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« The Church of PBS | Main | American High Culture Redux »

November 06, 2002

Reflections on blogging

Friedrich --

How have you found the process of blogging? I've found it fascinating. In fact, it's the intellectual/cultural thing that's been most on my mind recently, tiresomely self-reflexive though I'm sure that is. I've found blogging a fun and curious topic to think about, as well as a fun and curious medium to exploit. There are days when I feel the high and crave more, and turn to the computer hungrily, like an addict. There are other days when I don't have the urge at all, and even feel a little disgusted with myself.

But there have been a few things about the process itself that have struck me. The first is that it's its own thing. I don't know about you, but I went into blogging thinking of it as the poor cousin of real writing and publishing. Maybe I could diddle a bit, and maybe I'd get the first draft of a book out of it, or at least cook up a few ideas I might develop in some real medium...

After a few months, I find myself thinking instead: no, it's not a poor excuse for a book or a magazine, it's a blog. I'd been thinking of it as a substitute for something else when it turns out to be its own, fully-absorbing (or at least as-absorbing-as-you-want-it-to-be) activity. These days, I'm feeling no need at all to view what I write here as a preliminary step in any other direction. I'm just happy to be blogging.

Being its own thing, blogging makes its own demands. I went into it, as I've so stupidly gone into many cultural forms, thinking: all right, finally, no formal constraints. Cut loose: finally, I'll have the means to rock on out, unrestricted. Freeform orgy, baby.

Basically, I thought I'd be able to get down most of what passes through my head, and to do so effortlessly. Instead, I find myself putting some real time (in a small way) into these postings, and thinking thoughts like, hmm, I'd better keep each posting to one main topic. (Not easy for me, given my taste for weaving together a lot of disparate, only-loosely-related themes.) I look at the computer screen and think: hmm, better break those paragraphs up, and offer some visual relief and variety. All of which means that, to my shame (but pleasure too), I'm thinking like a magazine editor. So I'm as conscious of effort, and am as consciously attending to form and finish, as ever. And, instead of getting down most of what passes through the noggin, I'm getting down who knows, 10%?

But it turns out that 10% leaves the desk clean enough, as it were. My brain's a little freer of what usually gnaws at it. The frustration of keeping a traditional arts journal was that, enjoyable though it could be to note down reactions and reflections, the journal itself did nothing but gather dust. It was hard not to ask yourself, what's the point? The frustration with traditional book publishing is the laboriousness of it. Who can face it?

Blogging, though, is something else. Something agreeable, something that... Well, this reflection is half-baked, and I'm hoping you can help me bring it along. It's this: I canít think of another art-or-cultural form whose creation is the same thing as its distribution. When you paint a painting, you're then stuck figuring out how to get it seen. When you finish a novel, you then have to face the tedious process of publishing it, and you have to cross your fingers and hope it gets decently distributed.

How do you make the physical thing available -- that's always a weighty question. But it isn't so in blogging. To blog is to create, to publish, and to distribute pretty much all at once. (I know I'm skipping over the "how do I get people to look at my blog" part, and I'm not sure what to make of that, but it still strikes me as different than trying to find a venue for your music, or your sculpture...)

But maybe I'm overlooking some other made-cultural-artifact thing whose creation/distribution arc is even shorter and more direct than blogging's. Can you think of one? If not, I wonder if I can assert the thought that blogging is the most direct cultural-creation medium/form ever.

My final reflection for the day is: Where are the sociology profs? Because a good topic for study is, "Why do some postings attract a lot of comments? Why do some postings stir up interest elsewhere in the blogosphere? And why do some postings sink like a stone?" I have no idea what the answers might be, and very few hunches. I'm just curious. I had no idea that my discussion of the meaning of the word "liberal" (here) would generate any interest, for instance. Yet it did. I'd have thought my observations about literary-fiction writers and genre-fiction writers (here) would create quite a stir, but they died on the vine.

I happened to be swapping emails with Colby Cosh (his website is here) when this was on my mind, so I asked Colby for his hunches and observations. Here's his response:

The only rules of thumb I've found so far are that (1) purely comedic entries get a lot of traffic and (2) people (Americans anyway) have an inexhaustible appetite for intelligent speculation on the Middle East/Islam/the Clash of Civilizations. With regard to the latter, I get the feeling that ordinary people are feeling world-historical forces impacting on them personally, and they are hungry for information, debate, and plain frank talk. It's 14 months now since Sept. 11 and that stuff still gets attention. Anybody could be forgiven for being sick of it, but it seems they aren't. Rightly or wrongly, they're battening down for a second Cold War...

Aside from those rules, it's a bit of a crapshoot, all right.

Maybe it's time for us to begin cracking jokes about the mideast.



posted by Michael at November 6, 2002


I'm an animator working at Sony Imageworks who loves to read your blog. Since I do a fair amount of drawing and design work I have a certain added appreciation for your thoughts on the art related stuff. Fact is, it's all good...from the politics to pop culture. This is the best site on the web to indulge in thinking for fun. Nice work, and thanks.

Posted by: kurt on November 6, 2002 8:57 PM

Good lord, thanks for the compliment -- you're too generous. Very glad to know you're enjoying the blog. We often wonder why arts-and-culture people aren't making more resourceful use of the web, and of blogs? Any idea?

Many thanks for stopping by, as well as for your comments.

Posted by: Michael on November 6, 2002 9:50 PM

There are a lot of art and culture blogs, but a lot of them seem to be written by people who are, well, rather left-leaning, but the sort of leftiness that disdains grubby things like politics, war, etc. And as such they aren't going to attract the main bulk of people who have (pretty much correctly, in my view) decided that while art may be nice to observe, the artists themselves are not always very fascinating personalities, and a lot of people are concerned, like Colby Cosh said, with matters of more immediate import, such as figuring out how to not get killed by Muslim fanatics.

Also, we aren't in the same cultural situation we were in the Cold War with the Soviets. There was a lot of cultural exchange, and cultural propaganda going on because we had something in common with the Russians, and perhaps even the Chinese. We have some things in common with Muslim countries, of varying degrees, but a big difference is the attitude towards women and towards art. Communist countries _did_ at least actively try to bring about equality of the sexes, and to some extent succeeded, though of course the native cultures of all communist or formerly communist countries affected how well that went. Also, the art of most Communist countries was either Western (ballet, modernistic painting, etc.) or influenced by it. (Remember the "Bad Red Chinese Ballet" skit on the original Saturday Night Live?) And of course communism is a Western European belief system.

Now we are dealing with something almost pre-modern, though Islamicist thought is infested with all sorts of Marxist and pseudo-Marxist notions. And there is cultural exchange going on, but it is filtered in a different way. We can't simply bombard these countries with tv shows and ballet tours, and play nuclear footsie with tribal leaders of an "honor-shame" culture that views any kind of "compromise" as synonymous with weakness.

Posted by: Andrea Harris on November 7, 2002 1:56 AM

Andrea -- I'd be grateful if you could supply a URL or two to left-leaning arts blogs. I've only stumbled across a couple so far, and am curious to see what more of them are like.

Thanks, Michael

Posted by: Michael on November 7, 2002 8:30 AM

Oh man, you mean you want me to go dig those up? I'll have to look at them again! (Wince, wince.) Okay okay -- seriously, I'll look some up for you. I may even have some bookmarked in my "art" folder in my favorites list.

Here's a good place to start just for neat arty sites, though (not all are blogs): Jeffrey Zeldman's site is a web design center for all things webby and arty, and he has lots of links.

Posted by: Andrea Harris on November 9, 2002 4:22 PM

Many thanks, Andrea. I appreciate the link and will check it out.


Posted by: Michael on November 9, 2002 6:15 PM

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