Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Blogging vs. Journaling

Blogging has been an obsession of many, curtailed recently by the Facebook obsession in which communication is reduced to one-line updates framed in the language of the program... Even pre-Facebook I was wondering what the impact of so much online "writing" would be on the art of keeping a diary, or a journal (let alone its impact on publishing). Particularly as I suspect that for many, blogging has replaced the journal, and in some cases, publishing too.

Part of the appeal of reading the diaries of this or that person is the surprise of perspective. Although I am not naive enough to think that famous people don't think their diaries will be read, I do think that they are nonetheless, candid. The good ones in any case, the ones we want to read. How can it be otherwise? Who is interested in reading a journal in which the author isn't giving her opinions freely? Who is interested in reading a journal of repression? Delusion, maybe, but repression?

On the other hand, the fact that we currently report on every moment of our lives, makes it seem quite impossible that at some point in the future we will find those lives of interest. If we are currently publishing every thought, every response, every flickering mood, will there be anything left to say? Who will care to read the letters of our generation? Or, will it be the letters of those who have resisted the technologization of their craft that we turn to in wonder? (There is a posse of luddite nature poets banking on that...)

As Louis Menand points out in the New Yorker recently, we read diaries so that we can see each other through someone else's eyes. In the following excerpt, Woolf's eyes:
Pale, marmoreal Eliot was there last week, like a chapped office boy on a high stool, with a cold in his head, until he warms a little, which he did. We walked back along the Strand. “The critics say I am learned & cold” he said. “The truth is I am neither.” As he said this, I think coldness at least must be a sore point with him. (February 16, 1921.)

Edith Sitwell has grown very fat, powders herself thickly, gilds her nails with silver paint, wears a turban & looks like an ivory elephant, like the Emperor Heliogabalus. I have never seen such a change. She is mature, majestical. She is monumental. Her fingers are crusted with white coral. She is altogether composed. (July 23, 1930.)

Dr. Freud gave me a narcissus. Was sitting in a great library with little statues at a large scrupulously tidy shiny table. We like patients on chairs. A screwed up shrunk very old man: with a monkeys light eyes, paralysed spasmodic movements, inarticulate: but alert. (January 29, 1939.)

Woolf was one of those writers who keep the instrument in tune: she wrote, sometimes, just to be writing, whether there was anything of significance to write about or not. So a reader of her diaries (of the five-volume complete edition, anyway) has to wade through a fair amount of rote record-keeping, panning for the nuggets:

Brain rather dried up after 6 days strenuous London. Tuesday dinner to meet Duff Cooper; Wednesday Ethel Smyth; Thursday Nessa & dressmaker; Friday Harcourt Brace. So I’m running in a circle, having got on to the university chapter [of “Three Guineas”] a difficult one. Very very hot. Very noisy. The hotel dancing; buses everywhere. (June 11, 1937.)
Louis Menand, New Yorker, December 10, 2007

What must very quickly become apparent is that not only are we seeing through the eyes of an amazing human being, we are seeing with great detail and insight, into another world. An extremely well crafted world, even at her casual best. Not only another time, but another class--for many of us--another aesthetic. We are also, as Menand suggests, seeing a writer at her peak, absolutely enjoying the exercising of her craft, her wit, her salty pen.

If we make our worlds, if there is in fact no other world apart from the one we create, then let us at least create worlds of depth and movement and stillness and nuance and sharp portraits, even if they are--as they can be with Woolf--scathing. As for Facebook, as I said earlier, I resist all attempts to be pooled into a unit which will ultimately be commodified. That Facebook didn't have all the annoying ad content of Myspace was one of the reasons I could finally succumb. Even the blogging format offends me with its limitations and prescriptions...but I have learned to live with that, as I've learned to live with MS Word, Gmail, iPhoto, and the many limitations of my daily ware.

Facebook on the other hand? I'm not sure.

Why does it take a wannabe corporation to create an online forum for a bunch of poets and writers who want to stay in to
uch?? For a while it was blogs doing that--but does anyone read blogs anymore? Not sure.

Over n out.