I came across this post on Michael Berube’s blog by guest blogger Lance Mannion, which starts off as a discussion of Kurt Vonnegut’s book Timequake, and then veers off into a discussion of blogs. I liked Lance’s description of what it is that many blogs do. He uses this quotation from literature professor Arnold Weinstein as a point of contrast to his own view:

My view of art is quite at odds also with the electronic network that stamps our age, because the Internet culture, however capacious it might be, is also largely soulless and solipsistic—informational rather than experiential—when contrasted with our engagement with art.

Lance then goes on to say this:

Weinstein, being a professor of literature, recommends literature, and the arts in general, as the antidote to the soullessness and solipsism of the Internet culture. But I think that the bloggers I read most often are the ones who use their blogs to write their way through the informational to the experiential, who try to turn what is impersonal and overwhelming in the constant wave of information that comes to us through our computer screens into something intimate, coherent, comprehensible, human. It sounds too high-flying to call them artists. But it is accurate to call them writers.

Yes! I don’t agree with Weinstein at all that the internet is “largely soulless and solipsistic” and therefore antithetical to art — well, it doesn’t have to be. The best of it isn’t. And I agree that the internet and blogging don’t have to be about information rather than experience. That the best of what bloggers do is process information from their own backgrounds and with their own voices, and somehow turn it into a part of their experience, which might not be art, but then again, might well be.

I’m aware that a lot of the most popular blogs are those that pull together links about a topic — books or politics or whatever — and become portals to interesting places online. But the blogs I like best are those with a personal voice; when it comes to book blogs, I like those that are more like reading diaries than collections of links. I only read book blogs intermittently until I came across the ones that were reading diaries, and then I was hooked.

I’m beginning to think that the best blogs are crosses between diaries and personal essays — with, of course, the links and the interactivity thrown in there. I love personal essays — one of my favorite books is Philip Lopate’s anthology The Art of the Personal Essay. If the voice in an essay is interesting, it almost doesn’t matter what the subject is. I read them for the personality, the sense of the author that lies behind the words, and I think that’s what I enjoy about blogs too. I want a sense of a personality coming through. And I love the way that personal essays — and blogs — don’t have to be consistent or coherent from one part to the next. They are places to explore ideas, not necessarily to present well-thought-out conclusions. Montaigne, one of the best personal essayists was upfront about being contradictory. And people themselves are contradictory, so why not?

So, yes, the internet is overwhelming with all its information, but it’s also a place to process some of that information and to make it personal and meaningful, which is what the best blogs do.

Lance is uncomfortable calling bloggers “artists,” which I definitely understand — blogging seems so spontaneous, so seat-of-the-pants, and I think of art as painstakingly crafted. But … can diaries can be art? … I guess blogging is one of those forms that throws all our categories into disarray.

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