So, my larger question today is why blog? What is a blog? What does this count as? In some ways, blogging seems like the purest form of speech possible. No money is changing hands—no points on the job market, no use value—just interesting people talking to interested people, about whatever the chosen subject may be. And unlike *some* blogs that are really just book proposals on the web (Stuff White People Like, anyone?), this blog at least is really just an existential engagement with the void. Yes, dear reader, to me, you are the void. Or you circulate in the void. Or at least you represent a completely unpredictable and totally open ended version of humankind that I call the void.
I lived through the first version of hypertext theory, back when the web was new (I was the author of the now defunct “Bitterness Home Page”). Most of the utopian vision has either been realized or been proved silly. I can tell you that back when everyone was super-excited about the rhizomatic structure of the world wide web, they weren’t talking about the Scrabble wars on Facebook. Frankly, the web has always seemed to me like either a more convenient form of reference (does anyone really miss the yellow pages or the card catalog?), or a repository of printed documents. In other words, I’m not sure that the internet has brought anything into being that wasn’t there before. I’m watching Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story on youtube right now. Because it’s illegal to sell (the use of the songs is unauthorized), the only version I’d ever seen was so blurry you could barely make out the Barbie dolls. I bought a copy after I first moved to New York, I kid you not, from a guy who called my office to sell me toner, and when I didn’t want toner, asked if there were videos I’d been looking for but couldn’t find. The Youtube version is much better. And going up to the guy’s office to get the video tape was super creepy. But still—youtube to me is just a place for things I want. Same stuff, easier Once I start playing the rhizome, it goes bad. One of my students wrote about watching floating otters on youtube, so I went to watch otters on youtube. The videos are short, so I start clicking up, and I end up listening to a twelve year old girl discussing her feelings. Which frankly felt much much creepier than the walk up to the office to buy a bootleg copy of Superstar. So maybe it’s not that I don’t know that the internet hasn’t created something new—it’s just the intimacies it’s offering are ones I don’t want.
And I think that Blogs are part of that intimacy—and I haven’t wanted it. My husband had a blog for a while, and my mother read it every morning. Then she’d call me and know what my husband was thinking before I did. I refused to read his blog. The man lives with me, we talk all the time. And this became the primal scene of blogging for me: my mom knowing my husband better than I do. But two things happened this week that are making me think that I might have to spend more time in the blogosphere. The first was the memorial for Reginald Shepherd at NYU. Everyone commented on how important his blog had been. The second was a scathing “review” of an acquaintance by an acquaintance. Over dinner, a friend asked me if I knew them and if I knew why one would do such a hatchet job on the other. I do know them, I’m fairly sure that I know why the one sank his fangs into the other, and when I went to look for the review, it turned out to be a posting on his blog. My first thought was, “Oh, I thought it was a real review. This doesn’t matter at all.” But then as I read the comments and looked at the links, I realized how many of my friends were commenting, linking, and generally discussing it. So does this actually matter? The amazing thing about the blog, and this “review” (blog post) in particular, is how intimate it is. I know all the players and they all know each other. There’s no editorial buffer. You may notice that I’m skirting the names here—I haven’t decided to actually get involved yet—but that’s because it feels like a mud pit. Is this a new mud pit? Is this different from the Mary McCarthy/Lillian Hellman feud, or the James Whistler/John Ruskin feud, but on a smaller, less articulate scale? Or is this something different? What I found most shocking was that after the posting, an editor had offered the hatchet wielder a chance to review for his magazine. Clearly the membrane separating blogs from the magazines is thinning. And here you find me blogging for PBQ.
Greg I feel you on the dilemma of teaching—how do you manage to preserve what you love about a work while offering it to students. And how to predict what they won’t know? I think it’s very hard to be a teacher (Kathy, as having had pedagogical success last week, you may want to weigh in) in so far as what makes you a successful student may make you an unsuccessful teacher. As a student, I scrambled to fill in any gaps in my knowledge—though I remember thinking that Ibsen was rather obscure when first taught “A Doll’s House.” Because I’d never heard of him. Now, I try to fill in as much background as I can before I bring in a poem to class. I’m always surprised that students can be hostile when confronted by something they don’t know. I was once teaching “The Wild Iris” and I started explaining the difference between perennials and annuals. My students were furious—how dare Gluck include such obscure information. My attitude was, “it’s ok, I’m here to tell you these things… that’s why I’m the teacher.” I think that “difficulty” is always something to be negotiated between teacher and student. For me, the best part of literature is the strangeness of the language. Wordsworth, for example, is often quite bizarre. But you have to be comfortable with the rules and norms and expectations of anything before you can enjoy it as being strange. The more I teach, the more I realize how much learning happens through immersion—a necessarily time consuming process. I have a letter posted over my desk at BMCC from a professor complaining that her students aren’t up to the literature she’s giving them. I keep it there because it’s from 1924, lest I consider our dilemma a new one.