn't quite fit the blog format, which was *supposed* to be in more of a digest, feuilleton, or commonplace-book format; at times even deploring my inability to hit the true blog note, which is to sound incisive and offhand at the same time - the sprezzatura of the postmodern courtier.

Now however I'm wondering if there's something else afoot here - a kind of blogger's self-loathing (carried like a virus in the unloveliness of the name itself, blaaahhhggg), such that one always prefers somebody else's way of doing it.

Andrew Seal said...

I think blogging is almost always a writer's second choice, so perhaps that's why the preference is usually for another's style or format. I think you don't really have to worry about your sprezzatura, though--if that's the true blog note (like a blue note, perhaps?), I think you hit it frequently.

Tony Christini said...

Seems to me the most basic key to any weblog is its purpose, its reason(s) for being. One could say the same of novels or film.... First, is it vital...and illuminating? And then there is much else to consider.

If you're still interested in this -

"I already have a project of sorts going: hoping to fill in some gaps in my reading, this year I wanted to focus my reading choices on literature by women, persons of color, and literature-in-translation or, in my blunter terms, "I would like to resolve to read no novels or poetry by white American men for the next year." This isn't so much a project as a series of decisions about what to read, but it offers, I think, the chance to organize what I read in a specific way and the chance to produce more cohesive posts."

- then you might well benefit from reading through and referring frequently to Shelley Ettinger's valuable new weblog, Read Red: http://readwritered.blogspot.com/

zunguzungu said...

I like your formulation; the thing that blogs have that no other form of critical writing really does (or at least not to the same extent) is that posts are close enough to each other in time to build off each other, but not so close as to be simultaneous. I find that I can learn a great deal from writing something, as best as I can, in the moment when the idea first occurs to me, and then discover that new lines of approach open up a day later (that I wouldn't have thought of without "finishing" the first post, but that I wouldn't have a chance to follow up on if I didn't feel the need to "finish" another one). But the larger project never actually finishes, it just transforms into something similar but subtly different. Or something.

Andrew Seal said...

Tony--thanks! It looks like a good blog!

Aaron--I actually also had in mind your posts on The Wire, even though I haven't read any but the last (on conservatives)! I'm just now starting the third season, so I've tried to avoid reading anything that references the show for fear of spoilers. But I'm very much looking forward to reading your posts once I'm done.

Jim H. said...

I am a chief offender: I explicitly theme-blog. Certain themes of thought splash across the screen of my consciousness, and I blog them, trying to tie them together through HTML links. They disappear off the front page (though Blogger allows you to keep as many on the front as you wish).

The old joke in law school was that when the young lawyer handed the judge a 100-page brief just as his deadline was expiring, the judge asked him why it was so long. The young lawyer said "sorry, your Honor, I would've made it shorter, but I didn't have enough time." Blogging is sort of like that: the early drafts of complete thoughts. Posts run long sometimes, are more verbose than they might be if thought about and condensed. They become restatements. I agree that that's not necessarily po-mo self-referentiality—it's certainly not meta-. If I want to be meta-, I know how to be meta-.

Making thoughts concise and final (shall we say 'epigrammatic') is perhaps the desired goal.

Best of luck,
Jim H.