Friday, March 16, 2007

The Inelegant Variation

We're subscribers to the literary journal n+1 in this house, and daily readers of Mark Sarvas's literary blog The Elegant Variation, too (why am I using the first person plural all of a sudden? I blame Josh Ferris). Both are excellent. But the spat between the two camps which has exploded on TEV and also on the litblog The Millions (also a great blog, by the way) is just embarrassing. Confusing, also, and more than a little hysterical, and petty, a lot, but mainly just embarrassing. A couple of months back, I added the n+1 editorial in question to my course syllabus (I teach uni writing to freshman students), in a section which also included essays by William Cronon and Caroline Bassett. I added it, along with excerpts from Sven Birkerts' book The Gutenberg Elegies, and some recent media analysis of blogging, myspace, second life, etc, because I thought it was an interesting counterpart to those texts. Most of the students didn't like it, the n+1 editorial, for different reasons. They didn't think it convincing, or they thought it preachy, or they thought it too disjointed, or they thought it was "just showing off" (they tend to think a lot of writing is "just showing off", I should add). Or they didn't see the irony which I think was at work in much of the editorial. But they articulated their problems with it in a manner a damn sight more coherent and more reasonable than can be said for the leaders of the current litblog bitchslap.

For my part, I hugely enjoyed the editorial (which is currently excerpted on the n+1 homepage); I read it partly as satire, partly as polemic, and I found a lot of truth in what it had to say about blogging, about the e-mail bind, about mobile phones. It was, I think, too hastily dismissive of literary blogging - there do exist litbloggers who write considered criticism on their blogs, who do more than blow "wet kisses" or flick fillips of contempt, although they're in the minority. It's hard work to write a serious literary blog, and it's long work; when I started this blog, I hoped it would be a place for me to write about books I'd read and plays I'd seen. My friend Miglior does this kind of blogging about his particular area of interest very well, and very diligently. But I'm not that diligent, I guess. I read for work, and I read for school (apologies to non-American readers; I've caved in and started saying "school" instead of "college", like they do here), and I write for work, and I write for school, and I just plain write, and when it comes to blogging, I've found that it's the very immediacy of it - the very "reflex" criticized by the n+1 editors - the gossipy, news-sharing, info-sending aspect of it that most appeals to me. I'm a reflex blogger, and when I blog about books, it's rarely in a very considered way, or in a way, come to think of it, of which I'm particularly proud. I mentioned earlier this week, for example, that I was enjoying Liam Callanan's All Saints - well, that changed soon afterwards, and I began to be slightly horrified by it, and I kept going with it only to abandon it, unable to muster the enthusiasm to go on, roughly 20 pages from the end. Now that, there, what I've just written; that's not a review. It's a blog post. And there's no reason the two things shouldn't go together, and, on other blogs, they do, which is something the n+1 editorial ought to acknowledge, I think. But it's true, too, that there are many, many more examples of the kind of blog to which they do refer. And here's one of them.


Miglior acque said...

Hmm. It depends on what the blog is for and to whom it is directed. It takes time to write good posts and I wish I had more time, but I really don't want to write longer posts. (This has come up in the medieval collaborative blog In The Middle where the posts have really started to get extremely long and involved and quickly looking through the blog becomes a much more onerous task.) I suppose I try to navigate some way between a review and a quick opinion: more what's interesting and why. Your blog is enjoyable though, it's very you.

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