"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Navel-Gazing: More Thoughts on the Blogosphere

The current issue of the indispensable New York Review of Books has a review-article by Sarah Boxer who compiled Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web (a sort of anthology of blogs which she admits looks at first blush like a self-defeating project: the improvised, instant, anarchic, for-the-moment nature of blogging seeming unsuited to the scholarly solemnity of an anthology). But her article is interesting to those of us "Brit Lit Bloggers" who are really more "Lit" than "Blog" in our souls. I learned some new words like "link whore" which describes those people desperate to get themselves mentioned in other people's blogs. But she concludes: "Blog writing is id writing - grandiose, dreamy, private, free-associative, infantile, sexy, petty, dirty." To which I would add, from my experience of literary blogs: "Often over-solemn and self-righteous." I wish there were a bit more humour and self-mockery and lightness of touch in some of the litblogs I see - but then here am I being rather solemn about it so WTF.


Jim Murdoch said...

I can't say I've run across too many "over-solemn and self-righteous" literary blogs in my travels but, to be totally honest, I've been trawling the internet for months looking for decent blogs to subscribe to and I've had to work to find any. Most of the ones I have stumbled over do have a sense of humour. Okay, there are a few where the subjects they cover are a bit esoteric and they can be a touch long-winded at times but it's hard to do justice to most literary topics without going on a bit. I know when I started my blog I aimed at articles under 1000 words but I seem to have settled in at about the 1500 mark. My biggest gripe is that so many of them drift off topic a lot of the time, mainly, I suspect, by trying to hard to keep up with a self-imposed daily posting schedule.

As for being a "link whore", the whole point of making comments on other people's sites like this is to attract readers to your own site. If you pretend your motive for being there is plain altruism then you're being naïve. That said, there's a balance to be had. If I make a comment (like I'm doing just now) I like it to be meaningful because, to my mind, that is what draws people together. I really don't have much time for people who leave trite comments along the lines of, "Cool blog," and pass on by. Sure that gives them their backlink and they're welcome to it. If that bothers you you can always delete their comment.

It's easy to throw generic comments about blog writing – a lot of it is "id writing" – but a lot of it is not. Respect is earned and there are a number of sites out there that have garnered respect, the now-defunct Grumpy Old Bookman to cite one example.

Nicholas Murray said...

Thanks, Jim, for that very interesting comment. What I was referring to was the tendency of some of the more prominent Brit Lit blogs to be rather obsessed with a handful of benchmark writers who keep getting quoted (in my view "solemnly") as sticks to beat everyone else with. Personally I am more eclectic in my tastes and not given to this Leavisite idea that some people [or aesthetic stances] are in and some out and it matters to police the borders. On the wider question of the usefulness of blogs I am still not sure (including my own practice) and I have yet to read anything in a literary blog that equals, for example, the NYRB in style, scholarship and critical insight. But maybe I have just been unlucky and I admit I don't have the time to spend hours trawling the web when there is so much great literature to read.