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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
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11/10/2008

Comments

Jonathan M

Hi Daniel :-)

Thanks for the response.

I think retrenchment or rather 'specialisation' is unfortunately the way forward. Ideally the people who write for and read critblogs would be able to somehow 'retake' the pubic sphere and make people aware that they're just babbling back and forth furthering commercial interests for free but as Eagleton points out (and it matches my experiences of trying to do exactly that), people tend to see such attempts as people being 'killjoys' looking to spoil their fun and you can't really answer that because, in a sense, it's quite correct.

So retrenchment then...

Chris

I may be mistaken in my impression, but it seems to me that a lot of litbloggers don't necessarily have the capacity or desire to write sustained criticism. They simply want to be "close" to literature and so they blog, in the same spirit that moved poor Christie Malry to assume that working in a bank would be satisfactory because he wanted to be "close" to money. By no means do I include all, or even most, bloggers in this category, though it does seem to me that those inclined toward critique to begin with have found a perfect medium in blogging, while those inclined toward compulsive self-expression (aka blogging) have found an imperfect rationalizing principle in criticism. It's tough, after all, to come up with anything freshly interesting to say about even the books or authors one knows well, let alone the onslaught of new works and authors to be assimilated and placed in some kind of context, particularly if one feels compelled to post once, twice, sometimes four or five times per day. So we have YouTube videos, hamfisted political commentary, and disproportionately hostile broadsides delivered against "industry" figures, mixed in with "book" commentary that ranges from the ridiculous to the, ah, less ridiculous. Add to that the odd tone (on some blogs) of servility that creeps in, the bewildering doublethink whereby the proud blogger makes it absolutely and perhaps unconsciously plain that the only gig he or she *really* values is the print gig, the snapping turtle reaction to anything resembling criticism (i.e., discourse), and you have the strangely hostile, turf-defending environment I find at many blogs.

LML

My impression corresponds with Chris's. And I'd add that, having briefly attempted to maintain a blog myself, I found the expectation of constant posting to be entirely at odds with my hope of writing seriously about books. No one reads a blog that's only updated once or twice a month, but once or twice a month is, I think, about as often as we can expect any critic to make a serious original argument.

Edmond  Caldwell

The only thing I don't quite understand about the "retrenchment" argument is the following: Was there ever a period (in the relatively few years that blogging has been a cultural phenomenon) when litbloggers - or rather at least the critically serious litbloggers - thought that their efforts might actually be able to alter the field of play? That they weren't from the start necessarily going to be addressing only a narrow, self-selecting group, "fit audience, though few"?

I'm not asking this to raise an objection, either, but really as a point of information, as someone coming to lit-blogging relatively late. I have heard a few folks remark on their blogs, for instance, that the glory days are already over, that a high-water mark was reached, say, a year or two ago; that there was a two- or three-year Golden Age (coinciding with the lifespan, for example, with The Sharp Side, one of my favorites) that has already come to an end, etc etc etc (they're saying it more subtly than this, but that's the gist). Had there also been, back in that earlier phase, a sort of Young Turk optimism about influencing the public sphere that is no longer with us?

Also, I just want to add that I really resonate to what Chris and LML wrote, speaking as someone just starting out with lit & crit blogging. I feel pressure to post more than I am able and inclined to, because I can see how precipitantly the traffic drops off if one waits too long. But I also wonder, to take up Chris's point that "a lot of litbloggers don't necessarily have the capacity or desire to write sustained criticism," if that isn't also true for a lot of the readers of litblogs?

Dan Green

"Was there ever a period (in the relatively few years that blogging has been a cultural phenomenon) when litbloggers - or rather at least the critically serious litbloggers - thought that their efforts might actually be able to alter the field of play?"

I can only speak for myself. When I began blogging, which is now almost five years ago, I hoped to capitalize on a new medium for literary criticism/discussion, a medium that at the time was, for lit crit, still new and almost pristine. I thought I might be able to "alter the field of play" only to the extent that I might bridge a gap between existing academic criticism and non-academic readers. I didn't think *all* such readers could be persuaded to read "sustained criticism" but did think some could be, especially if that criticism was written in more or less comprehensible English, avoided theoryspeak, and focused on the literary qualities of literature. (The original subtitle of this blog was "A Literary Literary Weblog," as some people might remember.)

In effect, I hoped to straddle a line between academic criticism (of the older, text-based kind) and a generalist literary audience, appealing to a portion of each audience. I think I've more or less succeeded at this, but I have now reluctantly conceded that many of the original literary blogs have allied themselves with the "public sphere" and that blogs like this one really aren't going to "influence" that sphere very much. But as the litblogosphere as a whole has increased in size, I also find there *is* an audience for sustained criticism online and would like to focus on cultivating that audience.

Steven Augustine

EC, Dan, Chris, LML, et al: I think the constant, rapid-turnover-cycle default is one of the more intellectually corrosive (and spiritually debilitating) traps of Litblogging. There's just no way on earth for anyone to produce *so much* content and maintain a high standard (of quality, originality and *necessity*) for more than a couple of years (if that). There are Litbloggers who've posted, in a short time, more words than Edmund Wilson published in his whole career. This is absurd, obviously. Dangerous, possibly.

There will be a natural correction (soon, I feel) and readers will learn to accept the fundamental distinction between Daily Light Fare/Diary-style blogs and Sustained Criticism/Serious Fiction Sites and reasonably expect the latter to tend towards the saner weekly, monthly or even semi-annual standard of production. I believe, at that point, the "Golden Age" will actually *commence*.

As it is, we have the curious spectacle of lots of possible Ingres's and Daumiers and Dürers and Closes in a bizarre speed contest with ADD kids wielding krylon and burning out. The krylon "wins" but the contest is silly.

Not giving a damn about traffic, my primary site is basically a completed book (of about 600 pages of fiction)... I just shuffle the 50-plus stories through the "most recent post" position. If I worried about popularity strategies, I'd lose all interest in online publishing.

PS: EC: will answer your query on my comment on your post when I have the time to do it well! (laugh)

Finn Harvor

Critblogosphere + ficblogosphere = cultural influence

Edmond  Caldwell

Thanks for that response, Dan. It seems to me like a completely clear-headed formulation of TRE's objectives and estimation of its success. It's understandable that at the inception of a new medium there'd be a sort of "first flush" enthusiasm that might have to be tempered by later results, but it doesn't sound like you ever succumbed to wildly inflated expectations in the first place. And I admire you for having stuck it out way beyond the usual 2-3 year average bloglife without either succumbing to Amazon.com ads, on the one hand, or throwing in the towel on the other. And without recycling old posts like that shady character, Augustine!

Onward to the commencement of the Golden Age.

Steven Augustine

EC:

I'll be lurking in the shadows as the light dawns...

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