Saturday, February 26, 2005

Pepys Revenge: The Blog Strikes Back

The discussion over at AmbivaBlog on the literary forebears of blogging, the Blogfathers, got me thinking that despite the apparent revolutionary nature of blogging, it is in many ways old fashioned, even reactionary. The medium may be new, but the means are not.

In this era of visual images, moving pictures, and declining readership, blogs are reviving the old traditions of the written word—traditions represented by letter writing, pamphlets, broadsides, diaries, and journals.

But blogging also taps into another old tradition: the tradition of the engaged reader; the reader, like Coleridge, jotting marginalia beside important passages or copying passages and commenting on them in a journal. Something I’ve been doing since college.

In a recent Slate article (hat tip: the always astute AmbivaBlog) Josh Levin lashes out at bloggers by comparing them to rappers (for a good laugh, read the whole piece). He says, “Essentially, blogging is sampling plus a new riff. Political bloggers take a story in the news, rip out a few chunks, and type out a few comments.” This is supposed to be derogatory, but I am thinking, great. This means people are engaged readers. Why as Pattercio (hat tip: Iconic Midwest) points out is the MSM so quick to bash the very people that are taking the time to read them and are engaged enough to comment. The MSM should be happy such folks exist. (Or do they prefer us just to be docile and hand over our hard-earned cash for their product?)

This leads to another old tradition. Blogging, and political blogging in particular, is also an extension of the letter-to-the-editor and the op-ed page. But now more voices can be heard and the writer has more opportunity/space to express his or her ideas and opinions.

None of this is meant to suggest that blogging is only a reaction to the MSM. The best blogs offer original and thoughtful commentary on a variety of subjects—commentary that is often much better than anything found in the MSM.

One thing that makes blogging different from all of these traditions are links. The fact that one blog leads to another and another then to an article and so on is great—creating a web of ideas, a collective consciousness that can be tapped into at a moments notice. Books and articles can provide this as well, but not with a simple click of the mouse.

From Orwell to Althouse, from Paine to Sullivan, from the Frankfurt School to Old Town Review Chronicles, from Coleridge to Josh Corey, from Burke to the Captain’s Quarters, blogs are reviving the old traditions of the written word, the engaged reader, and informed debate. Viva las blogs!

Update: For anyone interested, some hardy soul is publishing every daily entry from Pepys diary as a daily blog post.


At 4:21 PM, Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner said...

This is an interesting post and there are many thought provoking ideas in it.

With regards to Josh Levin's point equating blogging with sampling in rap (or rock or hip-hop), I thik this is in every important respect wrong. This mostly stems from the difference in the written word and music (here defined as melody.) Music is affective, it can produce an emotional response (at its best) and that is what sampling "steals" from one source and grafts onto another. Nothing gets added in the process. The "affective moment" is identical. in some sense music is an end in itself.

The written word is fundamentally different. It is meant to provoke a reader, but not in the sense of limited emotive reactions. You engage with the written word at the level of ideas. When you are provoked to responding to the written world you enter that world of ideas yourself. If we were to take Levin's criticism at face value NOTHING could ecape from it. Every piece of writing is in some ways a response to other pieces of writing. In that sense, we always "sample" each other. But we always add something as well, at least that is what we try to do.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger David Leftwich said...

As T.S. Eliot said, ""Good writers borrow. Great writers steal."


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