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June 12, 2007

More People Saying Dumb Things

I don't know why so many people in literature have got such a hate-on for blogs these days -- it must be something in the printer's ink -- but what I do know is when they open their mouths on the subject, some ass-hattery usually belches forth. Over at Ficlets, I document such an atrocity, and naturally, respond.

Posted by john at June 12, 2007 05:13 PM

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Jonathan Vos Post | June 12, 2007 05:36 PM

That fool denies that literature is like news. However:

"Literature is news that stays news."

Ezra Pound, "ABC of Reading" [1934] chapter 8.

The obvious conclusion: "Blogging about literature can be news about 'news that stays news,' that stays news."

Gabriele | June 12, 2007 05:41 PM

Geez, is that discussion still around? I got miffed at the uppnosy (is that word? lol) attitude of magazine and newspaper reviewers towards bloggers who dare to write about Literature a few weeks ago, though not badly enough to rant on my blog. Let's just say, I have a MA in Literature, History and Linguistics and thus every right in the world to review books even according to the blown-up standards of those newspaper reviewers. *grin*

Other academics seem to have less problems with blogs - there are some good ones about Mediaeval Literature, History and other 'university topics' around.

Great reply, btw.
Size doesn't matter that much. :)

Patrick | June 12, 2007 05:53 PM


"Already there are some web publications — like Contemporary Poetry Review (cprw.com), to which I occasionally contribute — that match anything in print for seriousness of purpose. But there's no chance that literary culture will thrive on the Internet until we recognize that the ethical and intellectual crotchets of the bloggers represent a dead end."

So, it isn't the internet, it is the blog and by definition, bloggers are dumb illiterates.


Anne C. | June 12, 2007 06:17 PM

I find it hard to believe that a literary discussion resembling a conversation (like, oh, *a blog*) is going to be less dead than a Literary Criticism written in a Book, shelved in a Library. But what do I know? I blog.

CosmicDog | June 12, 2007 06:45 PM

If it wasn't for Wil Wheaton's blog, I never would have heard of John Scalzi (maybe not never, but much later anyway.) And through Scalzi reviews, I have been exposed to excellent SF&F, which lead me to become a member of SFBC. I have read dozens of books in the last year and half that I would not even had known about, if not for John and Wil's blogs.

"Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right." Maybe. I guess it really depends on your priorities. As a wannabe novelist, anything that convinces someone to read (and purchase) my work is GOOD. As far as the criticism itself becoming part of the cultural/artistic tapestry, I couldn't really care less.

Corby K | June 12, 2007 07:08 PM

He does make a couple of good points.

The resentment of many bloggers( and not just them, but forum trolls, etc.) does tend to color the idea of decent literary criticism, but I don't think it's just from the online community. Perhaps he should look in his own backyard before he tries to describe someone else's.

And the idea of Literary Criticism that he is talking about sounds like the types of novels you buy to explain the novel you are too pedestrian to understand all by your lonesome, which brings to mind a completely different problem - pretension, or what I enjoy calling "The Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome.

Jon H | June 12, 2007 08:07 PM

The newspaper counterargument occurred to me too.

His argument against blogs is like someone saying "You can hardly do literary criticism in a newspaper - squished into narrow columns, with limited word counts, and worst of all expected to slavishly follow an 'inverted pyramid' structure. How limited! And worst of all you're attempting to be literary right next to ads with women in their underwear."

Crunchbird | June 12, 2007 08:38 PM

I think my favorite bit from your excerpt is where he says, "it is no coincidence that there is no literary blogger with the audience and influence of the top political bloggers," apparently with a straight face.

Does he really expect a literature blog to get as many hits as a politics blog? When was the last time a NYT book review of something he would accept as literature showed up on the NYTimes.com "Most Forwarded" list?

Ron Hogan | June 12, 2007 09:04 PM

Right; it's certainly not because there's more "news" in politics than there is in literature, which is the rationale he offers.

Steve Buchheit | June 12, 2007 10:31 PM

I think what they're most afraid of is that someone will disagree with them in the comments and make their points well and throughtfully, exposing much of the dreck and wild-assed-speculation of literary criticism.

This is just like art criticism.

At the Cleveland Museum there was an display of Helenistic Greek metal items (you can think of as "god charm bracelettes"). I got to hear one of the curators (yes, her badge said Curator and I recognized her from the newsletters) go on and on to a group of students about the Hercules images in the case, spouting data/legends about Hercules which were cribbed from the show with whatshisface.

I listened to as much as I could stomach, politely interupted and explained that the images in question occured before the advent of Zeus in the pantheon. That Hercules at this time was Heracles which meant "The Glory of Hera" and was Hera's champion, and much of what she was giving the students occured after the fall of Hellenic Greece when the northern greek tribes reinvaded, which was a time period represented by the art two galleries away (it was a travelling exhibit).

She challenged me with some questions, and was very upset when I demonstrated my knowledge of both Art and Classic Mythology (at least for what she knew and could point to in the exhibit).

To this day I am suprised I wasn't escorted out of the museum (but then, at the time, I was a member).

Diana | June 12, 2007 11:32 PM

I'm with crunchbird. That was the line that made me laugh out loud.

I can't decide whether I'd be excited to live in a world where literature was deemed as important as government... or scared.

Jonathan Vos Post | June 13, 2007 02:02 AM

"...to live in a world where literature was deemed as important as government..."

Well, politics of corrupt petty legislators, or the Futurity of Science Fiction, and THIS:

"It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

["A Defence of Poetry", Percy Bysshe Shelley]

David Chunn | June 13, 2007 02:20 AM

Oooh, the opinion of a literary critic. That's something I care about!

Kit Whitfield | June 13, 2007 08:51 AM

'Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right, with a scope, complexity, and authority that no blogger I know even wants to achieve.'

Says who? Is there something about posting a piece on a blog that makes a writer think, 'Oh dear, I'd like to go for a graceful prose style, informed opinions and penetrating insights, but I don't think I can! Not on a blog!'

Judging from his article, I don't think he knows many bloggers at all.

clvrmnky | June 13, 2007 09:01 AM

Here's an example of a publisher that gets it:


Publishers who are alarmed by competition from the internet need to remember that what they do isn't putting ink on paper and books into bookstores. A reference publisher is in the business of helping people find the information they need when they need it. A fiction publisher is in the entertainment business. A textbook publisher is in the education business.

Phortiphy | June 13, 2007 12:20 PM

It sounds like this guy didn't do his homework.

Jon H | June 13, 2007 07:38 PM

I think the key to outbursts like this is the old saying, something along the lines of 'the fighting is fiercest when the stakes are so small'.

S Andrew Swann | June 13, 2007 07:55 PM

This argument springs not from the fact that he doesn't "get it." I think pointing out his mis-characterization of the blogosphere is missing out where he's really coming from. . .

His gripe is over the lack of control. The lack of gatekeepers. Those who rail against blogs (and such things as Wikipedia) because of their lack of authority are, in fact, railing against the idea that authority can be established by any means other than their own established power structure.

Berry | June 13, 2007 08:20 PM

Awwww, poor fella. Nobody wants to go eat at his widdle buffet wif his widdle, nawwow selection of food.


So, he gets paid to be a critic, er, I mean secondhand creator, right? Evenhanded criticism that focuses on the redeemable (or not so) aspects of a work is one thing, hubris-riddled, pinky-finger-in-the-air-whilst-"we"-drink-unpronouncable-coffees-style literary snobbery is quite another.

Double ass.

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