Tuesday, September 26, 2017

`When It Ceases to Be Valued'

The memories are frayed but I think it was Dave Lull who introduced us, a matchmaker setting up an unlikely blind date. In spring 2008, I left Houston for Seattle, following my wife’s job, and I returned, gratefully, in 2011. In 2009, David Myers left Houston for Columbus, Ohio, grudgingly, following his wife’s job. We just missed living in the same town at the same time. When David launched A Commonplace Blog in October 2008, we already lived some 2,300 miles apart. Shortly after that, Lull worked his magic, and for six years Myers and I exchanged thoughts, juicy quotes, pep talks, smut, gossip and invective almost daily.

“Unlikely” because David was an academic and a critic, and I am not. Emotionally, he was wound tighter than me. He made more noise and was more digitally savvy. His mind was more analytical. He was politically engaged in ways I could never be. He was an Orthodox Jew and I remain a spiritual independent. But we shared a love of family, friends, books, movies, good writing and literary tradition.

David had a goatish appetite for contemporary fiction, one I hadn’t shared since my twenties. He was forever conjuring projects, and one of his earliest was “Best American fiction, 1968–1998.” It started with his blog post, followed by my response three days later. Then David merged the lists. Follow the links to enjoy the ensuing shit storm of self-righteousness. David helped open my eyes to the ignorance and hatred that often passes for discourse in the bookish precincts of the blogosphere.

David was a rabble-rouser and pot-stirrer, but he surprised me by taking seriously the negative comments and ad hominem assaults of people he didn’t respect. Everyone understands that the internet is a democracy accessible to any moron with an opinion. Most comments say nothing about the nominal matter at hand. They are all about puffing up the commenter, and are seldom worthy of attention. David always had to respond. For this reason, especially in his final year, he relied heavily on Twitter.

Today is David’s Yahrzeit. The cancer he documented dispassionately but with feeling killed him on Sept. 26, 2014, and the world still seems like a less interesting place.  In September 2009, again at his urging, we organized a symposium, “The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time.” In the fourteenth and final installment, David has his say. He writes about himself when writing about all of us, and calls for “. . . book bloggers who are committed to argument—who are sworn to defend the books they cherish from those who would make a hash of them, who understand that the literary heritage can be lost, as most of Sappho’s poetry was lost, when it ceases to be valued.”

We are fortunate that David’s family has preserved A Commonplace Blog. If a young person were to read it and follows the links, he or she would possess the rudiments of a first-rate literary education. They too could learn "the secret handshake that passes between those who have spent a life among books.”

No comments: