Why We Blog

BlogPlease forgive me for not writing much today. I’ve been here the whole time, but I seem to have the flu or something. I just don’t feel up to reading or writing. In fact, I spent the last two and a half hours watching Harakiri, which is an incredibly powerful film. Even still, I don’t feel up to writing about it.

Last week, Infidel753 wrote, Catacombs of the Blogosphere. It is sort of a celebration and remembrance of blogs that have stopped running (or slowed to a trickle). Blogs are, by their nature, ephemeral. And in a fundamental way, I think that political blogs are unhealthy. They force us to consume a lot of politics and then they attract (in my case) conservatives who, nine out of ten times, add nothing to the conversation. They spout talking points that I have usually addressed many times before. It’s exhausting. (Of course, they also attract more interesting and informed people, which is a big part of why I continue to do it. So I’m not surprised that people cut back and even stop.

There’s another issue, I think. Blogging forces you to see just how many great and thoughtful writers there are out there. It’s great for developing your skills. But it isn’t going anywhere. It is hobby writing. I figure I could do this for another decade and I would still be getting the same few hundred actual (not spam) visitors per day. To a large extent, this is simply a result of the structure of the internet. I have another website that I started in early 2000. I haven’t done anything on it in years. Yet it still gets ten times the traffic that Frankly Curious gets.

A better question than “Why have they stopped?” is “Why did they take it seriously for so long?” And I think the answer to this is extremely positive. It shows self-actualization; it shows commitment; it shows passion. Bloggers really are the best of what we are. (Well, they are; I’m just a narcissist.) And they are extremely idiosyncratic. Infidel753 mentioned this, “If a blogger is dedicated to liberal politics but also has a passionate interest in, say, gardening and jazz music, then there will be some posts about liberal politics and others about gardening or jazz music.” Exactly.

Still, why do I post five or so articles every day? Part of it is fear. I see it as a kind of work of anti-art. It will go on as long as I do it and then it will be no more—very much like life itself. We spin our webs as a reflection of who we are. William Buckley famously wrote, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop…” We liberals run ahead of history yelling, “Full steam ahead!” It’s a noble, if futile endeavor. But what else am I going to do?

It is very possible I will repudiate this all tomorrow. I feel like my head is swimming. But I had to get this out. It’s been over a year since I only published one article in a day…

Update (29 April 2014 8:52 am)

Infidel753 wrote a followup:

Harper Lee’s Creative Humility

Harper LeeToday is the 88th birthday of Harper Lee. She wrote one of the greatest English language novels ever, To Kill a Mockingbird. Of all the Southern Gothic authors, she is the only one that doesn’t seem to hate the entire world. But had she ever published so much as another story, we might have found out that there were stores of misanthropy just waiting to explode on the page. Of course, she never did publish anything more.

Because she never published anything else, many people have speculated that Mockingbird was some kind of collaboration with Truman Capote—or at least that he “edited” the book. I’m deeply offended by this. First, given Capote’s personality, does anyone really think he would not have skimmed off more than his fair share of the credit for what is sadly better than anything he ever wrote? Second, Harper Lee has a rather different style. At the time she was writing it, Capote was writing Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Third, it isn’t as though the two were kids anymore; they were both in their thirties. The whole thing strikes me as pure sexism.

I think the reason that Harper Lee has published no fiction is that she’s paralyzed by the success of her novel. It isn’t as though she hasn’t tried to write other novels; she’s just been unhappy with them. Regardless of what she released, it would have been savaged. We’ve seen this again and again. Joseph Heller wrote his whole life under the shadow of Catch-22. Ken Kesey wrote under the shadow of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And if I didn’t hate him so much, I would admit that the same fate awaited J D Salinger.

It reminds me of what Orson Welles said of his endless production of one of his great unfinished projects, “Don Quixote was a private exercise of mine, and it will be finished as an author would finish it—in my own good time, when I feel like it.” It would be far better if successful writers wrote less. I’ve long been a defender of Stephen King, who really is a talented writer. But for decades he’s been publishing books just because he can. A little quality control would go a long way. And it would allow more oxygen for other authors.

So Harper Lee shows a hero for her creative humility. And that is something writers are greatly in need of.

Happy birthday Harper Lee!