Pushing the Envelope



Although there are probably as many different ideas on what a blog is, and should be, as there are blogs, Dorothea and Jonathon seem to have two very different ideas about what the nature of the kind of blog I write should be. In other words, I’m not talking about linking-blogs, per se, or even private journals that appear to be meant for private consumption by a close-knit group of friends.

I think Dorothea accepts the more traditional (if you can have a tradition for something so new that it doesn’t even appear in a dictionary yet) concept of what a blog should be. In other words, she wants it to be a place where bloggers can honestly discuss important ideas of the day. Although these blogs may often start with the blogger’s technological expertise, they generally move out from this center to broader topics. Recently, these blogs have turned to political discussion, but by nature they seem more devoted to a discussion of life in general, oftentimes to a search for meaning in life. These blogs center on one or two bloggers with a peripheral group that recognizes but may not always link to other members of the same community. One of the strengths of this kind of community is a “shared wisdom” based on the individual strengths of various members. In order for these communities to function well, though, there has to be a shared trust.

That “shared trust” is based not only familiarity with other bloggers, but on the honesty of each of the members. After all, members often argue vigorously over topics of discussion and need to be able to trust that other members are honestly debating the issues, not using hidden agendas to promote other issues.

Jonathon, however, seems to be pushing for a new kind of blog, one that Shelley has recently alluded to with her shift from a technological focus to a literary focus. Since I’m unfamiliar with the Japanese literary tradition Jonathon refers to, I can only guess what kind of tradition he is aiming for. I suspect that whatever format he is trying to evolve will bear some resemblance to Kundera’s writing style in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, with it’s unique mixture of personal experience, philosophical exploration, and story telling, though this is, of course, merely speculation on my part.

I’m not sure that Jonathon’s kind of blog is entirely compatible with the earlier vision discussed, though it certainly shares a lot in common with blogs like Eeksy Peeksy, High Water, and You Live Your Life as if It’s Real. Clearly, though, it’s one thing to read Kundera’s novels, and something quite different to read an individual’s daily blog. Most importantly, it’s more difficult to trust what the author is saying when you know he’s making up much of what he writes about.

Perhaps, though, it’s not too different from what I’ve been trying to do here, using literature to understand who I am and what I believe. While I’ve always tried to stay within the boundaries of personal (t)ruth (Yes, Shelley, there really is a Gavinator), I’ve tried to relate my appreciation of literature to my personal philosophy and to my outlook on the political world. Truly, this is NOT a poetry blog, despite my earlier admission and others’ attempts to put me in that classification. I’m not teaching literature any more; I’m getting ready to die (NO, Dawn, Leslie, etc., not in the next few days, months, or, hopefully years) but I am merely trying to make sense of this life before shifting planes.

Unlike Dorothea, if I read her correctly, I’m looking forward to seeing how Jonathon’s blog proceeds, though I doubt I will ever be able to read it in quite the same way that I used to read it. I’m curious if Jonathon can successfully stretch the limits of blogging by intermixing fiction and fact.

That said, I’m getting off this soapbox and moving back into the shadows of my poetry blog again. If you want to read some excellent commentary on the limits of blogging see:

Language Hat
Gimlie
Alembic
Jeff Ward

6 thoughts on “Pushing the Envelope

  1. A nuance to my argument that a lot of people seem to be missing: I by no means prescribe that all blogs be of the self-disclosing type you attribute to me. I merely say that if you’re going to run something that looks, smells, tastes, etc. like that kind of blog, a fraction of your readers is going to recoil if they find out you’re lying to ’em.

    I admit to being kinda bemused that this is such a horrible thing.

  2. Loren, I’m planning a series of posts on the Japanese literary tradition to which I’ve referred but, in the meantime, your reference to Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn’t too far off the mark since it mixes, as you say, “personal experience, philosophical exploration, and story telling.”

    You write that:

    “Most importantly, it’s more difficult to trust what the author is saying when you know he’s making up much of what he writes about.”

    To which I would reply that there is no shortage of stories and authors whom we trust even as we know they are making up much of what they write about. The problem, which you have clearly explained in this post, is the prevailing (though unwritten) expectation that shared trust amongst bloggers depends on the “honesty of each of the members.” I happen to believe that what many bloggers characterize as honesty in their self-revelatory posts is largely illusory and my interest in “pushing for a new kind of blog” is, in part, based on that belief.

    I was pleased to see that you doubt you will ever be able to read my weblog in quite the same way that you used to — I had no expectation that anyone would continue to read it as they did before. And I’m just as curious as you as to whether or not I can “successfully stretch the limits of blogging by intermixing fiction and fact.” Only time will tell.

  3. Um, that’s Gimlé. And your Alembic link is munged.

    Aside from that, I’m sorry to hear you’re getting off the soapbox. You’re saying some interesting things.

    Jonathon: “stories and authors whom we trust even as we know they are making up much of what they write about”: Yes, we trust the stories as stories and we trust the authors as writers—we trust them to tell us the truth of stories, the truth of the human condition. We do not (if we have any sense) trust them as people; we do not trust them to tell us the truth about their lives, about whether they really spent the afternoon doing the taxes, about whether they love us. This is because, as writers, they have chosen a “higher” truth, the truth of stories. Whether this is in any meaningful sense “higher” is debatable, but it certainly trumps the boring, fact-based truths that (like it or not) govern most of our lives. This is why writers so often ruin the lives of all those incautious enough to get entangled with them; the list of ruined marriages, destroyed friendships, devastated children is endless. I have no patience with people who “won’t read Hemingway because he was misogynist”; on the other hand, I wouldn’t have spent time in the same room with Hemingway if I could help it. What was it Yeats said? “Perfection of the life, or of the work”… you pays your money and you takes your choice. Just please don’t pretend that because you choose to reject plebeian honesty, it doesn’t exist. I do know people I can trust.

  4. Language Hat, I don’t reject “plebian” honesty — I know just as well as you do that it exists, as I know people I can and do trust.

    The honesty I’m calling into question is that contained in the conventional self-revelatory weblog post, which I regard as a highly mediated version of an occurrence in the blogger’s life, masquerading as a transparent account of events that “really happened.”

  5. Fair enough. I don’t think I’ve ever said that my own style of self-revelatory weblog posting was unmediated, however — just that it is not written with premeditated intent to deceive. Insofar as it does deceive, the deception is unintentional.

    I think I’ve also admitted (and if I haven’t, I should have) that there’s no way to unmediated truth, capitalized or un-. I guess what I keep falling down and stubbing my toe is on the notion that because this is so, I’m licensed (indeed, encouraged) to *intentionally* distort my reporting of my perceptions in any way I please, without letting on.

    Then again, I haven’t slept well in several nights, and am probably making a good deal less sense than usual. Not that I make much sense at the best of times.

  6. You make perfect sense, Dorothea. Jonathon, that distinction between unavoidable mediation and intentional falsehood is exactly what I’ve been trying to get at. Sure, nobody knows *the* truth, everybody interprets, all accounts are mediated — but it’s a long, long way from there to “I can say whatever I want!” Just because there’s no such thing as “a transparent account of events that ‘really happened'” doesn’t mean there’s no difference between truth and untruth. Those people you can trust, when they tell you things, you believe them, right? Allowing for their inevitable prejudices, misconceptions, &c., if they say “I feel this” or “I did that” you accept that that’s what they feel, that’s what they did. So why should it make a difference if it’s written down?

What do you think?