To blog or not to blog–here I go again; repetition becomes motif–that, in itself, another motif: the motif of motif. I have been blogging for how long now–I started with the October Review, which I still publish and which remains a sister of the current review. How many years now I have been writing and publishing the blog and review pages I call The October Review is nearing a decade? Is it really that long? Of course, I do not expect you to answer . . . however, just what is a blog? What a blog could be, I would really like to know, but it most likely remains immaterial to the more important task of putting together a literary review on line: to publish a literary web journal or a literary web-zine, or whatever else we have in the words we bandy about among us to say something we should be better equipped to say . . . a literary journal in hard copy is different than what appears on the screens via this website.
This review and its blog are not the editorial pages we are accustomed to seeing in our mainstream press, although it has a lot in common with many of them sometimes. Either the blog entries or the essays in the pages section of the website often venture social commentary if not cultural criticism. It is not a journal in the sense of journal we expect when one sets himself the task of recording daily happenings or experiences or observations; or, as in my own journals, also shopping lists, calculations of expenses, early drafts of poems, or the markings of surrealist sketches. I sometimes include within the pages of my journal: lesson plans or ideas for future lessons; entries on readings, as I used to to do in university, keeping one journal of readings for each English literature class I would take, sometimes making as many as five in a semester; but it would in turn be what is usually expected in a journal of the conventional type. This blog, as other blogs of mine, is organized around what happened that day or what has been thought that day, or some critical observation of events . . . This daily-ness is what seems most generically distinctive of my blog, of all blogs, day in day in again, words in strings, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs.
Blogs, though, are essentially public or partly public, that is, in a proscribed way. My journal is written without the idea that anyone is going to read it, although there might be an occasion when I imagine someone or ones might read my journals after I am dead. But the immediacy of the publishing or the publishing of the immediacy of a blog is what makes it unique among the genres of writing . . . I could publish poetry immediately, which makes a poetry blog or a blog that publishes poems a sort of poetry reading without the author’s audible voice. I could upload video of me reading my poems–and I do publish video content in the blog space, another way in which a blog differs from a journal. I could write a blog journal and keep it private until I die and then leave instructions for the blog to be published. We have to agree that it is a plastic genre, extremely pliant.
I do not write in a blog as I do in my journal. My journals, as alluded to above, have characteristics different from those of most blogs. Audience for one thing is key–although writing to oneself in a blog is possible, but I do not imagine that that would amount to the same thing as writing to myself inside the confines of a bound book I carry with me, along with pen or pencil to write with, for sure, always having pen and paper with me, as Alan Ginsburg once told me and a friend of mine in his office at Brooklyn College one afternoon in the mid eighties. I know that some blogs do mix private journal and public blog, which then becomes more a form of exhibitionism.
As I have said, journals are presumably private, allowing for more forms of exchange, verbally. Is it a column; can entries be essays, can they be letters. I guess so many genres can go into it–it’s almost entirely plastic in the way a novel is a plastic genre. No? Yes, the novel is a thoroughly plastic genre, as Bakhtin said, I can’t say how many decades ago. I have not forgotten the premise and the thesis of his essays collected in translation here in the states under the title, The Dialogic Imagination: the novel was, is, a plastic genre, whereby epic or let’s lyric poem or tragic drama were not plastic, that their generic distinctions were fossilized a long time ago, set at the dawn of literacy. The novel is a modern, even a bourgeois genre and remains plastic, never given the opportunity, let’s say, to fossilize.
I guess a blog is a blog could be the best to say what a blog is; again, truth is found in a tautology. Yes, tables are tables and pigs, pigs; so then a blog is a blog. Observations, comments–yes, there is commentary within the blog as I have said above, and as there is found among the pages. The essays in these “Pages” make up the bulk of the review. Reading the pages takes patience and intelligence, as it also requires, if I may say so, as higher election in literacy. No superficial skimming of the pages will do. I recall what Melville had once said about Hawthorne’s writing, that the latter’s writing deceived the superficial skimmer of pages, as if it were meant to do so. Waiter sweep crumbs off the table with a special skimmer to run along the surface of the table clothe; most readers do no better than the waiter at his table when they read a text.
So, let me say that these blog entries are organized around many different kinds of writing. I imagine we expect this plasticity–that we expect many different kinds or forms of writing to take place within the confines of the blog. They are also autobiographical, the blog entries. They can be factual informational text, reporting or encyclopedic . . . I really do not know what a blog is because it is many things. This is why I do not try to define it anymore, although herein I am making this attempt; however, my attempt to define is in effect to reveal the genres inexplicability. I just write one. I leave what I write and how I write to my instincts. What goes in and what does not go into one, this one, is not as planned as some might assume. They often do have a fragmentary feature to them, entries that arise out of an immediacy that often cannot be anticipated. Sometimes that appear as if they are parts of larger writings, and often times this is true, the larger forms coalescing in the pages section, or simply in the culmination of a period of blog writing, whereby the bog entries will be collected to make a larger bound text.
But who in this world of looking on line, combing pages, or superficially skimming one site after another with little more effort spent on reading what is within the confines of the sites barely penetrated . . . what then happens with this ever mounting pile of words, rubbish, trash, gems . . . how to appraise them is not as difficult as we like to make out that it is. We have the ability to refine our acumen for literature, for the literary, for higher and higher elections in advanced literacy. There is little to do in these pages about alphabetics, the ability to negotiate the alphabet, which enables the achiever in this to negotiate the alphabet, which allows him to spell his name correctly, fill out appropriately and correctly the bureaucracy’s mounting demands for forms and applications, or read the tabloid press.
The blog portion of this Review–and I insist on calling it a review, that is, a literary review, and the latter is used with all the connotations many of you might suspect are elitist and always elitist when assumed by the word ‘literary.’ I have to say that very thing literary is necessarily elitist. It cannot ever be made democratic–not that we have a clue what democratic means either. But the fact that there are so many blogs to read might point to a larger democratizing effect on the internet? I am with Al Smith, that the only answer for the ills of democracy is more democracy; so, if more blog writing–good, bad and other–contributes to this further democratization of America, I am for that. I am not, though, for a debasement or deflation of literary values and aesthetic understanding. That would be a mistake–one that pits popularization as the most accurate synonym of democratizing, one where populism is the only valid expression of democracy. That would be in gross error. More on this to come, I hope.