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Bloggerish and Gibberish

In the history of literature, the letter has been a very important element. Epistolary exchange has shed light on the lives of most of the important artists and historical figures — and some less important figures that happened to have written well — in the history of the world.

This light has revealed profound emotional difficulty, the expression of love, high comedy, the pressures of the family and of war, sexual joy, indirection and disappointment, of soulful waste and ecstatic release and the onerous effects of government intrusion on the creative spirit. In short, the letter, as a form, has shed clear and uncompromising light on just about everything.

Now we have blogs. When I first encountered this phenomenon, I was heartened. With the birth of the telephone and, much later, the television, good personal writing abruptly disappeared. It was easier to pick up the phone and call. It was more fulfilling to watch a game show than to write to your lover. So it came to be that most people gave up writing letters, and an entire literary genre almost ceased to exist.

The blog held out the possibility for a resurgence of the letter form through use of the Internet. Perhaps now people would write to one another again, and this is a consummation devoutly to be wished. The letter is so important to the history of human expression that its disappearance was like the withering of a human limb, or worse, a human organ, one that spirits the blood and makes it flow. The blog would restore that organ, I hoped.

It has become very quickly apparent that the blog has not risen to the challenge.

In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, New York Times critic Sarah Boxer writes about blogs. She had been asked to put together an anthology of blog entries, and had initially shunned the idea. "It could not be done, I was sure. Books are tight. Blogs are reckless. Books are slow. Blogs are fast. Books ask you to stay between their covers. Blogs invite you to stray. Books fret over copyright and libel. Blogs grab whatever they want with impunity — news, gossip, pictures, videos. Making a book out of bloggy material, if it could be done at all, would kill it, wouldn't it?"

It is this kind of anarchy that is the norm in blogs. My wish for the return of thoughtful exchange and artful writing — in my opinion the truest and most beautiful form of anarchy there is — has not in general been fulfilled. This is due to something I had not foreseen at all, which is that although bloggers may want exchange of some kind (perhaps a recipe for goulash or the sharing of websites about Tom Cruise), it usually is not very thoughtful exchange and, above all, bloggers (excepting those at Red Room, of course) don't care for artful writing at all.

The blog as we currently know it is very often a depthless complaint in which the blogger takes some famous cultural icon -- Britney Spears, et. al -- to task for something, complains about that icon, laughs at her, issues a depthless challenge to her to clean up her act, and then natters on some more in a smartass and depthless continuation of the original complaint. There are positive blogs, to be sure, like those that talk about one's cat or how to overcome the difficulties to be found in screwing in a light bulb. Blogs like these — by far the great majority of them — remind me more of random momentary conversation that goes nowhere, or at least not far.

An unscientific survey of the Internet that I've made at random, of about 150 blogs, shows that seven or eight of them contain content that goes beyond the level of personal persnicketyness or complaint that I've described. These are blogs that address things like the arts, proper government and what it requires, good books, insightful films, the meaning of sport in our society, dance and good writing. Thought, in other words. That's about 5% of all blogs.

For the vast majority of blogs, I therefore propose the term "bloggerish." The word already exists, but I believe it is a descriptive term that refers simply to the nature of most blogs. For example, you read a short little article at some website about something of little importance, written in semi-literate language that very often has a personal gripe at its center and not much else, and it sounds "bloggerish" to you. So, that's an adjective.

My use of the term would make it into a noun. Most bloggerish is the language that, in another context, would be called gibberish.

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guilty? hope not.

Terence,  I was pleased to see you raise this subject. As I read I mentally perused my blogging output to decide whether I was indictable. That will take more time. But, Red Room being a writers' site I expected mostly serious content or, even better, fresh humor. The reason I pondered my own possible culpability in the matters you mentioned is that I almost stopped writing letters completely in 1973. I don't know what came over me because before that I was an enthusiastic and prolific letter writer. I also took pleasure in style and quality. Much of this was wasted on my choices of correspondents.

I turned to blogging mostly to get my name out in the hope of marketing my writing. Any little thing might help. But then I think the immediacy appealed to me. If I direct a comment to an individual he/she will have it in minutes or at least maybe tomorrow. But I'd still like to maintain a literate standard and am disappointed when I find that I haven't.

In any case I'm glad someone places importance on these things. I have found your posts interesting and useful. Here's to the word and its proper presentation. ------------ Charlie