Thursday, September 03, 2009

`I Don't Play It That Way'

“Silence is more eloquent than speech – a truism; but sometimes something that someone has written excites one’s admiration and one is tempted to write about it…one feels that what holds one’s attention might hold the attention of others. That is to say, there is a language of sensibility of which words can be the portrait – a magnetism, an ardor, a refusal to be false…”

Marianne Moore published the perfectly titled Predilections, a selection of her literary essays, in 1955. The passage above, typically sharp and elegant, is drawn from the volume’s brief foreword. It reads like a defense, against all reason, for blogging: “sometimes something that someone has written excites one’s admiration and one is tempted to write about it.” Of course, one thinks of blogs that are something else – excited discontent or rage, or simply agitated ego. What a privilege it is to read and write what one wishes, with the reasonable hope that others, a few, will share your enthusiasm – “ardor.” Moore’s point, made almost half a century before blogs mutated into being, is that literature is a shifting network of affinities among readers and writers.

Bill Vallicella at The Maverick Philosopher lists eight reasons for operating a blog. All are admirable and many I share, but six and eight best articulate the improvisatory, essayistic (in the etymological as well as the other sense) nature of the enterprise:

“An experiment in what blogging might be good for.”

“An open-ended project some of the purposes of which have yet to emerge.”

I once asked the late baritone player Nick Brignola if he ever knew, note for note, in advance, where a solo was going. He answered, “Sure, but then I don’t play it that way.”

1 comment:

William A. Sigler said...

When I see a maverick philosopher with his blog photo taken the same place mine was taken (the Superstition Mountains), I guess I have to chime in on this wonderful philosophical discussion...

I’ve got nothing bad to say about blogs or bloggers or blog commenters. The word amateur, after all, means lover, and blog amateurs have shown to the world the power of love when it comes to how one gets one’s information. Journalism is irrelevant now in all but name because the hordes of bloggers are each of them an expert in something (if only their own experiences), and they collectively bring a purity of truth (and common sense) one simply can’t find in the hack-filled, media consolidated, consensus-ruled world of print. I rarely read print publications (even in the online versions) anymore, simply because they waste my time—-too often snarky, ill-informed, poorly researched, long-winded. There are dozens of blogs, on the other hand, that I read every day, ranging from syncretic mysticism to the Japanese economy, and they all teach me something about myself in nearly every post.

Book blogging specifically, speaking from the consumer side, seems to present a unique set of challenges because the book culture has been far more resistant to the web revolution than electronic or journalistic medias have. For one, there’s the limit on anything but small excerpts from published, copyrighted books; there’s the dictate among professional writers that nothing that will be published in print can be published beforehand online; there’s the academic persistence in keeping literary scholarship behind password firewalls; there’s financial rewards from amazon to get people to buy books that sends readers to amazon at the first sign of a positive vibe; and on top of that there’s the siege mentality of book purists, who feel like the protestants before them that the internet is coming between them and their book, which they prefer to read by the light of the sun beside gurgling streams where sheep graze.

The good news is that those walls too will soon fall, and you are all really at the vanguard of a whole new way of looking at the power of words. Salut!