Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Residue Of Thinking

There is a level of purity, perhaps even idealization, in the art of fiction that conditions me to make it primary writing: fiction becomes sacrosanct. I would imagine a lot of fiction writers have this perception. The desire to express thoughts on any other writing can seem secondary, irrelevant, or too much of a distraction. In other words, if you aren’t writing fiction, you aren’t really writing.

Thus, I frequently find it necessary to justify the point of keeping a blog.

Just as in keeping a journal, a blog allows me to codify my thoughts, ones that may not be fully fleshed out. Here there is a compulsion to explain, perhaps to rationalize or discover the arrival at an opinion. When you work all the angles (or try), you may not avoid learning something new, or revising how you once thought about a topic or idea.

When I did my grad program writing, the process became most clear to me in the writing of annotations. The annotation is a more focused and detailed book reviewing, usually of a novel, although one can annotate any book. The discoveries came out almost organically from the material, as opposed to trying to validate a premise, a shortcoming of many of my so-called “academic” papers. The writing came to be what I called thinking on the page. It’s what writing is for me: ultimately a conveyor of thought, but essentially a residue of thinking. Through the writing I am discovering. But the goal isn’t necessarily about achieving objectivity, something that I feel inclined towards when writing a book review, if only to appease an editor. In general, objectivity will drive everyone toward safe, not unreasonable conclusions, or what will avoid being unpopular or controversial. But what has more interested me may be the illusion that what I’m driving at is highly unique and subjective. Abandoning politics, right thinking, trying to please any master other than myself, in short, avoiding playing it safe with my conclusions, is what this blog writing feels like to me.

The blogs I’ve come across run the gamut. There is the tightly braided academic language that uses jargon and excessive complexity to state something simple, possibly to cloak an idea the writer isn’t quite sure of. On the other end of the spectrum is the palatable to all, I-don’t-want-to-offend-thee pablum that is merely a form of soft self-hype, of little substance. I suppose I’m holding my own style up as an ideal counter-example.

My version of a blog is an attempt to subvert the spontaneity of execution that is blog writing. Maybe this is an anti-blog. I don’t just write the first thing that comes to me here--I don’t want to be that boring--nor can I be (dare I say it) eloquent without reflection. Andrew Sullivan’s piece in the Atlantic first got me thinking about all of this, as he seems to aim at justifying and defining the “proper” use of a blog. To which I offer: why deny what a blog can be?


  1. Nice post, Robert. I feel the same about the primacy of fiction, and I also resonated to some of your thoughts on blog-writing. I'm still struggling over what it is I'm doing keeping a blog (there, maybe that's it, "keeping" like one "keeps" an animal; it must be tended to, watered and fed, taken for walkies...), but part of it is definitely the way that completing a post compels me to think through and crystalize ideas which would otherwise be inchoate, or . . . half-baked (altho' some would say they're still that way). The post is the "residue" of the process, as you put it.

    But I also liked your idea of "subverting the spontaneity of expression" that one finds in so many blogs. This is putting a positive face on what - for me - remains an anxiety: that I haven't yet been able to achieve a kind of looseness or informality that is the expected blog tone. So I'll appropriate (and possibly misconstrue) your formulation and use it as my alibi! Many thanks....

  2. Thanks, Edmond. Glad to hear your thoughts.

    As someone who prides himself on doing things a bit differently than everyone else anyway, I think my blog reflects this. But then again, maybe I'm terribly naive.