Thursday, 28 April 2005

Threads, part I

I've got too many things to talk about right now to try to weave them into a single consistent post, but the point about all of them, is that they mean more tangled up together than neatly but artifically combed into separate strands. So let's see how long it takes before this post, the first of a series I currently have on the loom, comes entirely apart at the seams. [/ghastly puns]

Radio National is always on if I'm home alone during the day, like now. This morning they did a story on the place of blogging in the mediascape - you know the kind and so do I - but this was the first such report I've really taken in since I became a blogger myself. Fair enough this was a story about blogging's relationship to "serious journalism" (their phrase), but it's bothered me all through my morning.

The local blogs namechecked were mostly drawn from the usual suspects: margo, quiggin, tim blair, troppo: the boring ones, that is, the ones that just leave me wondering why the writers don't stick to normal publishing, since they don't push any envelopes regarding using the blog medium. (they also talked to Xeni Jardin; and to GuruAnn, interestingly.) If what these writers are doing with their blogs can be fully explained to RN listeners by likening it to established media - opinion pages, radio talkback etc - then what is it they're doing that's different? According to the experts, blogging is either: punditry - opinion and commentary on 'news': or it's what Xeni described as diaries "by people whose only motivation is to share bits of their daily lives, bits of their subjective experience." When those people find themselves on the spot where news is breaking, their diarising is temporarily elevated to the rank of amateur, supposedly disinterested, eyewitness reporting. You know the line.

I have real problems with this too-easy segmenting up of what blogs are capable of doing. At best, that 'public politics / domestic lives' view is narrow, and at very, very worst, it's chauvinist and reactionary. It's another manifestation of the same repressive, ignorant tradition of thought that portions up the work of keeping society functioning into two bundles. Outside the home is the world of work, politics, business, and it belongs to men. Inside the home is family and child-raising, feeding and clothing, and this is where women are the custodians. This is how people thought in the nineteenth century. To automatically rate the contribution to public discourse made by the Quiggin sort of blog over the contribution from the Loobylu sort of blog smacks to me of ancient, narrow, patriarchal shortsightedness.

One thing that is good and truly revolutionary about the blog form is that it completely undoes the public/private dichotomy: there are women writing from home about what it's like to spend all day alone with a teething baby. Some of these women have ten thousand regular readers. The readers come, and stay, and discuss, because these bloggers are setting agendas for chewing over things that dominate the living of their own lives and the shaping of their own identities. Hello, it's called "politics"! Likewise, a few of my favourite blogs confine themselves to a single subject, but the vast majority of the ones I really couldn't do without manage to funnel heaps of different topics into their posts. That way, different topics all collected up together, (and different approaches, and different tones of voice) set up vibrations and resonances off of each other. It's really fascinating, and I feel it's what turns a blog from a series of chats into an absorbing internal narrative, or conversation.

I can think of very few topics or subjects which couldn't be channeled through the blog form, which obviously includes both posting and commenting, in a way that undercuts a simple separation of private trivia and the public interest. Blogging about pets, for example. Mostly, it's dumb, it's fun, it's slightly self-indulgent, which are all excellent things to have going on in writing and in readers' responses. But it's not automatically rendered trivial and silly, just because it's about a household animal. Ever read Animal Liberation? or Animal Farm? or My Dog Tulip? or Tarka the Otter? Or William Cowper's poetry about the hare? or Christopher Smart's poem about his cat? - which, now I think of it, is too good not to share - I'll find it later.) My point is that while nobody can or should expect every bloggy chat about pets or babies or knitting or plants or music or haircuts to also explore the innermost recesses of the human soul, no-one should automatically assume those subjects can't take us there, either.

Actually, I seriously doubt whether anyone who visits here would disagree much with that proposal. Still, I know I've got some hang-ups (to use the technical term) about what is OK to be "seriously" interested in and what is not. Here's a passage about the hang-up I have mostly in mind:

A few days before she had done a dreadful thing, and it weighed upon her conscience. Sallie had been buying silks, and Meg longed for a new one, just a handsome light one for parties, her black silk was so common, and thin things for evening wear were only proper for girls. Aunt March usually gave the sisters a present of twenty-five dollars apiece at New Year's. That was only a month to wait, and here was a lovely violet silk going at a bargain, and she had the money, if she only dared to take it. John always said what was his was hers, but would he think it right to spend not only the prospective five-and-twenty, but another five-and-twenty out of the household fund? That was the question. Sallie had urged her to do it, had offered to lend the money, and with the best intentions in life had tempted Meg beyond her strength. In an evil moment the shopman held up the lovely, shimmering folds, and said, "A bargain, I assure, you, ma'am." She answered, "I'll take it," and it was cut off and paid for, and Sallie had exulted, and she had laughed as if it were a thing of no consequence, and driven away, feeling as if she had stolen something, and the police were after her.

- Louisa M.Alcott, Little Women

To Be Continued.


Brownie said...

blogging about Companion Animals is not dumb. petfood market is worth billions. etc etc.
I wonder what triggered the RN feature? You may have missed the Big Fight at my place, Bahnisch/Larvae Pro Deo and at over their essay titled "Bloggers are either Tim Dunlop or SAD shut-ins. In the end I had to delete the post I did on the writer. His wife was attacking me from all directions (at bahnisch, at Opinion Online, at my blog, and after I deleted the post she came to my email inbox).
several sweeties from my links list supported my counter attack on the writer. David Tiley posted at Bahnisch that Brownie is completely not 'sad'. it was a hard week and you were curled up in the autumn sun with Baz, enjoying beautiful silks.

Brownie said...

re Little Women - you would of course know there is a novel recently out, based on the character of their father away at the Civil War.

Lucy Tartan said...

ouch! that sounds really awful, Brownie. I did read your original post & had a quick look at the guy's page that you linked to, and I came back later & saw he'd been and written some sort of smarmy stuff in your comments box.

I thought he seemed like a pompous git, especially in that ridiculous hat. And you're very, very far from sad!