Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Finally getting around to responding to Steve Evans's "widening the frame" around the whole Gustave "I Don't Blog" Flaubert thing.

I think it's fair to say that critique—not pick-a-fight polemic, but fair-minded and well-argued critique—is not the form's strong suit so far.

Sigh. I guess I've been on about this since day one, when I suggested that Ron Silliman tugged the blog back toward a print-culture model of critique, but that this seemed to represent the far end of a continuum that also incorporated much more casual, diaristic, and ephemeral forms. Steve's posting of a short essay (rather than, say, a daybook entry alone) in response to some of this blog conversation is along the Silliman model, and has some of the same virtues: it gives us all a fixed point against which to respond, focuses a conversation, as opposed to the trying-to-hit-a-moving-target quality of a series of blog exchanges. It also makes it more likely that I'll respond directly to Steve rather than trying to track all the various threads. (Constraints of the medium: it's not incidental that Steve's remarks live at a stable address that isn't going to change, whereas this post will almost immediately be pushed down the page, bloggered permalink and all.)

I'm suspicious, though, about the binary: "fair-minded and well-argued critique" vs. "party," excess and indulgence. Critical rigor can be a fetish of its own, more a style than a value, and one that's constituitive of the medium of print (where I live too). It seems odd to expect a blog to be a book review, or Addison and Steele online. Some of us do write reviews, and essays; I suppose I could write my dissertation in installments on my blog, but I doubt anyone would or could read it in that form. (Perhaps not in any other, either, but that's another story.) Indeed, it's a bit chilling to me that in a group of bloggers and readers ostensibly committed to poetry that any form of prose that does not conform to an expository paradigm risks being labeled as not "serious," not useful to reading and understanding.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to spoil the party. I don't want to claim that blogs have to be regarded as serious or critical or well argued. I simply don't want those terms to be the only markers of value in discourse. They don't capture what seems most interesting to me in blogging. I don't think we have to embrace some vision of blogtopia (and Steve's account of that still has a whiff of the blogger as anti-intellectual that worries me, as if we had to be tricked into thinking), of blogging as a radical alternative to academic discourse, to say that blogging has a use.

Could we have more talk about poetry? Sure--and not just on blogs either. When I posted on Nick Flynn a while back I got more email than I had in a while--that kind of capsule review has a use, gives us a text as a touchstone for discussion and (dis)agreement. I'm glad Ron Silliman is posting that sort of work every day. I'm also glad others aren't.

Finally: Flaubert's collected correspondence comprises four volumes coming to nearly 2000 pages. He still seemed to have enough gas left in the tank for a few novels.

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