Blog It As It Lays

My sister Lisa knows I’m a Joan Didion fan and linked me this week to a New York article describing Didion’s recent reactions to electronic reading and writing. One Didion comment quoted in the article gives us to understand that writing is a slow business: “‘Well, I don’t really understand blogging,’ she [Didion] said. ‘It seems like writing, except quicker. I mean, I’m not actually looking for that instant feedback.'” Truman Capote’s cryptic critique complaining that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, written, according to literary folklore, in a three-week bennie frenzy on a single roll of paper, comes to mind; what Kerouac had put out, said Capote, was more like typewriting than writing. I suppose if Kerouac had been tapping on an electronic keyboard instead of pounding away on an old standard his novel would have taken only a week or two to knock out. But no, for as it turns out, from start to publication, Kerouac clinched his draft in the ring for six years. The difference between blogging and real writing, as Didion and Capote would have it, is that with blogging there is no editor.

The problem with Didion’s concern is that blogging (not blogging, exactly, but the notion that blogging is talking, as opposed to writing, and the apparent ease of writing therefore that blogging suggests, and also the vast number of bloggers) actually diminishes the important irrelevance of the writer, for it’s the irrelevance of her writing that Didion values. Writing is, for Didion, the objective correlative for the emptiness of the Hollywood her characters experience. Lore Segal, in her August 8, 1970 New York Times review of the then new Didion novel, Play It As It Lays, points us to the irony: “The problem is how to write people till someone comes up with a new convention. But the trouble with Miss Didion’s novel is more radical. In the preface to her essays [Slouching Towards Bethlehem] she says that she has sometimes been ‘paralyzed by the conviction that writing is an irrelevant act.’ Her new book feels as if it were written out of an insufficient impulse by a writer who doesn’t know what else to do with all that talent and skill.” If, for Didion, writing seemed an “irrelevant act,” the average blogger takes that very irrelevancy and makes it irrelevant, for writing can only be irrelevant if you’re the only one doing it. In other words, blogging makes writing as irrelevant as talking; Didion must deny that blogging is writing or risk seeing her own writing reduced to talking, and talking is only irrelevant if we are talking to ourselves, which, of course, is what most bloggers are doing. Most great writers, like Didion, spend most of their time talking to themselves, but with the conviction that the rest of us should eavesdrop on their conversation. Most real writers value that eavesdropping of their reader, while most bloggers are looking (in vain, usually) for a conversation.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Personally, I prefer blogging to standard writing. I like the feeling of connection (though often fleeting) that it brings. Talking to myself is more fun if I know that others might hear it (that really just sounded like I am completely insane).

    After I finish writing a blog I get that kid-on-Christmas feeling that someone might actually see it and respond. The even greater thrill is when, every once in a while, someone responds because they really understand and have been looking for the words that you wrote. On some levels, it’s vanity and narcissism that pushes my fingers towards the keys, but then there is also an intense need to connect with the world and a feeling of joy when that connection is made. I know that many of the thoughts pass through my mind and through my fingers are irrelevant…I just would prefer not to act that way. Joan is a heck of a writer. I’m sorry she can’t see the possibilities in this.

    Another fantastic blog, Joe. Keep up the great work.

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      Joan is in much of her writing a journalist; at least, much of what she published was originally printed in magazines. But in the generation prior to Joan’s, journalism was considered inferior, in much the same way many writers like Joan consider blogging inferior – inferior to what exactly isn’t always clear. But Joyce said that he felt he could have been any kind of writer (and he certainly proved this in Ulysses), by which he meant he believed he could have written traditional, commercially successful novels. No doubt Beckett could have also. Joyce clearly considered journalism inferior to what he considered writing “art.” But in writing for a general reading public, Joan had to concentrate on everyday communication tools – she couldn’t, like Joyce, afford to be obscure or ambiguous (at least not by today’s standards). That she successfully wrote for both a general audience used to reading, tossing, and running, in the form of long-lasting essays, is evidence of her professional and artistic skills. But the market has changed – publications like the Saturday Evening Post and Life, where a writer might reach average and general interest readers, have gone out of style. And today too many publications ignore this market. Then, too, so much of her writing, when covering “stories,” involved research, which she may feel is missing from the average blog – research is not “talking,” apparently. But as you say, what you feel in the process is what’s important, and I think Joan would agree with that, regardless of how it might eventually get presented outside of that process.

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