Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If not me, who? If not now, when?

Well, if not me, then the eighteen million other bloggers wasting your time. And if not now, then later. Isn't that second question rhetorical? I mean, the answer can't be: If not now, then in the past. Unless you've perfected time travel.

It really is eighteen million blogs out there. I know this because I heard it a few weeks ago at the Conde Nast building in Times Square, where I watched a roundtable on blogging, moderated by New Yorker writer Ken Auletta and featuring, among others, Ana Marie Cox, known for her political blog, Wonkette. Everyone involved worked very hard – and often convincingly – to defend blogs as a legitimate journalistic practice, but I keep going back to something Cox said, which is that journalistic blogs would die without traditional media to link to, comment on, quarrel with, etc. In other words, blogs are like barnacles. And those are just the practical ones – I suppose the vast majority of blogs, which are proudly unpractical, are maintained by unconnected people who are intensely interested in some idiosyncratic subject like Armenian studies or dishware or their own brokenhearted loneliness.

I was thinking the other day that the entire enterprise is mainly a way to fend off a fear of death. The title of this blog comes from a Philip Larkin poem, “Aubade,” that alludes to this fear. Here’s the relevant verse:

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear -- no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

The entire poem, some of it even better than the relevant verse, can be found here.

This theory of blog-as-metaphysical-salve made sense to me, because you often hear more traditional writing described as a sneaky way of keeping yourself around after you’re gone. Think of Dickens or Whitman or Tolstoy – they seem to have gotten the better of death, or at least pushed death to five sets, which most of us won’t do, let’s be frank. They became, in some real way – even if it’s just a real metaphorical way – immortal. I do think that this desire to live on underpins many a writer’s ambitions, hoary and obvious as the theory sounds, and so it would make sense to hear the web's chatter as a vast chorus of “Look at me before I die!”

The problem is this: I don’t think many bloggers, perhaps especially the political ones, expect their work to have more than a temporary relevance. So they seem to be inspired less by a fear of eternal silence than a fear of being ignored in the moment. Why do so many of us fear that? Aside from the strictest hermits or the most socially unacceptable among us, don’t we get some worthwhile attention every day? Why is the chorus shouting “Look at me before you leave work!”?

I’m not sure why, but I’m joining in. There’s something that feels paltry about it, no doubt. But I have a fair number of enthusiasms – books, music, sports (including those that almost no one my age cares about, like horse racing), my neuroses, reconciling my northern and southern experiences, and writing, which I do far too infrequently, even for someone who’s not very good at it. So I’ll use this space to recommend things, update the few of you I know personally, and basically create some new brocade to pretend I’ll never die.

Shall we?

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2 Comments:

Blogger MQM said...

Hey there - I will be looking in on you before you die. Funny how these things come about - I presume you are familiar with Fat Mammy Cat? (you'll find her) Her blog led me to Pajiba which led me here. Here's what Eric Schmidt had to say about blogs
http://mqmurphy.blogspot.com/2007/01/devoted-reader.html
Well, he actually had a lot to say - but that was one of the things that my limited retention allowed me to pass along.
Best wishes on your enterprises.

6:27 PM  
Blogger gwen said...

Hi there. I like your weblog. Mind you, I have an *extremely* short attention span when it comes to reading weblogs (and almost never bother), so this is a weightier compliment than it first appears.

And it's endearing that your friends are consistent commenters; they really add - er, I hesitate to say depth ;), but maybe dimension? So far I haven't had much luck with engendering similar behaviour in my friends. Embarrassingly, my most faithful commentator is...my mom.

Anyway, you might like my site:
http://tying-the-cat.blogspot.com/ ...if you have time to look at it, which I'm sure you _don't_ because you're a writer, and writers are necessarily busy all the time, aren't we? Aren't we?? Hey, get back to work, JMW. That book isn't gonna write itself.

Best, Gwen

12:57 PM  

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