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Saturday, Feb 2, 2008

I’m a poor judge, perhaps, but Sarah Boxer’s chin-scratching piece about blogs for the New York Review of Books seems a few years behind the curve. Are people really only discovering now that writing in these so-called “blogs” is more spontaneous and unedited than finished, reported pieces? That it relies on a currency of “links” that take you from one “website” to another on what bloggers playfully call the “internets”? That people who write blogs like attention, which is often their only form of compensation? That blogging is performative?


Boxer was apparently commissioned to compile blog excerpts for a book, and she rightly notes that the idea is somewhat futile; the act of editing (as opposed to linking) blog material would tend to denature it and remove it from the base upon which it relies, the immediate access to the rest of the internet, even if its just to fact check some outrageous claim that’s been made. There may be nothing outside the text, to paraphrase Barthes, but books still seek to create that illusion, while blogs are fully comfortable with intertextuality and their discourse is entirely enriched by it. I would personally find it inconceivable to be reading one blog in isolation—reading blogs means diving into the blogosphere, as part of your routine, in small bites between other bursts of computer-assisted productivity. And it requires the RSS feed aggregator (like Google Reader, for example), which is the blog-equivalent of a book, only it is always growing and requires constant grooming and tending. It makes the idea of someone else compiling seem redundant and limited—a book about blogs would only satsify someone who didn’t really get them, thus all the books about blogs tend to condemn them and their offenses against language and “ethics,” as if journalists would hold themselves to any standard without the threat of libel.


Boxer hails blogging as a realm of viturperative underdogs—a version of the notion n+1 floated about Gawker:


Bloggers are golden when they’re at the bottom of the heap, kicking up. Give them a salary, a book contract, or a press credential, though, and it just isn’t the same. (And this includes, for the most part, the blogs set up by magazines, companies, and newspapers.) Why? When you write for pay, you worry about lawsuits, sentence structure, and word choice. You worry about your boss, your publisher, your mother, and your superego looking over your shoulder. And that’s no way to blog.


Perhaps I am biased by the corner of the blogosphere that I tend to visit (I don’t read gossip blogs, for example), but blogging is starting to be professionalized, with able bloggers being taken up by traditional publications seeking to develop an online presence—Megan McArdle, Matt Yglesias, and Ross Douthat at the Atlantic, for instance. A career path will take shape for those who want to blog professionally, who want to be public thinkers responding in real time to events in a given field of expertise. And the unaffiliated and unpaid will sink to a backdrop, on social network pages, perhaps, and be read mainly by friends and acquaintances. And blog haters will be curled up with their Strunk and White somewhere, fighting the dumb fight against the evolution of living languages.

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