ReadySteadyBlog

As I tried to make very clear in my post on Sunday, the small and contained argument that I'm advancing is not that serious and interesting writing about books is not happening online. Categorically, it is. I listed five blogs and bloggers in my original Guardian postThis Space, David Winters, 3:AM, Flowerville, Time's Flow Stemmed – and in my follow up blog, I listed several more – John Self, Berfrois, LARB and Dan Green. Very many more wonderful book-related spaces and places could be mentioned – The Quarterly Conversation and HTMLGiant both deserve a shout, as do Marooned Off Vesta, Infinite Patience and in lieu of a field guide. Without all this fine online work, the cultural landscape would be very much more bleak. Thank god for websites!

I'm really not sure how more clearly I can say this: I'm not saying interesting work is not going on; I'm not saying you can't find great writing about writing online; I'm simply pointing out the observable, and to me rather odd, fact that in very many other fields (all kinds of genre writing, political blogs, philosophy blogs, food writing etc, etc) a named individual of real skill has emerged from the blogosphere to change the debate in their respective fields. Richard Seymour fundamentally changed, and often set, the debate in his part of the Left. Graham Harman has changed the debate in Continental Philosophy regarding realism for good.

Or lets take the offline example of James Wood – via his 'criticism'/reviewing he has changed the conversation by banging on about e.g. Hysterical Realism or bringing our attention to Free Indirect Discourse. Sadly and strangely, nothing remotely like this has come out of the online conversation about books. Take also e.g. Blanchot's NRF monthly essays from back in the day – quietly and insistently his interventions changed the conversation, altered perceptions, re-routed thinking. The Blanchot example could perhaps be seen as being a little arcane, but I think it might be the best example. Blanchot's monthly essays – no requirement here whatsoever that the blogging should be daily or even weekly – slowly, via their form, percolated into the consciousness of literary France, and changed literary critical discourse for good.

Blogging has added more critical voices to the general clamour. Great. Good to have more voices, excellent to have more views. But neither in content or form has it substantively affected the wider book conversation. These days we just have lots more reviewers mimicking newspaper reviews. Plainly, noting this does not equate with suggesting in any way that blogging is dead, or that online writing is not a considerable cultural boon.

The question remains, however, why have no serious literary critics emerged, maintaining a blog, doing innovative work and gaining a following for that work and changing the wider conversation, as we have seen in plenty of other fields? Where are the lit-critical Jack Monroes, Graham Harmans, Paul Slaines, Richard Seymours, Ian Bogosts? I don't see them. And I regret the lack.

In the UK, one blogger, John Self, has become a talisman. John is a superb book reviewer. Everyone should read him. He writes straight up and down reviews in the broadsheet style, penetrating and amusing, incisive and witty, and he has rightly been embraced by the Guardian, and thousands of eager readers. He is a tremendously good writer. He is not, however, a literary critic, and his writing, on the blog, echoes the form and style of response we see every week in the newspapers. That is not a value judgment, it is a fact. And it echoes another fact: no literary critic has yet emerged from the blogosphere; no writer has yet emerged from the large and informed online writing community and changed the wider conversation about writing on writing.

You may well think that the world doesn't need literary critics. Fine response! You may well think that book reviewing suffices. It's an entirely valid point. You may well want to ignore my actual argument and tell me that great writing is happening online here, there and somewhere else. And, as I've stressed, I can only agree that it absolutely is. Wikipedia tells me the "term 'weblog' was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997." So blogging has been around for a long time. And blogging is just part of the wider online writing revolution, the vibrancy, breadth and depth of which can only be applauded; it astounds and amazes. But in very many other fields, writers have emerged from online and changed their respective fields for good. Particularly noteworthy, as I've said, is the rise and rise of speculative realism which has fundamentally changed the debate raging in modern European Philosophy and is setting the agenda for exciting work ahead. It's a wonder to behold. Has this happened in the field of literary criticism? No, it has not.

Readers Comments

  1. Thanks for the comment.

    My point is not about leaders but the lack of game-changing ideas. If we take the philosophy/SR blogosphere as a good example there are numerous blogs all discussing and critiquing (and arguing and extending) ideas that have started with a few and have been developed by the very many. I can read hundreds of lit-blogs and not come upon one new idea. Why is that? Daniel Mendelsohn (?@DMendelsohn1960) asked on Twitter "why is the criterion that the work has to be "game-changing"?" Well, it isn't "the" criterion, but it is one amongst many. And it is lacking. And that is surely noteworthy. What is it about the structure or history or practice of online literary criticism, defined in its widest sense, that at the moment seems to make it lack innovation, not ever to have led or changed the debate.

    Like you I read countless blogs. And have learned a huge amount from them. And perhaps no "leadership", simply lots and lots of voices, is all that we need. But "lots and lots of different people giving their take" defines the blogosphere in general. How come in other areas some voices have changed the debate, but in lit-blogging they have not?

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