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?
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:
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…
*”America” being a synecdoche for the Anglophone Sphere