Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blogging about writing

And now, writing (in a blog) about blogging about writing. Lance Mannion, whose blog a friend turned me on to, is quite entertaining. Today he takes issue with a novelist (Richard Ford) who says that "a literary blogger is just "some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute."" (forgive the double quotation). Mannion's reply, in part (the whole is very long, but worth it):

...what does Ford think that guy is doing in his basement in Terre Haute?

My guess is he's writing a novel.

And this is something Ford's got to know. Most great novelists started out as some guy or gal sitting in a basement, or an attic or a cheap rented room, in some place as obscure and far away from literary glamor and greatness as Terre Haute---some of those obscure and far away places were in Paris and New York, the distance and obscurity is spiritual and metaphorical but very real to that guy or gal.

A few years from now Richard Ford will be blurbing that guy from Terre Haute's new novel.


There is a growing reaction from many sides of the mainstream media toward these darn bloggers, with the freedom to say what they want without having to have, y'know, earned the right to speak in public. I'm seeing it from the political reporting side particularly, but also here and in a few other places (like the SFWA's recent dustup about authors who post their work online, which spawned a whole movement in backlash). What Ford is saying, essentially, is, "I don't want my work reviewed and dissected by some schmoe."

There are plenty of smart people out there who for one reason or another haven't succeeded at making a vocation out of their avocation, but remain passionate about it nonetheless. In the sports world, Henry Abbott was recently hired to blog professionally by ESPN. Has his content changed now that he's "certified"? Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon, professionally, and he's one of the smartest political reporters I've ever read. All Ford has done in making this remark is underscore that credentials are not a predictor of being in touch with people, or even of doing a good job.

1 comment:

Ned Sanyour said...

I totally get how some author who has written books and criticism that have gotten published could be annoyed at being lambasted by someone in a blog-and then be more annoyed when asked about it! I bet it is the being asked that gets the most annoying...

I think his comments are annoying to me because the author is saying, "I don't care what common readers think about my books." But then I thought about it, and read your comments, and realized that just makes him a literary snob, like James Joyce (who also really did not care if people didn't get his writing.) And that is OK.

Let's look at scale: A book that sells really well is hundreds of thousands of copies. That is not a lot of people -- no one writes for the mass of people at this point, even 'best sellers,' so I can't blame the guy for not caring what schmoes think. I mean, I met a woman a while ago who didn't know what I meant by the genre of Fantasy-- she thought those were books with Fabio on the cover. You are NOT writing for her, nor is Terry Pratchett.

This author guy spent years and years studying, writing, talking to critics, learning to think like other literary folk, and creating books that are a dialogue with other books and criticism by authors I have not read.

His quote is not just "shut up, Terre Haute. I am published and you are not, so I am better." (Although that is an understandable response.) It is, "You know, the blogger isn't secretly Joyce Carol Oates, or someone else who has gone through the same catechism I have. It is some outsider and is irrelevent to me and my work."

I think I can see how, especially for a Literary Writer, who the critic *is* really does have significance. What did you study? What is your school of analysis? What are your preconceived notions? And the real question... are you part of the dialogue/world that I am? Because, "I liked it!" is not a valid criticism. Literary criticism is more stifling and intellectual, just as whatever he wrote was not meant to be fun to read.

That guy who writes The Word Detective had a funny line about the whole thing in his definition of "fisking" when he said, "So now there are a gazillion "blogs," and many of them are political, usually maintained by people who care passionately about politics and have all sorts of novel ideas, but for some mysterious reason cannot get published in mainstream media."
Somehow, I value someone more who has outlets than just a blog.

It also might be the whole "credentialing" as you put it is something that I do value. It isn't just that, in theory, someone with an affiliation will be more responsible. I remember taking a course where the instructor told us to research the authors of the books we were given to read before we read them. Each author would have a slant, a bias, and some might have backgrounds that might make my response to their commentary different. I really think that is important.

Ironically, I think credentialing is less make-or-break in politics -- where you notice some attacks on bloggers occurring. I think it is OK to boil it down to, "I don't like Clinton," or whatever is being discussed. You really *do* get to vote on those issues, so saying what you feel is pretty valid.

However, if you are commenting on law, or medicine, or the place of a painting in the continuum of fine art, I want to know if you are using "common sense" to tell me what you think or a knowledge of contract law/skin disease/Cezanne's influence on Picasso.

There is some noise I heard about wikipedia being problematic coming from (of all places) the Open Source community. Something to the effect of while you can check to see if code is better by testing performance and accuracy and results, you really can't tell if a given set of descriptions is "better" or not. It is an interesting point, really.

Or, as Pope John Paul II said, "You don't get to vote on the truth. It just is."

I think I might have sympathy for his comment because I also feel that 'blogs' get too much respect from the mainstream media. In that, I disagree with you that they are being scorned. I really haven't noted any anti-blog taint to the news or anything. In fact, the opposite; I think newspapers see it as a bandwagon they don't want to miss, and maybe they think that bloggers are at least reading, and so an easier conversion than TV watchers. Locally, the Phila. Inquirer has a bit of a "blogs summary" column it runs. Maybe the commentary comes from people directly challenged by the blogs; using the "who said this criticism" technique is useful in that regard... which is what the author is suggesting is important.

Erased this accidentally once already, so sorry- I am sure it is disjointed but I am posting out of fear.