Saturday October 24, 2009

Why Blogging Isn't Writing—I

The other night my friend Tommy and I were talking about a game we both play. When the latest New Yorker arrives in the mail we turn to the “Talk of the Town” section, read the first graph of the first piece, and try to guess whether it’s Hendrik Hertzberg. Usually we can tell. His writing tends to be clearer, more insightful, more playful than the other writers—often very good writers—who also appear regularly in that space.

But I admit I play that game less often now. That first section of the “Talk of the Town,” which once seemed so essential, increasingly feels like old news. Which it is. I think: “They’re still writing about that?” (Something that happened last week.) “I want to read about this.” (Something that happened yesterday or today or an hour ago.) In this way the Internet has made children of us all.

To be sure, The New Yorker has blogs on its Web site from most of its regular writers—Hertzberg included. I link to it. It’s good. But it’s not Hertzberg. Or it’s not as good as Hertzberg can be.

And that’s because blogging isn’t writing. Writing is rewriting, and usually rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, and hardly anybody spends much time rewriting a blog post. “To get it wrong so many times,” laments E.I. Lonoff, Philip Roth’s fictional writer, of the many drafts he goes through before he gets a novel or a short story or a sentence just so. His line could describe our online world, which is about immediacy rather than getting it right. It could be the epitaph for our age. We get it wrong so many times.

Me, too. I’m the first to admit that after two years I haven’t figured out what this thing is for yet. In the best blogs—such as Andrew Sullivan’s—the internal process, the thinking process, how one arrives at the thoughts one arrives at, is presented externally. That’s fascinating. But it’s not writing. It’s something else. Milan Kundera has written essays about sweeping up around the final product (the essay, the story, the novel) so that the process is not visible to the reader, so that the product stands alone, like Stonehenge, leaving readers to wonder, “Wow. How did this thing get here anyway?” That’s 20th century thinking. We’re process now rather than product. Even if there is a product, we use the process to sell it. DVD extras and cut scenes. Alternative tracks to popular songs. Here’s what we deemed uncecessary. Here’s where we got it wrong so many times.

This post, too, is process. It's not leading anywhere. It's not really suggesting anything. It's just pointing out mixed feelings.

Posted at 09:10 AM on Saturday October 24, 2009 in category Personal Pieces  
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