Dead Letters

Correctly, it seems, if belatedly, book blogging is pronounced dead. That the ‘golden age’ of book blogging is passed seems hardly worth debating. The conversation in diminished form is taking place elsewhere or perhaps nowhere. Whatever your passion or interest, blogging itself died as the marketing departments moved in offering swag and the illusion of influence.

Social media, occasionally blamed for distracting fickle blog readers, simply threw some dirt on a coffin that was already being lowered into the ground. For a moment, it seemed to offer an alternative, but was always destined a place for commerce, less agora and more commercial break without the intervening substance. There is still a possibility of connection, of finding a handful of people that get excited by the same set of things, but the anonymity of social media leaves you open to distraction from the type of opinionated men you’d cross the room to avoid at parties. I think a lot about Seth Godin’s comment in his On Being interview, “We are flying too low. We built this universe, this technology, these connections, this society, and all we can do with it is make junk? All we can do with it is put on stupid entertainments. I’m not buying it.”

All sorts of ‘dead’ languages are studied today, some less ‘dead’ than others. Literature may be dead, literary criticism is dying, serious novels are in steep decline, yet we continue to read. There is still the frisson of my RSS reader signalling a new post at This Space or flowerville. The book blog died a long time ago, but keep reading the ones you love as zombies in any part of human culture remain as effective as ever at reducing their subject to the bare, intricately nuanced essentials.

16 thoughts on “Dead Letters

  1. It’s notable that that article can cite only blogs that are visible to their commercial eyes. I thought the Millions was a magazine rather than a blog, and the only two names I recognise as ex-bloggers seem to be mentioned because they have moved on and become commercial. Serious book blogging has always been ignored by ‘professionals’, so it won’t make any difference.

  2. A wise man once said:
    “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

  3. Quite a bit of what was popularly referred to as the “conversation” of online Lit Chat was actually an argument (quite often heated), the value of which went underappreciated at the time and the legality of which becomes less certain everyday. Whatever is left of legacy-media/ paper-printed Lit “Crit” (and its online stooge-force) is just cheerfully hyperbolic advertizing pushing a product I would compare to laundry detergent but for the fact that most laundry detergent actually works. So many well-hyped, prize-grabbing books are terrible while the “reviews” are glowing… of course general interest is declining even further. The “conversation” has quieted to the sound of some of the fastidious, book-mad reader/writers who were there from the beginning, never in it for book deals or magazine gigs, obsessed and knowledgeable and strange. Too many sites died or went feeble when their comment sections were shut down or were modded into toothlessness; too many sites never really got that those couple-hundred book-mad cranks I referenced, just now, were driving the “conversation”… shilling for Amazon or angling for low-fame and paychecks was never the point. There may or may not be a spiritual dimension to being a happily-word-soaked wretch but many of us will keep at it as though there is.

  4. “IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE” (Samuel Beckett)

    I have never believed in the dividing of recent history up into “generations” or into “eras” or “ages”. These divisions have always seemed to come from people who saw themselves as central figures and key exemplars of a particular generation or epoch. From their point of view I would seem to be an “in-between” phenomenon, not exemplary enough, or an outdated late-comer, out of touch and behind the times. All this is Chronos, externally imposed mechanical time. I have always felt “untimely” in relation to such classifications, sometimes sadly, sometimes proudly, most often at a loss.

    I came to philosophical blogging late, and the conversations that interested me were already well under way. I was not welcomed to these conversations and it took me some time to understand this fact. There was the paradox of a small and closed clique seemingly addressing the world, but basically in mutual admiration and reciprocal promotion. The careerist aspect became clear as these bloggers passed on to academic careers and book publishing. The vampiric aspect showed itself in my being ripped off (occasionally) but banned (never to be mentioned). There was no real Bataillean excess, abundance, incandescence and giving but miserly investing.

    These are some of the pathologies of the blogosphere, and I am glad that many of the blogs that exemplified them are extinct. They do not define an epoch, but my misunderstanding of their nature inspired me to begin blogging, my way. Perhaps they misunderstood themselves (some of them, partially, at first). They explored a golden possibility, and when it turned to dust between their fingers they proclaimed that the “golden age” was finished, as they turned towards other sorts of gold (that any alchemist would call base).

    So much dead matter being removed means that book blogging is more “alive” than ever, with the untimely intensity of bare life, without the extraneous stakes. We blog because we love it. We love reading, and we love sharing.

    Perhaps “extimacy” characterises this sort of experience. I kept a diary for thirty years before I began blogging, but since then it has faded into the background (never entirely ceased). Something changes when you formulate your intimate thoughts for an unknown outside gaze. You realise that “intimate” is not always synonymous with “private”, and that such expression is takes place in the no man’s land between inner and outer. Book blogging is neither just about the books, nor covertly about the narcissistic ego, it has its own form of incandescence. I see no death here, only life conveyed through extimate intensities.

    Thanks for your blog, the fruit of otium rather than of negotium.

    • What a blog shares with a diary, and I maintain a private written reading diary, is the shock of discovering what you were reading and thinking years earlier. I remember quite well what I read, but am virtually amnesiac about my writing here on the blog. And, yes, my now ten years writing here are evidence indeed of otium and a love of reading, writing and sharing. Blogging has made me a more attentive reader.

  5. Pingback: BLOGGING DEAD BLOG ON: on the « death  of book blogging | «AGENT SWARM

  6. Thank you (again) for being such a useful guide through what’s increasingly a marketplace rather than…a chautauqua? Or something. It’s harder than it ought to be to find readers who seek something other than comfort in the reading experience (now there’s a blog.) Looking at the above comment, I find myself thrilled by “extimacy,” and wished I hadn’t dredged up “chautauqua,” though I won’t pretend I didn’t.

    • “Chautauqua” is fine by me. I first encountered it in Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “I try always to pick a book far over his head and read it as a basis for questions and answers, rather than without interruption. I read a sentence or two, wait for him to come up with his usual barrage of questions, answer them, then read another sentence or two. Classics read well this way. They must be written this way. Sometimes we have spent a whole evening reading and talking and discovered we have only covered two or three pages. It’s a form of reading done a century ago-when Chautauquas were popular. Unless you’ve tried it you can’t imagine how pleasant it is to do it this way”. “Extimate” is from Lacan, and I’ve never had much use for it until now. I am closer to Pirsig than to Lacan in my ideas, but there seems to be a common core to both in the composition of “inner” depth and outer circumstance into an artful whole.

  7. Pingback: And it seemed right, I mean rite, to me – the [blank] garden

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