Garth Risk Hallberg of The Millions has written an impassioned consideration of an unsigned n+1 article, “The Blog Reflex”, that mocks literary bloggers as unschooled and attention-hungry publicity lapdogs. As Hallberg quotes:
In addition to free advance copies, the blogger gets some recognition: from the big houses, and from fellow bloggers. Recognition is also measured in the number of hits — by their clicks you shall know them — and by the people who bother to respond to your posts with subposts of their own. The lit-bloggers become a self-sustaining community, minutemen ready to rise up in defense of their niches. So it is when people have only their precarious self-respect. But responses — fillips of contempt, wet kisses — aren’t criticism.
Garth Hallberg ultimately disagrees with this essayist, but he concedes a few points:
Not least among the problems with this premature obituary for the blog is that it is, in many small ways, accurate. Anyone looking for an Ebert-style thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Dante will no doubt find one on the internet. Google will even tell you how long the search took. Blogs both reiterate and catalyze the coarsening of the culture … the dumbing-down, the, uh … whatever.
I wouldn’t even go that far. Dumbing down? I hope we have the opposite effect, and I can think of a few public debates we’ve managed to smarten up recently. Michael Orthofer and Ed Champion and I don’t always agree when we critique the New York Times Book Review, but the one serious point the three of us have all worked hard to establish is that the publication has been regrettably dumbed down in recent years. Coarse? Maybe. But we’re not stupid over here.
I think it’s hilarious that an n+1 editor should feel so superior to literary bloggers. That’s not the way I add things up. Personally, I know without a doubt that I’m a good enough writer to be published in n+1, if I were to put any effort into it at all. But I wouldn’t, because I don’t have time and it’s not worth the trouble. I have enough magazine-writer friends to know that getting published in hipster magazines is an overrated experience. I’ve got better ways to pursue my dreams.
I love the way blogging feels. I love it that it’s 8:12 pm and I’m pounding these words into Notepad and by 9:00 it’ll be up for the world to read (and by 9:20 pm I’ll have corrected all the broken links, and most of the sloppy sentences). By this time tomorrow evening, over 4000 people will have read the article. Try that, magazine boy …
What about n+1‘s charge that litbloggers all too hungrily lap up the publicity book publishers serve to us? Well, every blogger has his or her own way of dealing with the publishing industry, and I guess I agree that it’s disappointing how many book bloggers simply skim off the publishing industry news of the day. But the best bloggers dig deeper. Maud Newton writes about Mark Twain, Bud Parr about William Gaddis, Mark Sarvas about writers of the Hungarian Revolution. Myself, I’m most proud of posts where I’ve explored my own private interests, like the depression-era Pal Joey short stories of John O’Hara, or the great Pragmatic philosophy of William James (a three–part series). That’s when this all means the most to me, and I think many bloggers (and magazine writers) would agree with me that being able to write about personally meaningful material (and have people read it, and care about it) gives us more satisfaction than anything else.
Oh well … in the end, I find this n+1 article amusing and irrelevant. If n+1 thinks bloggers like me are a step below them on the evolutionary scale, they may want to take another look at the straight odds here. Remember, it’s survival of the fittest in this literary game, and we’ve got computers.