If there is a less interesting distinction than that between “first wave” “litblogs” and “second wave” “book blogs,” I don’t know what it is. (Perhaps the distinction between English professors and the Left.) Nevertheless, Andrew Seal finds the subject absorbing enough to go on and on for sixteen hundred words. (His conclusion? “[M]aking a distinction between two kinds of blogs can quickly turn into making a distinction between two kinds of bloggers.”) The various distinctions that have been proposed, including Daniel Green’s between “litblogs” and “critblogs,” are worthless. The only meaningful distinction is between those blogs that are well-written and those that are not.
Few are. The “five open supersecrets” about bloggers, as Lee Siegel says in Against the Machine (quoted in Benjamin Kunkel’s review at N1BR), are:
2. Few people have anything original to say.
3. Only a handful of people know how to write well.
4. Most people will do almost anything to be liked.
5. “Customers” are always right, but “people” aren’t.
The important distinction is between the blog as a literary genre and other kinds of writing. It is true that much blog-writing is careless and off-the-top-of-the-head. But again: so what else is new? It does not follow, as Kunkel quotes Naomi Baron as saying, that “The proliferation of writing, often done in a hurry, may be driving out the opportunity and motivation for creating carefully honed text.” Over a century ago, Henry James fretted that “the diffusion of penmanship and opportunity” would prove fatal to literature. But literature has survived even the rise of creative-writing programs, although poetry seems not to have. Blogging may offer the gratification of instant publication, but the motivation for creating carefully honed text, which might perhaps include phrases that are sharper than “carefully honed,” must come from where it has always come—the writer’s self-imposition of standards.
The literary question is what blogging permits a writer to do that other kinds do not. Here is one example. Patrick Kurp, whose Anecdotal Evidence fits none of Andrew Seal’s muscle-bound categories (and so Seal ignores him), has been working his way through Our Savage Art, William Logan’s fifth collection of criticism on poetry; and the criticism led him to return to Logan’s own poetry. The effect is that of a serial review. Instead of a book review that satisfies the publisher’s (and author’s) thirst for publicity—a book review that delivers a finished verdict—you have the adventure of a mind as it inches toward conclusions.
The subject need not be a new book. The Amateur Reader has similarly been making steady progress through Hawthorne (after celebrating Golem Week last month). (And by the way, I shall not allow any discussion of the Amateur Reader to lead me into an even deeper circle in which bloggers obsess over dead-end questions like “When it is it OK to ‘out’ anonymous bloggers?”)
Kurp and the Amateur Reader have made a virtue of the “hurried” pace of blogging. What they have really done, of course, is to return the essay to its original meaning. Rather than seeking a perfectly finished product, they are more interesting in trying out a subject and point of view. Writing “done in a hurry” is not the reverse image of “carefully honed text,” although it belongs to a different world from pimple-squeezing reflections on the difference between litblogs and book blogs.