END OF AN ERROR: THE WELCOME DEATH of the SO-CALLED “LIT BLOG”

end of an error

Lit Blogs are being shuttered (or abandoned, lights still on, uneaten breakfast on the table) left and right. The shutterings are sometimes accompanied by grandiose valedictory statements at which I can’t help snorting: another stuffy, tin-eared, humor-free pedant with five, or ten,  or fifteen years’ worth of preeningly-curated reading lists  (of obscure and bleak German, South American, Turkish or Scandinavian novels in translation)  is calling it the End of an Era?

Ha!

Most of these Lit Blogs were actually second rate Undergrad Philosophy seminars run by pantomime Dons in the pipe-smoking, cape-wearing, fantasy tradition. They would not, could not, tell a living sentence from  a footnote in a law-course textbook.  One such site shuttered this week and one of its reader-minions left this moist  nugget of unintentional comedy in the comments appended to the blogger’s End of an Era speech:

I take your point about Twitter, and I do wonder myself if my time wouldn’t be better spent learning Sanskrit or classical Chinese rather than drifting on-line…

I promise you: the woman who posted this comment saw nothing funny in it! Her desperate need to impress is a familiar symptom of the status-hunger these reliably pompous Lit Blogs were feverish with as they went about the patient work of dismantling Lit, or grinding it to dry dust, and otherwise missing the fucking point.

I went to that “Lit” Blog’s search-window and typed in “Agamben” (18 hits), then “Blanchot” (21 hits) and didn’t bother typing in “Heidegger,” a shopworn buzzword which would have been just as spuriously rich in hits, the question remaining: what does a Nazi occultist and philosophical charlatan, like Marty Heidegger,  have to do with Lit? How you respond to that question will indicate what you understand about Lit. If you think Heidegger is a far, and bizarre, tangent to the stuff, at best, under very particular circumstances, you and I can be friends. At the very least  it means your relationship to/with Lit hasn’t been tortured and perverted by Hackademia, which has run a notoriously Lit-Devaluing program since the late-middle of the previous century.

These HLBs (Hackademic Lit Blogs)  can’t nail themselves shut quite quickly enough, in my opinion. And,  to be sure, the Hackademic Infection wasn’t the only problem polluting the tiny sphere of Online Literary Discourse. A larger problem was/is one of motives, as well as, obviously, the shameful and still-increasing morbidity of America’s* interest in Lit-qua-Lit (or in anything Beautiful that doesn’t make money). The robustness of the virtual iteration of any widespread cultural practise can only be a reflection of the In Real Life health of that practise.

John Pistelli, of recently shuttered blog Grand Hotel Abyss (a blog that wasn’t as bad as all that in that it didn’t present, primarily, as a moth-dry LitBlog and was lighter in touch, aggregating neat little snatches and excerpts, journal-like) wrote, once, of Clive James:

James’s anti-intellectualism can simply be embarrassing. I admit I mostly excused myself from reading philosophy after graduate school, but even I am put off when James quotes abstruse passages from Sartre or Benjamin as a kind of boorish barroom joke, as if to say, “What are these ponces on about?” He maintains that empiricism—and an empirically-oriented poetry—will save us from totalitarianism’s obfuscations:

“The great playwrights infused our language with a permanent awareness of the difference between desiccated eloquence and the voice of experience. English empirical philosophy began in the inherited literary language. That was how the English-speaking nations, above all others, were armed in advance against the rolling barrage of ideological sophistry in the twentieth century.”

But such empiricism by its nature cannot answer the metaphysical questions almost everyone, including Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, asks from time to time.

Please note: Pistelli conflates garbled Hackademic Emission with that which is “Intellectual”. How on Earth did his inner dictionary come to such a conclusion? I wouldn’t claim to side with poor Clive James on most things (and the politics of James’ above-cited sentiment is truth-inverted nonsense), but I’m with him against Pistelli’s fundamental misapprehension of the utility of abstruse passages of Ideological Sophistry (and the vitality of their connection to Lit), without a doubt. And re: “the metaphysical questions almost everyone, including Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, asks from time to time,” as I have more than once said: no intelligent human, sensitive to his/her environment, in the habit of thinking, knows any less, by the age of 40, regarding the Great Unanswerable Questions, than any name brand Philosopher who ever walked this indifferent Earth. Inventing (and over-elaborating) a Taxonomy is not the same as creating Knowledge. It’s usually nothing grander than an entrepreneurial gambit, impressive only to rubes and other would-be entrepreneurs.

Dan Green, of flagship Online Literary Criticism Site The Reading Experience, has been publishing (no scare-quotes there) pdfs of his critical material for downloading (an action I applaud) and I have been dutifully downloading this output. Reading the first few bits in Dan’s just-released The Literary Sphere: Taking Criticism Online, I posted a comment at The Reading Experience (quoting from an essay Dan published in 2007) and we had the following exchange:

 

Dan Green “But I also think that Gessen and Roth are mistaken to assert that what litbloggers really want from their interactions with publishers and their consideration of particular books is “recognition” measured in “hits.”

It’s uncanny, Dan, but reading through the beginning of your collection, “The Literary Sphere,” rekindles (no pun intended) those old emotions and I’m a (sort of) kid again.

But isn’t it now obvious that many among us who *weren’t* doing it for the “hits” were doing it for the book deals? Even the paper-based reviewers too often had their eyes on a mirage of greater glory, and I write that as a Lit-obsessive who caught more than one of those reviewers having (sloppily) skimmed the books under review. And it took me a few years to grok, for example, that very few of the supposedly-book-mad had actually read (e.g.) Underworld, or Sabbath’s Theater, et al, more than once (or all the way through). I’d say that to some extent, after an ambitious kind of post-literate sophistication had settled in the culture after the Reagan Revolution, the “Literary Conversation” was, to some extent, a Potemkin Village of leather-bound life-stylers who wanted to see their names in lights (I’m thinking of one in particular whose avatar once featured a pipe). A few eventually did… though I’d be interested in the opinion of anyone who could argue, persuasively, that any of those hustlers, who crossed the blogging/paper published barrier*, did so with a masterpiece, a minor gem or even something merely “okay” worth a heated discussion.

If the passions were all genuine in 2005, why the post-plague silence now?

Anyone interested in Literary Passion need only amble over to the Pynchonite corner of the decimated map of LitBlogLandia, where readers are still thoroughly engaged in the opiate-bath of Lit-qua-Lit, with not a hope or dream of a book or movie deal… just doing it because they can’t Not… and enjoying the corollary pleasures of intellectual community. That’s where the action was and is and I’ve always regretted the fact that, as much as I admire Pynchon’s arc, the texts don’t really thrill me to the degree I wish they could. My loss!

But the long tail of the whimpering extinction of General Lit Blogging doesn’t feel like nearly the loss that it should be; there was one little textual discovery I made, for example… a tidbit in Nabokov’s Lolita… that I have been trying to introduce as a topic of discussion since c. 1998, online… with only one (at The Guardian’s threads) taker in all those years! And it finally hit me, maybe five years ago, that the problem was simply that nobody discussing the book had actually read it all the way through. And how naive was I to assume they had?

The “writing” was on the wall when TV-junkie Remnick took over the New Yorker and actually crowed about TV’s (shitty) triumph. Is the New Yorker anything much more than anti-Russkie/ Trump propaganda now? Is publishing anymore concerned with the nurturing of Great Texts? Can anyone really read Harold Brodkey on an i-phone? Is YA the best we can do? Are the writers’ Identity Stats all that really matter…?

Was genuine Lit Blogging ever really anything but what it is now: a last-ditch, Farenheit 451-like preparation to save what’s left of Lit by going underground with it…?

Welcome, Blogger, to your noble and obscure destiny…!

(i.e.: some of us ain’t going *any*where)

 

*And I don’t mean via Lulu

 

 

Dan Green “Was genuine Lit Blogging ever really anything but what it is now: a last-ditch, Farenheit 451-like preparation to save what’s left of Lit by going underground with it…?”

In retrospect, that’s probably what it was, although I do still confess I (perhaps foolishly) held out hope for quite a while that litblogging might establish itself above ground, located somewhere between literary journalism and academic criticism, both of which were, and are still, abandoning literary criticism to pursue other agendas.

 

 

 

steven augustine  “I (perhaps foolishly) held out hope for quite a while”

Oh, yes, indeed. I thought, for the longest time, that a Revolutionary Door had been kicked open… and, in a way, it had. But the door didn’t really lead to anywhere outside of the house…

 

 

 

 

This is my favorite part (and why I credit Dan’s work): I went to Dan’s search-window, typed in “Agamben”: zero hits. Then I typed in “Blanchot” and got…

 

Comment by Chris on “What the Author Wishes To Do”

“Read more Blanchot and try us again.”

 

Perfect.

 

 

 

*”America” being a synecdoche for the Anglophone Sphere

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