N+1 And The Blog Reflex

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 threepart 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.

6 Responses

  1. methinks he doth
    methinks he doth protest…

    “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.”

    And as such, bloggers are different from literary critics…how?

    Personally, I wouldn’t waste your time with a lot of this nonsense. It often amazes me how violently some in literary circles will criticize new innovations that threaten to make their field relevant.

    Does anyone remember Robert Pinsky’s passionate critique of slam poetry, which he viewed as a threat to the dignity of verse? Ah, yes, we certainly wouldn’t want hordes of inspired young people gathering at cafes and bars to develop a new style of poetry. Especially when there are still the ever-shrinking spatterings of blue-haired old ladies sitting politely at sedate Sunday readings.

    So with literary criticism on the web. I suppose a coarsening of literary dialogue is inevitable when you widen the range of speakers – at a larger table, sometimes you have to shout to be heard. But isn’t that so much better than a tiny party of professors eloquently grumbling amongst themselves?

  2. Blog-areenoI don’t follow

    I don’t follow very many blogs, and I don’t really think of LitKicks as a blog. To me it’s more like a place where a few people put forth ideas, criticism and what not. Then other people put in their two cents, great thoughts. People from around the world. Many of whom have a “persona” if you will. A personality that shows through in their writing. Not a bunch of publicity seekers with precarious self respect, as per the quoted article.

    I used to visit LitKicks when it was mostly just Levi writing about the Beats. Then one day, I think it must have been in 2000 or 2001, I checked in to see what was going on. This was right at the time that the stock market was crashing, internet companies were going out of business left and right, and life in the IT industry was looking damn precarious. And there, at the top of the LitKicks page, was a statement that said something like
    “We don’t have a business plan so we didn’t go out of business”.

    That, for me, sums it up.

  3. Doc, I really appreciate you
    Doc, I really appreciate you remembering that! Yes, those were some rocky times around 2001 (I still remember that the exact month of that redesign was January 2001, because my first message board post was about the death of Gregory Corso in that month).

    I guess LitKicks will always be more than a blog, especially because of the Action Poetry board (which I think just keeps getting better and better, in fact some of the poets are so good that I really don’t know what to do about it). I also think the level of conversation is higher than average because of our history as a message-board site. But I’m proud to call LitKicks a literary blog. Especially because so many people hate the word “blog”, so it always gets a reaction. Hah.

  4. NatureWith few exceptions

    With few exceptions (private diary, personal letter) the very nature of writing, and especially publishing, is public oriented. If book authors and magazine columnists want to be read, why wouldn’t bloggers?

    If bloggers do it for money, someone will say they are greedy. If they don’t do it for money, someone will say they must be needy for attention.

    I like Levi’s statement, “I love the way blogging feels.” You know you’re on to something good when you don’t have to justify it.

    People will return to blogs they like and gradually start skipping over the ones that don’t appeal to them. “Dumbing down” does not even enter in to it. Everything in the world is dumbed-down somewhere already, but some of the smartest writing I find is on the internet.

  5. The more voices the better.
    The more voices the better. Especially since the blogger has the unique opportunity to explore new vistas and provide insights which might eventually make the “old school” jealous of what they’re missing.

    But an even more intriguing point is that of feedback. I suspect that blogger feedback, far from just fillips and kisses, is much more meaningful for the sender than the recipient. For me, it is a venue for my little voice and little ideas, as if they mean something.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!