Goodness, is it that long since I’ve posted? Time flies when you’re buried under committee meetings.
Given that it’s been a while, I should talk about blogging itself. I’m occasionally asked by colleagues how I manage to find the time to write this blog. The answer, of course, is that often I don’t find the time. But it’s also that I promised myself when I started that I’d only blog when I felt the impulse strongly and felt I could say something that wasn’t just a “me too”. So sometimes a week or two goes by where there are things to say but I don’t feel all that strongly about saying them or they’ve been said already by the time I might get around to it. No problem: I’m not doing this in order to savagely hold on to my share of attention.
There’s been talk that blogs are over and Twitter and Facebook are king. I meant to say something about this issue when the end of Bitch Ph.D was announced, since that was an important blog for me and many other people. I think it’s only half-right to say that the day of the blog is done.
No matter what alternative venues might come into existence, many blogs were going to have finite lifespans. Even group blogs are not really publications with an identity that stands apart from their authors, into which new authors can come and old ones depart while the blog continues steadily along. Any blog makes sense only at a particular time in its author’s (or authors) life. They’re hard to maintain. At some point, either the author either moves on to some other kind of writing or publication, gets too busy to maintain it, or simply feels worn out by the exposure and repetition involved in long-form online writing.
The repetition used to worry me a lot. It still does sometimes, but I’ve come to realize that there are always new readers who haven’t read me holding forth on some subject that I’ve written about before. Or sometimes I find in writing something that I’ve discovered a new angle or emphasis on an old theme. The exposure didn’t used to worry me and now worries me more. It is hard to write about national politics in the way that I still commonly talk about politics with friends and colleagues because most public, political talk feels like sandpaper over a sunburn to read. It feels impossible for me to say anything that isn’t banal and vaguely stupid and even more impossible to not to simply be a linking point in some other person’s even more banal and stupid mapping of all the people he or she hates in the world.
I often find myself trying to reconcile how it might be possible to appreciate smart, witty written invective or criticism (whether it’s about political issues or scholarly ones) and yet feel somehow as if the last thing in the world that I want any longer is something that’s unkind. When I read someone sandblasting the cultural landscape bare in order to assault a novel or a scholarly article or a pundit, I feel an almost physical weariness, a diminishment of spirit. And then I’ll feel the fire in me and want to do the same thing to some wretch who I think is dragging us all down to hell, and rediscover that my pen (like so many others) is so much livelier when it has a target. Lord of the Rings reference incoming for the geeks: Mopey middle-aged Theoden is about as much fun as a fogbank. Theoden shouting “DEATH!!! and gutting orcs with a spear is the kind of guy you want to hang around with.
I don’t know how to work out that relationship satisfactorily. But it doesn’t drive me away from blogging, not yet. Aggregator blogs were never going to last long: Twitter does that better. Confessional and social blogs were never going to last long: media designed for social connection do that better. Long-form writing that is nevertheless more spontaneous and interactive than journal articles or published essays, on the other hand, doesn’t yet have an alternative venue. I doubt it will. There’s still a place for that kind of work online: indeed, in many respects, Twitter and similar media forms depend upon the existence of content elsewhere to point at and spark off of.