Odd Words January 19, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Let’s begin with an interview on TheMillions (and likely a book) every serious blogger should have a look at: The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay by Carl H. Klaus. The author is the founder of the NonFiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa and a prolific essayist himself.
I disagree with one part of the interview because it makes the mistake of generalizing bloggers when bogging is in fact a format, and in that format you find a wide range of writing from the most mundane to the truly inspired. (We sort of fall in the middle here, or at least I hope just a bit in the upper end of the class):
TM: Let’s talk about Montaigne. Andrew Sullivan has written in the Atlantic that Montaigne was “the quintessential blogger.” And Sarah Bakewell, who has just come out with a new biography of Montaigne, recently wrote in the Paris Review that “bloggers might be surprised to hear that they are keeping alive a tradition created more than four centuries ago” by Montaigne. I think you get much closer to the truth in your essay on Montaigne when you write that he “openly espouses a policy not of naturalness but of studied casualness or, to be more exact, artful artlessness.” Would you agree with me that it’s wrong to equate most bloggers today with Montaigne’s “artful artlessness?”
CK: Well listen, the differences between Montaigne and bloggers are so manifold that I find it surprising that anyone would even think of comparing them – because they have different agendas and completely different ways of going about writing. For example, Montaigne’s freewheeling style is grounded in an overriding concern with echoing the flow of his thought. Now the bloggers aren’t concerned with that kind of interiority. Their writing is largely concerned with topical subjects of the moment, and they have no consciousness of consciousness. That’s not what they’re after. Even more importantly, bloggers’ pieces are one-shot affairs, whereas Montaigne took his essays through three separate revisions. And the revisions were made by additions, by accretion. He never dropped anything.
If you’ve actually shown up here by anything other than a complete accident and have read so far I think you can surmise what my objections are. Toulouse Street is certainly concerned with the flow of thought, with interiority. It is entirely about my observations of the world (the city in particular) and about things I come across in my reading that set a train of thought running. I don’t write about public affairs, sports, food, my children, etc. Blogging is category so generic as to be almost meaningless. It would be like calling all writers “bookers”. If anything, this bit of the Internet has evolved from a sort of cork-board of odd pictures and moments into something else, just as Wet Bank Guide evolved from an exercise in explaining Katrina and the Federal Flood into one of explaining New Orleans. In both instances, I landed in the same place: telling not so much a story as what I’m thinking about at a particular place and time in a way that makes it worth the bother to read.
Still, for all my quibbles with that one question and answer, I think The Made-Up Self: Impersonation In the Personal Essay is yet another book I’m going to have to find time to ready.
§ I’m publishing this entry a day early so you’ll still have time to make this event at the Maple Street Book Shop: Jordan Flaherty, along with local poet Asia Rainey, will be the shop at 6:00 P.M. to discuss and sign Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to Jena Six. Eve Ensler, playwright of The Vagina Monologues and activist and founder of V-Day, says, This is the most important book I*ve read about Katrina and what came after. In the tradition of Howard Zinn this could be called The People*s History of the Storm. Jordan Flaherty was there on the front lines. For more information about this book, please visit floodlines.org.
§ Otherwise another quiet week. At the Maple Leaf on Sunday Cleveland poet Russell Vidrick reads from his work with poet Joseph Makkos. 17 Poets! is still on hiatus until February. Nothing else much at the bookstores of interest to me (the criteria for getting listed. That or a beer).