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Odd Words January 19, 2011

Posted by The Typist 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).


1. Maitri - January 20, 2011

“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.”

Says who? Aren’t we sick of trotting out this same old horse of what a blog is and what it should be when it’s just a medium? Who is anyone to say what a blog is and isn’t and what voice to use? And does Carl Klaus realize how much can be said, is said, is not said and is revisited over and over as our meditations metamorphose over time and experience? Why is everyone so suddenly obsessed about their blogs Being About something and for what audience? Just write. Even if no one is reading.


mf - January 20, 2011

Write Like A Motherfucker. The rest will come. Or it won’t. We all want to be interesting, to be read, but none of us are here for the glory.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


Maitri - January 20, 2011

Bloggers wanting to be journalists. Journalists wanting to be bloggers. What we have here is a failure to imaginate.

I really wish I could write like you. That free poetic flow but with purpose.


mf - January 20, 2011

Which, if you read the interview closely, is what the author extols. Then says: blogs, meh. I say UI writing program: meh

Out here on the perimeter we are our own cartographers, copying the best of what is extent, filling in the rest with our best conjecture and the newest rumors.

We are not afraid of lions or dragons at the margins. We seek them out so we might describe them and make the world that much more complete. We imagine new Floridas and slay our own dragons laid out for all the world to see.

P.S. You’re too kind.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


2. nkg - January 21, 2011

It’s true that a blog can do all those things that Carl said it can’t, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a blog is just a format. Yes, you could spend many months on an essay and post it on a blog, but that’s not what we think of as a blog post. It would be akin to linking to an essay on your website, an essay that may or may not have been published elsewhere, whereas a blog post is typically written as such. No matter how many times you revise your posts, you’re not likely to approach the quality of an essay that’s been worked on for months (and this may have been Carl’s larger point). Isn’t that what we like about blogs? Thoughtful, but more informal, less artily self-conscious? And likewise we turn to essays when we want to go deeper? I think Andrew Sullivan was getting somewhere when he said that a blog occupies a space between speaking and writing.

Which brings up another question. Is there a difference between a Montaigne-like essay and a blog when it comes to considerations of persona? Certainly a blogger can, if he or she wants, write in any number of personas, but I bet many bloggers feel, as Sullivan does of himself, that there’s a greater correspondence between the blogger and the “true self” than there is in some other forms of writing.


mf - January 21, 2011

I agree that most blog posts do not rise to the level of an essay that was months in composition and revision. It is much closer to Klaus’ My Vegetable Love, short pieces written as he states from short-term memory, from immediate impressions. I still think to suggest that “blogging” is not “essaying” is too generic a statement to be supported. Certain blogs are at their best simply a sub-set of essay, one suited to the format and the times (by which I mean the audience). All writing is in such transition right now that I tend to bristle at the suggestion that something new and out-of-the-box is not quite up to snuff. Perhaps it is not because we are still exploring the format and it’s requirements, but many of us are frequently writing what we would consider short essays: thoughtful, self-consciously artful (by which I mean craft and sensibility), and very much about my new least favorite work: interiority.

Maybe I just have an interiority complex because I’m just a blogger, although I’ve had blog pieces anthologized with minimal edits and just helped publish a book mixing bloggers and “real writers” experiences with Hurricane Katrina.


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