Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Dissent 

I’m taking a risk by writing this because it is just about the least cool thing for a blogger to write. I’m willing to risk it however because I feel need to rethink what has become a stifling conformity about blogging. Now bloggers come in all shapes and sizes but nearly everyone agrees that blogging is not a proper topic for literature. Today’s New York Times article about bloggers writing novels quotes all the usual suspects but everyone insists on making it clear that not only are they not writing about bloggers, they find the very idea revolting.

The Time's quotes Wonkette saying: "I don't know how interesting a book just about the blogosphere would be. It'd just be people sitting in front of their computers."

Hold on a minute. Sure bloggers do their blogging in front of a computer but that is hardly all they do. They also fall in love, betray friends, muddle through family crises, get in fights, work in day jobs, fall when they will and rise when they must.

What’s more, bloggers are hardly the only ones who spend a good part of the day in front of a computer. Take people who work in finance—they also spend their days working largely in front of computers. Actually, they often spend their nights there as well. I would wager that the average blogger spends far less time with their fingers on a keyboard than the average financial professional. So are we to have no literature with finance professionals? What about novels about people who work for magazines or writers? No more of these? Are all the bloggers writing about people who don’t spend their time around computers? What do these people do? Are only cops and adventurers and bartenders and blue collar workers and fashion models the proper subjects of novels?

Hasn’t something gone wrong when something as ubiquitous in contemporary life as spending one’s before a computer is a disqualifier for inclusion in literature? Perhaps I am taking the remarks too literally. Maybe the problem is that people think blogging is unimportant or uninteresting. Now I don’t think that this can really be true because the people who are saying these things either are or were bloggers. They might say it in a self-deprecating way but their activities betray their words.

I suppose what they could mean is that blogging might be interesting to a narrow set of people but not to a broader audience. I like this kind of answer because it almost conforms with my own elitism. Unfortunately, it is a half-way elitism because it assumes we should only be writing for a broader audience. If blogging is for the few, why cannot the few have their novels? But to be perfectly honest, I think this is still only two-thirds elitist enough. I think the truth is that bloggers are on to something interesting, and that much of what goes on in the lives of the bloggers I know is interesting enough to be appealing to readers.

Think for a moment about historical precedents. Suppose we were living in the roaring twenties, drinking illicit gin and dancing with girls with short hair. Now suppose all the writers were announcing that they wouldn’t write about this stuff because while it was how they spent their time, it wasn’t important, interesting or likely to be widely appreciated. They all want to write about the British Empire. Luckily, we’ve got this guy named Scott Fitzgerald who is willing to risk writing The Great Gatsby. (Incidentally, the narrator of Gatsby spends his days studying to be a bond trader—not exactly thrilling stuff.)

Or suppose we were ex-pats living in Paris. Maybe there was a war recently. Everyone wants to write about the war, certainly not our alcohol soaked fishing trips to Spain, right? I mean, who cares about a bunch of sauced journalists picking up Parisian whores or beating up bullfighters? We’re real writers, right? Not some self-promotional gits trying to make a buck of some short-lived trend. Luckily, Hemingway didn’t feel this way.

Of course, it’s suicidal for anyone engaged in writing to compare themselves or their contemporaries with literary giants. It’s like comparing your enemies to Hitler. You automatically lose the argument. So I will surrender. I’ve lost this argument but I don’t care. Sometimes literature requires a bit of careless hubris. Sometimes we need writers who will admit (to quote a questionable source who was quoted in year-old issue of the Believer) that “We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived.”

So I’ll confess. I’m writing a novel with characters who blog. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. I apologize in advance for breaking the rules.