Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Talk about paranoia: yesterday I was worried about where Ron Silliman had gotten to. Today I tune in to find that he's talking about me again...

We're back to the topic of my first post, where I described the style of Silliman's blog as "aggressively public and authoritative" and suggested that it's "given the poetry blog-sphere a center." It's that "centering" that seems to be at issue, with Silliman wondering if I'm seeing this as a "nefarious" strategy on his part. Not at all. I think Silliman's raised the bar in ways that are useful and productive for poetry bloggers. And if some have been uneasy with his frank efforts to "push poetry in the direction I want," it's made the rest of us have to think about what directions we see our own work, and that of others, going.

I'm very sympathetic to much of what Silliman says in his post, and like his image of the poetry world as a set of discrete perspectives through which we must navigate: the better we can understand the distinct perspective each of us represents, the better we can find our way. And this function is important not only to others but to ourselves. Thus it can be a crucial exercise to risk argument, to see where a particular aesthetic response or political judgment leads us rather than being satisfied with an isolated observation.

I do take issue, though, with the suggestion that the main difference between Silliman's blog and others is that his is more conscious of having "a point of view as a point," while others do not. In fact, my very young career as a blogger seems to have shown me that the blog has a remarkable ability to increase that kind of consciousness, staking out positions while constantly being reminded of the provisionality of those positions and of one's place in a larger network.

But when I spoke of "centering," I meant not so much the articulation of a perspective per se, but rather the question of the *authority* of that perspective. Silliman took my earlier comment, "you *are* 'Silliman's blog'" to mean that "you are what you blog." But I did not mean that he is nothing else; the apparent democracy of the Internet may make it appear that the label "Tim Yu" gives a pronouncement as much authority as one labelled "Ron Silliman," but this simply is not the case. Silliman's reputation as a poet, and as a founding figure of Language writing, simply gives his pronouncements a certain authority (within a certain sphere) that others' don't possess. Power still exists in the blogsphere. Again, I don't call attention to this phenomenon to deplore it; I find Silliman's insights absolutely vital and his range exhilirating, and I learn every time I read his blog. But I do think that this question of authority is one reason Silliman's blog has its centering effect, and one reason some younger poets have questioned its role.

The "miniature essay form" in which Silliman's blog appears is, in the best sense of the term, anachronistic. Its honest articulation of a perspective--of an opinion--is in the classic mode of the print public sphere: the periodical essay, the book review, the editorial. (I myself am obeying the conventions of this mode by referring to my interlocutor as "Silliman" rather than, say, "Ron," which I think is indicative of the kind of response Silliman's blog seems to demand.) In this sense, Silliman's blog is another skirmish in the battle over what kind of medium the Web will be: does it represent the death of print or print's second coming? From this perspective, what Silliman calls the "pseudo-chat room blip" will always seem ephemeral, inconsequential. But it interests me that Silliman uses the chat-room exchange as paradigmatic; it represents that immediacy of conversation that has to some degree always been print culture's ideal. The "blip" is spontaneous and even anonymous, but it has a context, one that is often as much social as virtual. Some of the most compelling blogs seem to occupy a continuum between the argument and the blip, suggesting that a complete picture of a perspective, that "point" that one occupies in social space, might include both.

No comments: