Yesterday's comments about my blogging led to some interesting soul searching over what it is about blogs that I find so addictive (Typical! all the deep philosophical questions I faff my way through, but some general comment sends me into a tail spin of self-contemplation).
Much has been written and said about the power of blogs as a means of information sharing and communication. As an illustration of the power of human networks and the kind of free-wheeling information transfer technology makes possible, the blogosphere is virtually unparalleled. And while I remain unconvinced about blogs' ultimate power to take on more conventional news media (much of the stuff you read in the NY Times, for instance, smacks entirely of paranoia) I can see how they are fast evolving into a legitimate alternate channel for information dissemination.
There's also, of course, the entertainment value of blogs. In some ways, I suspect, the urge to read blogs (and subsequently write them) is the same urge that drives people to watch reality shows on TV - the need to connect to 'real' people. In a world where social ties are rapidly haemorrhaging under the influence of an entertainment industry that encourages isolation, blogs are an important means of re-integrating ourselves into society. And not just any society but a society of (potentially) like-minded people. Blogs allow us to read about people whose thoughts / experiences are often surprisingly similar to our own; they permit us to engage such people in debate; they enable the kind of sharing of ideas that once used to happen through conversations in other 'real world' social settings.
All of this is, I suspect, well understood. What gets overlooked, I feel, (at least explicitly, though I suspect most regular bloggers sense this) is the potential that blogs offer as a new artistic medium. Writing a blog is a fundamentally different artistic experience from any other form of writing. Think about it. It's not journalism (or doesn't have to be) because there's too much personality involved, because it can afford to be less topical and because (compared to say, op-eds) there's a much lower need to engage specific issues*. It's not fiction because it's too self-referential and the format is too short to allow any real plot development. It's not poetry. It's not even like keeping a diary because there is the constant awareness of another's presence reading it and judging you, and because, unlike a diary, things you write here will answer back through other people.
Understand: I'm not saying that a blog can't be any one of these things. The point is that it doesn't need to be. What's exciting about blogs (as I guess is true of any new medium) is the way it allows you to explore new forms of expression in a field where forms are yet to solidify. Throughout history, changes in technology have enabled changes in art (think how the printing press changed writing, think how the development of the pianoforte changed music)
What does this new medium afford us? First, it allows us to be casual (even flippant) in a way that more conventional publishing never did. There's an immediacy to blog writing, a spontaneity, that is hard to maintain in more conventional publications, which usually require a more polished, edited tone. As an exploration of personality, the voice of the blog world is a voice much closer to Bukowski than to Eliot, much closer to Kerouac than to Woolf.
Second, blogs fragment writing space, so that the challenge becomes not so much to write consistently but rather to put together a collage of fragments that are interesting in themselves but together form a consistent picture of a human intelligence. Imagine having to paint a picture where you were allowed just one brush stroke a day and people judged you both on the precision and beauty of that single stroke and on the overall picture that emerged, day by day, from your canvas. Imagine that you had to find ways by which each new stroke could surprise, enhance and reimagine this picture. That's what blogs are like. (What was it Eliot said? "The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies / For the pattern is new in every moment / And every moment is a new and shocking / Valuation of all we have been")
Third, blogs allow you to conjure with a wide variety of external material - allowing you to cross-reference and connect to other blogs / articles / images. This means that one is able to create a virtual network of ideas, a reverse palimpsest of thought where the reader can either skim the surface or plunge deeper and deeper into one particular post, exploring the trails of thought that led to the one statement, the one idea that finally appeared in the post.
Fourth, of course, blogs allow instant feedback - thus enabling the writer to get reactions from his / her readers almost instantly, and making writing, for once, a more participatory form, almost, in some ways a performance art.**
Fifth (and this is implicit in the second point above, but bears spelling out) blogs focus the writing on the person, rather than on the ideas / issues / events / plots or fictional characters. This is remarkably interesting and fresh perspective to be writing from (though one that comes most naturally, I suspect, to poets)
As a corollary, blog allow us to reinvent ourselves - not so much because they allow us to assume fictional personalities that may bear little or no resemblance to our real selves (though that too is possible) - but rather because they allow us to sharpen and display the aspects of our personality that we want to, and suppress everything else. There's an element of control you have dealing with people through your blog that you don't have in other, more messy social interactions.
What makes this exciting is that each one of these elements it at once a challenge and an opportunity. Just as in a more metaphysical space the idea that everything is permitted is at once liberating and frightening, so too the ease with which blogs allow us to publish is a dizzying prospect, because it means that we need to be our own editors, and need to find a way to create that is intensely our own. By themselves, each one of these elements are easily ignored. The challenge, in my view, is precisely not to ignore them but to use them to the fullest extent possible. People will argue, for instance, that one of the liberating things about blogs is that you don't have to write beautifully to keep one. This is just laziness - like saying you don't need to have something interesting to say if you're talking to a friend who will listen anyway. The thing that makes blogging fascinating is the task of saying something beautiful and precise and interesting even though you don't need to.
This then, is what really moves me about blogging. As someone who's always been interested in writing in all its forms, blogging is an exciting creative enterprise, an exercise in expression unlike any other (notice that I say expression and not self-expression - I'm not interested in projecting my self here, I am interested in the artistic possibilities). The parallel that comes to mind most strongly is that of the Glass Bead Game in Herman Hesse's Magister Ludi. The Game is a quasi-religious, quasi-academic intellectual and creative exercise where the players use symbols, motifs and ideas from a wide variety of sources deployed according to complex rules in order to create an abstract thought pattern. Players of the game go through years of rigorous training picking up its subtler points, and the Master of the Game is a revered and respected figure. Blogging, for me, is like that. That's why, for instance, I am reluctant to post my poems on this blog (or to talk much about actual events in my life) - not because I have any difficulty sharing them with a wider audience, but simply because poems are an art form in themselves (as are diaries for that matter) and blogs have the potential to be so much more than the medium for another art form - they have the capacity to be art forms in themselves.
So, dear Meditative Rose, this is not about how much I like to give fundae and expound on everything under the sun (or rather, it is about that, but that itself is more about the quest for expression rather than about a genuine concern for ideas - I like discussions because they stimulate me and help me live more fully - I have few, if any, beliefs that I'm wedded to, and therefore I'm rarely concerned what people do with my fundae) - I'm almost entirely unconcerned with finding an audience or actually communicating with other people. This blog is, in a sense, a purely artistic enterprise: an opportunity to give free rein to my imagination, my intelligence and my writing skills (such as these are) and to explore the barriers of what I can bring myself to write.
"Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
- The Four Quartets, East Coker. V.
* There's also the minor point that no one will actually publish the stuff we wrote even if we were to write proper Op-ed pieces. But that's just an aside!
**This is an entirely mixed blessing, of course. One of the things that most pains me about the modern world (and which will surely merit a longer post at some point) is how we've come to equate popularity with talent, when the two very rarely go together. I've never understood, for instance, why the fact that a book is a bestseller should motivate me to read it - given how poor the tastes of the general public are anything that appeals to the lowest common denominator is hardly likely to be any good.