Is "Literary Blog" An Oxymoron?

In my last post I denied that the Internet is making you dumber. The works of Henry James are online -- if you're looking at pet videos instead, how's that the Internet's fault?

Scott Brown thinks the Internet is making you funnier, which I also doubt.

A 2007 post by Adam Kirsch contains another version of the "Internet is dumb" argument -- blogging is fundamentally, necessarily antithetical to the spirit of literary culture. Some of his points:

"Often isolated and inexperienced, usually longing to break into print themselves, bloggers — even the influential bloggers who are courted by publishers — tend to consider themselves disenfranchised. As a result, they are naturally ready to see ethical violations and conspiracies everywhere in the literary world."

There's something to this -- even as successful a writer-blogger as Andrew Sullivan has harsh things to say about the publishing industry. Then again, some bloggers are publishers. And nowadays I know writers who blog primarily because their publishers want them to, for promotional purposes. Literary bloggers are a disparate group, perhaps increasingly so.

"... those who can, do, while those who can't, blog."

It's a fair cop, guv.

"... bitesized commentary, which is all the blog form allows, is next to useless when it comes to talking about books. Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right, with a scope, complexity, and authority that no blogger I know even wants to achieve."

James Wood's How Fiction Works is structured as a series of numbered, discrete chunks of bitesized commentary. Many of the chunks are about the length of a blog post. Suppose Wood had chosen to release these ideas into the world as blog posts -- the experience of reading such a blog might have been like reading a raw first draft of the book, but with the advantage of being able to post comments. I find it easy to conceive of the first draft of a serious work of criticism being fashioned in this way, and I imagine that literary blogging is in its infancy.

"But there's no chance that literary culture will thrive on the Internet until we recognize that the ethical and intellectual crotchets of the bloggers represent a dead end."

From this more recent piece, I see that Adam Kirsch's horror of blogging has only increased -- his chain of thought here is hard for me to follow, but he seems now to view blogging as a threat to Western civilization. If I read him correctly, by starting a blog I have abandoned the field of literature entirely, and possibly surrendered my individuality to some form of millennial cult -- not quite what I signed up for.

Nota bene: I'm planning to blog six days a week from now on. As a blogger, I will henceforth observe either the Muslim, Jewish, or the Christian Sabbath, depending on how my week's going.

4 thoughts on “Is "Literary Blog" An Oxymoron?”

  1. I find the whole idea of “literary blog” being oxymoronic laughable, in an ironic kind of way. For example, there is the idea that bloggers “…tend to consider themselves disenfranchised.” So, would the people arguing this consider that Joyce or Dostoevsky thought of themselves as “enfranchised” writers when they wrote?

    And there’s the belief that blogs are, “… bitesized commentary, which is all the blog form allows.” Do the understand the tool? Have they actually used a blog? As far as I know a blog post can be about as long as you want. Also implicit in the statement is the belief that length equates to legitimacy.

    If they know anything about literature they know it is not form but a marriage between form and content. They are misdirected by terminology. Blogging is writing. (Yes, there are video blogs but most remain text based.) And writing of any kind is literature or it is not. The form doesn’t determine that.

    Honestly, these people sound like ivory tower academics who feel threatened from below, where literature finds its roots.

  2. There is an intense fear of illegitimacy among artists of all sorts that compels the weak, paranoid, annoying few to wave a banner that argues “this is *good* this is *real* literature/painting/sculpting/music and that, that over there, that is *not*.” While Derrida and Nietzsche did a nice job establishing the weakness of spirit that this b***sh*t engenders, and Sid Vicious, Bon Scott, and Stan Kenton established its absurdity, I must again call upon that wisest of all sages, Miles Dylan, who wrote, “All generalizations are wrong.”

  3. I think it was Neal Stephenson– or perhaps William Gibson– who abandoned his popular early blog, saying, “I can write books, or I can blog. I can’t do both.” (that’s a paraphrase.)

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