Friday, January 28, 2011

Chabon on blogging

The author in less bloggy times.
OK, then, since Rhian likes it so much, here's a follow-up to that last post about engaging the world.  Michael Chabon did some pinch-hitting over at The Atlantic this week, and departed with some reflections upon the experience.

Novelist time is reptile time; novelists tend to be ruminant and brooding, nursers of ancient grievances, second-guessers, Tuesday afternoon quarterbacks, retrospectators, endlessly, like slumping hitters, studying the film of their old whiffs. You find novelists going over and over the same ground in their novels [...] configuring and reconfiguring the same little set of preoccupations, haunted by missed opportunities. That may be because getting a novel written, or a bunch of novels, means that you are going to miss a lot of opportunities, and so missing them is something you have to be not only willing but also equipped by genes and temperament to do. Blogging, I think, is largely about seizing opportunities, about pouncing, about grabbing hold of hours, events, days and nights as they are happening, sizing them up and putting them into play with language, like a juggler catching and working into his flow whatever the audience has in its pockets. 
Then there's that whole business of the Comments.

The first thing that occurs to me, reading that, is that Chabon spent way too much time on that paragraph--you can tell he's new to writing for the internet.  The second is that, of course, he's quite right--if you assume blogging to be a particular kind of thing.  The thing he thinks it is, is, indeed, what it usually is.  But one thing I like about litblogging, as opposed to, say, tech blogging, is that it specifically doesn't depend upon timeliness and close attention.  It can be contemplative.  One can write about things published thirty years ago, that nobody is making any money on.  One can blog in reptile time, as he puts it.

The blog, like any technology, has many uses.  Zen sandbox is one of them.  Not that, say, responding to Anis Shivani posts is remotely zen--but engagement is a choice, level of engagement is a choice.  One can ask a litblog to fit into one's writing life, to support and nurture it.  Which I think this one has done for us.  Otherwise we wouldn't have kept it going for (!) four years.


jon said...

To me, blogging was a revelation of a kind of writing I didn't think I could do. I blog about the pleistocene as if it were yesterday, and about today as if were a million years old. Speed is of the essence. As you say, there's no need to be topical, but the writing itself has to be fast. Even long posts that no one reads (I write essays sometimes on Southeast Asian Historiography for god sake) have to be fast. I might revise one for weeks, or dash one off in a few minutes. It might be three sarcastic lines or 8 pages. It is instant, it is free. I guess it's like having a weekly or daily column, but no editor.

Günter said...

I thought that about every one of his posts while he was blogging for the Atlantic--that he spent way too much time on the language. It stressed me out, as a reader and a writer, just thinking about how much pressure it would be to maintain that polish on a regularly updated blog--of any kind, literary, political, whatever. I wonder if Chabon's capable of spitting out a quick couple of paragraphs that don't include elaborate lists and Nabokovian details and allusions and metaphors, and that don't have that big essayistic tone. No wonder he doesn't keep a blog of his own. (To be clear I like Chabon.)

rmellis said...

Hm, he's using a lot of words to say not much: When you're giving a lecture, it's different from talking on the phone! When you write a diary, it's different from a grocery list!

Dylan Hicks said...

Do any of his blog posts say where he got that shirt?

Sung said...

That shirt! It's like somebody threw up a bunch of parameciums. But at the same time, it takes cojones to wear loudness like that.

For me, everything I do that isn't writing is a source of guilt, and the fact that blogging is a form of writing makes it somehow worse for a lot of writers. Like you're cheating on your novel by writing on your blog, you know?

I don't necessarily agree with this viewpoint, but some writers believe that there's a limited number of words in their tank, and that using them for blogging will take them away from their novel or short story or whatever...

- Sung

Sasha said...

I like the shirt. Only a happy person could wear it.

Anyway, I don't blog because a one-person blog is a sad, sad thing. I go on message boards and forums instead. Which is just as time-consuming but isn't so "rage into the void"-y. The internet isn't made for rumination, it's made for discussion.

violentbore said...

I would like to have the cojones to wear silence. I'd wear a silent suit and shy oxfords to a loud diner with easy waiters wearing loose and free a little too freely and ketchup stains on the insides of their pockets and aprons. I'd be creased and pleated and clean and bold and quiet enough, and they would rage about #52 and look to me and to the void under the heat lamps and back to me and to the lamps again as they realign their pens and talk about whatever it is they really talk about when they're not talking about what we might eat if we can't eat dairy or meat or things with cilantro or whatever.

Is it wrong to respond only to comments?

Edward Champion said...

Hey John, meant to thank you for the link a while back. So hoping my quick leap in here isn't too late.

Yeah, Chabon's shirt wins props from me too. If he can wear that shirt, he can get that blogging is more rooted in spontaneous journalism than hard-core essay. I will say that it's a bit of a mistake for him to suggest that bloggers aren't ruminant. If anything, Twitter has changed the way that I blog and write. I'll stockpile a great deal of links, get into an interesting conversation with folks about it, and, very often, all that cogitation will result in an essay I put up on the site -- which is often written in a very quick burst after much thinking. I'll agonize a bit more over the writing (or do considerable more research) if someone's going to throw a check my way. But the way I see it, the Internet has made varying levels of cogitation more transparent to others. But one has to be careful to pull the plug from time to time, so that you avoid the perils of groupthink. Is this along the lines of what you've been considering in the last few posts, John? Would be most curious to see what the last few posts have been building up to. (You see! Transparent thought process with folks here cheering you on in the comments!)

Also, hope all is well.



Dylan Hicks said...

I've certainly felt something like the anxiety Sung was describing: that if I'm going to write for free, I should probably first attempt something artistic. Before I settle into that artistic work, though, I usually quick check out a few blogs, so none of this makes sense, and in the end, not blogging has turned into another source of guilt.

I brought up the shirt not exactly to damn it. I think it's a pretty successful marriage of Takashi Murakami and K.C. and the Sunshine Band.