Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Literary Masturbation

"Do you write because you have a thing to say?"
"No."
- from Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

I've been promising a post about blogging for several months and only now am I able to finally piece together the exact ideas I have about the hobby. Surprisingly, in the last few years (it seems to be even more recent than that) the noun "blog," the verb "to blog," and its present participle, "blogging," have become integrated into the American lexicon along with recent inductees such as the noun "Starbucks" (e.g., I'm going to go get a Starbucks), and the verb "to text." In nearly every American household, digital communication is becoming more efficient than a movie star's personal trainer.

The lack of a standard plug-in-the-wall telephone is not uncommon with the ease, availability, and cost effectiveness of cell phone service providers (indeed, I currently live in a house without a standard telephone). And even cell phones, more commonly abbreviated as simply "phones," are seamlessly integrated into the worldwide connectivity of the Internet, becoming vessels for more than merely speaking but also for text messaging (texting), "instant messaging" (are they the same thing?), e-mail (how long until we have a generation that doesn't know what the E stands for?), and browsing the internet.

And upon the Internet is where the blog can be found. Blogs for every damned thing one could think of exist somewhere within this primordial forest of binary columns and sloppy html. There are even blogs dedicated to the world of blogging and websites composed to collect and distribute the addresses of blogs. But what is a blog? That is the source of my discretion.

Unfortunately, a blog is many things, much like the word book isn't a concrete definition for the multitudes of content available in printed form. A blog could be defined as a venue to show updates made to a website, to report the news as it pertains to a website or the world, a diary, a journalistic tool, a creative outlet, and a political soapbox among many, many others.

People reveal their inner torments through their blogs as well as rant incoherently about their personal vendettas against the modern political machine; it frightens me that so much of it is being taken seriously by the general public as well as the professional media. For the former it seems that they forget that what they are writing can be viewed by every person in the world with a computer and internet access, the latter knows this and uses the arena to start a fight. So, with this in mind, the question that should arise for anyone considering starting a blog is, "how will the world see me through my blog?"

This is the most important question even though people easily retort with, "I don't care what people think of me." Even if you don't care, the people that don't like you, as well as those that do, will let you know because their digital voice can be just as loud as yours. The exploitation of this possibility (being either the positive or negative response) can cause people to shut down, suddenly making the internet into the anti-Wonderbra for world culture: even though it lowers the difficulties against worldwide communication, the anonymity allowed separates a person from the standard practices of etiquette and morality involved with normal human interaction. With the protection anonymity provides, people are able to care even less.

But we must care about something. Why? Because people still blog, and they are posting stuff that's coming straight from their guts. What's lost in the process is why we are blogging every little thing that comes into our heads. Are people just (figuratively) ejaculating their inner secrets into public view simply because it makes them feel good? Do we need to know everything about you?

The golden rule of writing taught by elementary and High School instructors seems to stand in favor of the current blogging trend, however: Write about what you know.

Well, yes, but please do so in a way that intrigues and enlightens the reader (Dan's buzzword: DULCE ET UTILE!). What will the reader learn from what you know other than another facet within you? It could be that the value of the written word may be falling as easy access to the form keeps increasing as dramatically as it has in the last few years--are people forgetting that what they are writing down is going to be recorded? What a person posts on their blog, or on their website, or in an e-book they sell on some P.O.D. site, could very well be there for a very, very long time. One might as well make it something worth keeping. So I suggest a revision to that golden rule of writing, if I could word it any better:

Write about what you want to know.

Save the flushed cheeks, box of tissues, and embarassment in the bathroom, bedroom, or wherever you like to get your rocks off--just keep it out of the public because, in the end, would you read it?

17 comments:

Eben said...

I am just going to comment on how sad it is that nobody has commented on this blog... it is a sad commentary on the minds of our day who cannot find comment on such commentary from such a glorious commentato as Dan Bethel...

Eben said...

commentato chips are delightful to eat with sour cream and onion dip...
I should know. I am fat.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't that be your pinkie? It's worse to break a pinkie promise... Seriously... We both know this "pinkie promise" is a terrible thing to waste... Anyway... Did you die or something... Is Poly really that demanding right now that you haven't found time to comment on my literary masturbations?
--Robyn

andy said...

I've been chastised by several people affiliated with my workplace for my blogification. I find it funny. One fellow claimed that he was reading the blogs for all of his friends and associates, a collection of grown-up teen angst, public exposition, and wanton self-immolation, and had the audacity to chastise me for not doing it right. Another reprimanded me for my superfluous grammar and diction, as if correct spelling and grammar were considered unnecessary. Who wants to read something intellectually engaging and meaningful, they ask.

I was accosted once, by a literary masturbator of the worst kind, over my use of the blogosphere. "It's supposed to be like an online journal." The weblog has become the "Dear Diary" of the new generation. No longer content to write about psycho-sexual frustrations in a private little book, the youth of today demand air time for their petty frustrations. We have become a generation of exhibitionists. Consider the rise of MySpace. What better way to air yourself out publicly than on the great engine of Internet Society?

In a way, I think it's a peculiarity of the group dynamic. If one person does it, more people start to do it. Eventually, it becomes like the daily "High School Reunion." I can go, peruse the tragedies of other's lives and assert my own contentment. Because at least I'm not as screwed up as that guy who just got dumped by his girlfriend. Or the guy who drove his car into a ravine. Or the girl who took a bottle-full of pills in an effort to end her life, only to discover that they were jelly beans. At least my so-called-existence is better than that, right?

Sometimes I convince myself I can write. Sometimes I convince myself that I have meaningful thoughts. You, however, have a talent for rousing prose and moving oratory. Continue to inspire us with introspective commentaries that demand that we look at ourselves as much as we look at others.

The Phoenix said...

One wonders how many times I can resurrect myself before you just give up on me altogether.
What can I say I'm fickle.

I like my blog to be funny. When it's not I go away and lick my wounds till I think of something funny. If I leave a thumbprint it will be this...that I was a hoot!

Eben said...

leave it to Andrew to blog on another man's blog...

andy said...

If you'd like, I can make comment on the quality of commentato chips. There's nothing I love more than a good bag of commentato chips.

DCVB said...

You guys always end up catfighting on my Boasts. What's the deal. I always appreciate being the instigator of conversation and debate, but this is two steps away from Tyler Durden leading you two into the basement of an edge-of-town bar.

Eben said...

I think why I reduced my commentary to this boast is because I disagree with it.

I don't feel blogs should be confined on the merits of "Write about what you want to know." or "write about what you know" or even "sweet and useful"

The point is a blog is to provide a level playing field for expression on the internet, everybody can have their voice out there to be heard.

One can use the tool however wanted, express what needs (or in many cases doesn't need) to be, and let the readership (or lack there of) decide what to do with that information, but ultimately the author can take joy in the expression of oneself.

To trivialize or aggrandize the true-blog over of the rise of myspace's internet high school reunion and holy crusade of peer popularity is also a failure to see other promising use of the very young tool of the blog and at the same time take it for granted.
Myspace, as much as I loathe it, serves a purpose and the expression of self-absorbed custom profiles and pursuit of the giant friends list and while all that can serve as a guage to measure how self absorbed american youth is...it also allows for expression, which is usually a healthy thing.

But blogs don't have to be as vain as the burgoon bulletin or the average teen myspace blog...
Take a look at: http://english.ohmynews.com/
or http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/ or http://blogar.org/index.html

While i just heard about these sites, they are very ambitious projects and astonishing use of the "blog"... and those blogs certainly aren't all writing about what they want to know or what they know...
but they are all simply expression and all equally valid to the blogger.

That said it is Dan's (and everybody's) right to judge and pick what merits make these expressions valuable and valid to the individual reader, and I think that is the beauty of the blog. You can find anything you want to read, and everything you don't.

Blame the blog reader, not the blog writer.

Eben said...

And Dan if you hold the Boast of Bethel to the law of "Write about what you want to know" won't we as your faithful readers lose out on the classic "Drunk Post"?

andy said...

Apparently, with regard to the Drunk Pot, Dan wanted to know about what kind of stupid crap he could write about when he is totally blotto. Clearly, a noble goal.

My issue is with the standard self-amorous and poorly conceived blog. Of course, everybody is guilty of it once in a while. But how many blogs are out there where the content is nothing short of expository diarrhea? Why is it people think bold yet meaningless declarations of their uninspired day would be motivating to people? I've had the unfortunate circumstance of reading many a blog where the entire point of the venture was to proclaim how awful life was, with no attempt at creation or resolution.

I have no problem with a good many blogs, even those that are outside of young master Bethel's approved content. What I lose my cool over is those blogs that lack both quality and content. It is true, there are many blogs that have some sort of organized purpose or creative quality. But so many of them are like the torn pages of some young girl's traumatized diary. It's internet pollutant. I shudder to think of the time and energy that goes squandered so some hapless person can comment on how good or bad their day was, day in and day out. In this context, the internet suffers greatly from the lack of an editor.

Of course, you could argue that somebody as uptight and self-righteous as myself would simply avoid reading blogs. And generally, I do. But it's too bad; I don't even pursue blogs (as a whole) because all too often it's nothing more than literary masturbation. Thus, the beautiful expression and exchange of ideas has been stilted because some poor boy felt he had to whine about his recent breakup, or some poor girl felt she had to cry over her recent car accident.

I know I'm something of an intellectual elitist. Okay, I'm a most grandiose intellectual elitist. I believe creative expression and written exposition should have more focus and meaning attached to it. People should not post to their weblog simply for the sake of posting. These things only succeed in their charge as the avenue of creative effort only when people actually have the wherewithal to put effort into it. So there, I've said it. My most holy rule for blogging is that simple expenditure of effort; by putting some time and consideration into its creation, you make it more worthwhile for me to read it.

If you regurgitate on canvas, it is not artistic nor meaningful; it is just vomit.

Eben said...

I think you are wrong Andrew. You can vomit on a canvas, and call it art...but it doesn't mean I have to call it art.

To me "literary masturbation" is more what Dan, my Burgoon Bulletin, and yourself lean on the side of doing. We are trying to make our blogs these a literary pieces of art and forums for thought, we each masturbate with our egos, sometimes circle-jerking (like now) and then use our thoughts to help prove we have this "intellectual elitism"...

the "self-amorous" blogs don't have these aspirations they are what they are...diaries, journals, personal accounts of their lives and they write their stories under the blog name.

Criticizing them for what they are is just futile... they are what they are and I am glad at least people are expressing themselves.

andy said...

Blasted Burgoon! It is obvious there is no concurrence to be found here. I resign myself to wallowing in my self-pity. I helplessly shake my digital fist at you, blackheart!

andy said...

Poor Dan... Started a fire in the House of Internet. Lord preserve us.

DCVB said...

Yay! Heartfelt and honest discussion and debate! This is all I've ever wanted...

Eben said...

I think Dan has concurrence with you, Andrew. From the looks of the responses...I am the lone defender of myspace/self-amourous blogs... a place I never felt I wold ever be, and feel rather dirty being there..

but I make a lot of self-amourous posts with the burgoon bulletin...

which you can all join : SPAM!

DCVB said...

I think I can agree with you, Eben, that all blogs are, in a sense, literary masturbation, and in that vein, everybody uses their imaginations differently to achieve a common goal.

I'm just commenting on why people decide to grab hold and spill their creative seed. Are people doing it just to do it, because they have nothing better to do? Or are people actually trying to accomplish something? This is where the self-pleasuring angle ends.

Sure, all creative endeavors are self-pleasuring after a purpose. I'm sure you'll never find a writer or artist who does what she or he does reluctantly. But the reasons for doing what they do can vary from the inconsequential to the truly revolutionary.

I don't want the people who emo-confess to stop, but to, instead, try to aim a little higher than accomplishing a mere public diary because I think that they will get more pleasure out of it than a simple dip back into ideas and thoughts that will either:

-make them feel bad again

-cite things that once made them feel good but which has since worn off and it merely becomes a memory in words.

To take life's experiences and augment them intellectually so that one could get even more out of themselves is the goal that bloggers, I believe, should aim for. What people do is none of my business, but I'm just elucidating what I would like to see happen. I'm not against diary-like entries, but I think those should be saved for, you know, diaries.

You said that, "The point is a blog is to provide a level playing field for expression on the internet, everybody can have their voice out there to be heard." I think that is untrue. I don't think the blog was invented with that in mind and you are ultimately being as idealistic as I am. The literal point of a blog is a place to convey information that people can read and gain. With that in mind, I think my investigation fits in completely with that idea.

As clarification, with the link to your quip pics and the lambasting of diary blogs, you may have gone on the defensive, thinking that I was thinking of your blog/yahoo group/website as one of the bad examples of blogging. This is completely untrue. I hold your blog in high regards because you are extremely entertaining, and you use comedy and sharp wit to do exactly as I try to do. Sure, we all have hits and misses, but I think we are succeeding in our aims even if it sometimes looks like meaningless ether-babble.