Andrew Sullivan can still write well; he can even be thoughtful and interesting; A&L links to “Why I Blog,” in the November Atlantic. The essay makes several points about the difference between writing an essay, writing for a newspaper and blog writing. He remarks
Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.
Narrating the etymology, he notes continuity as “log” becomes incorporated in “blog.”
A blog, therefore, bobs on the surface of the ocean but has its anchorage in waters deeper than those print media is technologically able to exploit. It disempowers the writer to that extent, of course. The blogger can get away with less and afford fewer pretensions of authority. He is—more than any writer of the past—a node among other nodes, connected but unfinished without the links and the comments and the track-backs that make the blogosphere, at its best, a conversation, rather than a production.
That conversation, he contends, constructs a “faux intimacy.” As narrow & partial as that intimacy is, however, it eliminates some of the subterfuges with which we shield ourselves. He has a point:
You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts. You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality.
And, in the end, he sees blogs as the logical product of our time, of post-modernism.
If all this sounds postmodern, that’s because it is. And blogging suffers from the same flaws as postmodernism: a failure to provide stable truth or a permanent perspective. A traditional writer is valued by readers precisely because they trust him to have thought long and hard about a subject, given it time to evolve in his head, and composed a piece of writing that is worth their time to read at length and to ponder.
So, the Chicagoboyz meet up in Chicago. Wasn’t this a new adventure for some? I’m thousands of miles out-of-the-Loop. But for how many is the voice you have known and the voice you now know dramatically different? Or does the immediacy of blogs, the impatience and openness with which we write, make us quite similar in the flesh to that unmediated voice we have created?
6 thoughts on “Questions from Outside the Loop”
I disagree with Sullivan about the absence of “permanant perspective.” A blogger may dash off something in half an hour, in reaction to a specific event, but–if he is a good blogger–his writing will be based on ideas he has developed over years of reading, observation, and thinking. The specific piece is merely an application and extension of the general ideas.
Andrew Sullivan blogs so he can gossip and intrude on candidate’s family’s private lives, while insisting his own private life is untouchable.
No one cares what Andrew Sullivan writes anymore.
He has become a parody of himself, and if he one ounce of integrity, he’d see himself as others now see him.
Of course you are right to some degree, David.
If you want big traffic, the blogosphere encourages quick, short, less contemplative posts. In conversations or speeches, essays or posts, we write from our experience and scholarship, from present circumstances and gut reactions.
We bring our individual talents & training to blogging: different people see problems from different perspectives. Reading, we momentarily share their horizons. That variety is infinitely useful both philosophically in broadening our minds and pragmatically in giving us broad choices from which to build our solutions.
Nonetheless, responses are not the same as prepared pieces. Our writing would often be denser, more considered if we went through a more leisurely production time; of course, writing in white heat surfaces ideas buried and unlike to arise without the intensity of immediacy.
We are remarkably free to express ourselves. For instance, I’m discursive. Sometimes I rein it in, but often I don’t. Not a problem on a free form like this nor when words aren’t money – or barely. Of course, it makes me less effective, less direct. If (unlikely) an editor of a journal thought about publishing anything of mine, I would be forced to pare it down. In this medium I irritate some readers and lose more – but I also get to do what I want. We write for an audience, so we try to develop a reasonable tone, use real evidence, and clearly argue our position. We try to be accurate and link heavily. Still, a blogger chooses topic, thesis, development. This is a freedom to fail as well as succeed.
Mary, I understand your feelings about Sullivan. I used to read him daily, then less often, and progressively less and less. Nonetheless, I once read him because he wrote well and could think well. This is not a stupid essay; he’s trying to examine himself and say something about blogging in general. With that focus, he becomes more evenhanded about the political. He has brought me pleasure in the past; I would hope that at some point he regains some sense of perspective. And this essay is worth reading.
You’re certainly entitle to think Sullivan is worth YOUR time, Ginny.
But if you notice at memorandum, NO ONE links to him anymore. And no one cares one whit what he has to say.
He destroyed himself by playing drama queen on stupid, irrelevant gossip. The rumor that Palin’s Down Syndrome baby was actually her daughter’s STARTED with Andrew Sullivan. He called it “journalism.”
No one credible reads him or links to him, for fear of being branded by his filth.
With all due respect.
I find it fascinating that Sullivan finds blogging post-modernist. It certainly describes his blogging career. He started out as someone you could somewhat relate to but his ensuing writing has such contradiction, ambiguity and a moral foundation based on a self interest so narrow that you could thread a needle with it. It’s no wonder he’s now regarded as a parody or even a punchline.
You have a point. Post-modernism is a trap (well, often used as an explanation) for those without a solid core, without consistent values. It offers them nothing – and they seem to think that means their nothing is everyone’s nothing.
For most blogging is an expression of a coherent world view that permeates everything they write – they just write it more quickly, more spontaneously. For someone like me, who doesn’t think much before I speak (or write), blogging has been a way of coming to know myself better. I like that about it, though it probably indicates some superficiality.
Certainly, Sullivan would profit from more thought, an objectice reader/editor, and perhaps the pricking of a conscience. Certainly it would be good if he could see himself that few bloggers shooting from the hip come up with the really vile arguments he made about Palin (and numerous other stupidities). I’m not sure if that is because he is a worse person (one does wonder how such thoughts could even enter his mind) or because the filter that keeps most of us from expressing our worst ideas is just letting everything through.
I think Mary has a valid point. It isn’t like I read Sullivan any more. (I went to him because A&L – generally a reliable aggregator – put him up.) And I’ll point out that over three years ago I posted here on why I stopped reading him.
But as someone who is serious about writing and can be occasionally reflective in a useful way, Sullivan raises points I find interesting. A more objective, rational, and less partison persona (the old Sullivan) speaks from this essay.
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