I can’t resist a response to Mark Thwaite’s lament for the literary blogosphere in the Guardian this week.
Mark begins by recalling the early promise of bookblogland:
I felt I was joining a real community of dyed-in-the-wool bibliophiles. And, moreover, one I believed had radical possibilities: if the book review pages hadn’t quite shrunk to the pinched state we find them in today, they were hardly in rude and rigorous health. Not only that, but when serious books were reviewed they all seemed to me to be of a type I call Establishment Literary Fiction, the kind of literary fiction that wins prizes, and which mostly leaves me cold. I wanted to review books I felt weren’t being given the credit or publicity they deserved. Writers like Gabriel Josipovici, Gert Hofmann, Enrique Vila-Matas, Peter Handke and Rosalind Belben…
My hope at the time was that countless blogs would emerge that would prove an untested thesis to which I’d long cleaved: that the attempt by the mainstream media to contain the intelligence of the average reader by trivialising their seriousness could be resisted, and that blogging would prove that readers had far more sophisticated tastes than the broadsheets presume.
Blogging, I hoped, would prove to be the start of a renaissance in long form critical writing [.]
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive! But what exactly went wrong? Mark is candid – long form critical writing turned out to be too much work. Result: ‘even committed bloggers like myself found it hard to knock out long, incisive reviews on a daily – or even weekly – basis.’
Understandably, we often filled our blogs with linkbait. If a nice review or post went up on Monday, perhaps Tuesday and Wednesday would simply be a comment directing our readers to something good elsewhere in the blogosphere. Actually, this felt good. This was OK. This was community-building. Bloggers linked to other blogs and praised other bloggers; the MSM (mainstream media) could be ignored.
As Mark explains, this new, lighter model was undermined by Twitter, a more effective forum for contextualising links. He writes: ‘the linkbait proved to be part of the lifeblood, and blogs started to wither on the vine – mine too for a while.’
He goes on to say this:
When I started blogging, I felt part of a community that linked and supported and shared, and which, for a moment, seemed like it was really going to jolt the complacency of the MSM. Whilst the number of bloggers has continued to increase, my sense as a blogger is that the renaissance in the literary critical essay that I hoped to see just hasn’t happened… despite the sterling work of some, an army of amateur literary essayists has never arisen.
A few points.
When blogging really took off in the early 2000s people said it would eventually supersede print writing. For a number of reasons that hasn’t happened. Although print has declined, it still has supremacy of status and the weblog has simply become an adjunct to the newspaper and journal. At a time of accelerating technology the form just is not going to have the impact it once had. It is just one thing among many. Mark’s somewhat dated terminology (‘MSM’ anyone?) indicates that he hasn’t absorbed these changes as well as he might have.
However, the eclipse of blogging by microblogging doesn’t mean that the long form critique has died out. You can read superb long essays in the LRB, the Literary Review, Biblioklept and The Workshy Fop and numerous other sources. It is, as so often on this subject, a matter of personal taste.
I used to read Mark’s blog, even contributed to it at one time, and also used to read some of the blogs he links to. They drew on a small pool of revered authors and I found the writing overly prescriptive, self-referential, and often vituperative against the bloggers’ supposed enemies (in the ‘MSM’ and elsewhere).
A response by ‘obooki’ caught my eye:
Perhaps, after all, having contempt for anything outside your narrow range of interests and sneering at anybody who diverged from your views and interpretations, wasn’t the best way to build a community.
As they say, I couldn’t possibly comment!