Blogs versus Print

Anthony Zanetti wrote a good article for Monsters and Critics about “the writing found on internet blogs versus established print publications,” and – more importantly – the prejudices that exist. Anthony – who is one of the most gifted writers on the Internet – writes:

Recently, there have been many articles about the writing found on internet blogs versus established print publications. The authors of these pieces tend to work for magazines or newspapers, and they usually resent that the writing found on blogs would be compared to what is produced by paid professionals in ‘real’ publications. In their view, the internet seems to be an unsuitable place for genuine literary writing. In one example, in the LA Times, Richard Schnickel quotes another writer, stating “blogging is a form of speech, not of writing.” There is truth to this, for there is much writing on the internet that is ephemeral and that has the spontaneous, careless quality of most day to day speech.

However, these attacks on blog writing never mention that there is also much bad writing in ‘respectable’ publications like Harper’s or the NY Times Book Review. For example, fiction and poetry reviews are usually a joke, since the reviewers (typically other novelists or poets) avoid hard criticism so they won’t be punished when submitting their own work for publication. Articles like Schnickel’s will inspire predictable responses from blog writers, but the blog vs. print argument is an illusion; the real issue is good vs. bad writing, regardless of the medium. Quite simply, good writing is good writing, whether on a blog or in a newspaper or book. A true critic will recognize quality regardless of whether it is on paper or a screen.

True enough – good writing is good writing, bad writing is bad writing.

Anthony goes on to quote Schnickel (a name which will make any Dutch person laugh out loud: I cannot translate the meaning of Snikkel, which obviously sounds the same, due to policy rules), who said:
Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.

Which is of course nonsense. To understand an artist better, knowing more about his or her works is quite handy, but if one wants to judge a particular piece of work – of art – it is not necessary at all to know more about the artist: one could even very well argue that it is better not to know many other works of the artist. Writers, artists, poets, political scientists, essayists, etc., are often judged on their best works. When newer – and less good – works are reviewed, the reviewer often has a lot of respect for before mentioned person(s) and is positive about the new work as well – even when the work judged by itself does not deserve any praise.

Anthony writes in that regard:

It is true that not everyone will possess the ability to be a good critic, just as not everyone can be an artist; but criticism is not an expression of taste, which is something that anyone can supply. Criticism looks to the art, while taste points back to the individual. As for “historical and theoretical knowledge,” this will vary from person to person, and criticism is not showing off all that you’ve read, but knowing how to analyze and judge what is in front of you. Finally, being familiar with an artist’s entire body of work is not necessary for a critic, as artworks fail and succeed independent of one another. Many people praise lesser works because of the name that is attached to them; good criticism combats this tendency. Someone who wants to preserve high standards of criticism should know these points.

Other critics of the blogosphere – literary critics in this case, but it also goes for most journalists – argue that (in the words of the NY Sun’s Adam Kirsch): “In fact, despite what the bloggers themselves believe, the future of literary culture does not lie with blogs — or at least, it shouldn’t. The blog form, that miscellany of observations, opinions, and links, is not well-suited to writing about literature.”

As Anthony points out, Kirsch’ reasoning does not make a lot of sense since “a blog is merely a database that holds whatever the writer chooses to put in it. As such, there is no strict ‘blog form’. What can appear in a newspaper or magazine can be pasted word for word in a blog; they can contain everything from essays to poems to short stories and more.”

When push comes to shove, I consider the criticism on blogs to – mostly – come from those of the old guard, the elite, who dislike any and everything new. Not only do they probably fear for their jobs, they are also in the danger of losing their (elite) status: suddenly John Doe can create a blog, share his or her ideas with a big audience, and can even be celebrated (and earn a lot of respect).

Author: michaelvdg