(Cult)ure and Comm(unity)

(Cult)ure and Comm(unity)

Lately, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to think of blogging as a genre. Genres have similarities in motive, aim, or style that exceed the formal nature of their delivery. The formal qualities of blogs have been discussed endlessly, to what I think are fairly productive ends. There are new modes of discourse involved, but considerations of genre requires a sort of fixity that blogs do not easily lend themselves to. I have no doubt that there are genres that blogs may be compared with—spiritual autobiography, hypertext novel, and even the encyclopedia. But I doubt that “blogging” itself constitutes a genre.

Attempts at prescriptive tutelage (nice observation, Tom) reduce what is, to my mind, a thriving culture into a cult. Like Alex Golub observed a week or so ago, a fixed culture becomes folklore. As such, it has a certain priority in discussions of property. It can be protected. But the price of this protection is to stultify its growth. I like the identifier “culture” better than I like the reduction to genre. Culture is organic, and composed of many factions that do not agree about everything, but at least have some common bond whether it be geography or social convention.

I am uneasy about treating bloggers as a community. This word seems to imply a greater unity than is usually present. As Turbulent Velvet mused a long time ago, groups are usually formed to exclude people. The fact that these online communities are indeed small pieces loosely joined helps prevent the sort of stifling mediocre unity which would fix the entire experiment as electronic-age folklore. But already, it is treated as such.

I was watching Aaron Brown on CNN during the war when he interviewed Glen Reynolds and someone else regarding blogging. Brown was clearly upset by the idea that people would take this medium seriously as a source of information:

“Who edits these people?”

The answer, of course, is that we edit ourselves. Rebecca Blood sees this as a potential weakness too. The primary argument that I would make regarding blog discourse, from a rhetorical standpoint, is that the locus of difference lies in both the speaker and audience for blogging rather than the formal character of the language employed, or genres brought to bear to establish authenticity.

Blogging is unmediated public discourse on an unforeseen scale. It is neither cultish nor unified. It is, in a sense, a brave new world for the establishment of genre to stabilize it in more authentic forms. Effectively, that is the purpose that genre serves—it gives a point of comparison to measure from. Elaborating the parameters of the culture which seems to be forming seems more important at this stage than prescribing a genre that will ultimately only stratify the rich orgy of discourse going on, to me at least.

Blog discourse is truly commodious. There are lots of rooms, lots of places where new contributions and genres may emerge.

8 thoughts on “(Cult)ure and Comm(unity)”

  1. I like the way you’re thinking here, Jeff. There’s a big difference between a matter of shared form and a ‘genre’–Kathy Acker and John Grisham are both novelists, but don’t share a genre. I’ve bristled since I started doing this at the notion of a party line, rules about ethics for and approaches to blogging.
    As to editing though, we do edit ourselves, but we also edit each other: if I make a boneheaded statement and you call it out as such, our respective comments will end up side by side on any search engine, or, via trackback and the like, your critique (a kind of edit) takes a place directly on my site, home of the boneheadedness to begin with. That, for me, is the kind of possibility for readers that makes the blog a form, but certainly not a genre since it has nothing to do with content, only process.

  2. Gather round the warm glow of the monitor

    Like David Winberger, �I have never told an anecdote or story that wasn’t fictitious in some sense.� That�s one of the things I meant in my comments about mirrors: the way we distort ‘reality’ in the retelling, simply by virtue of our position for view…

  3. In my brief encounters with professional publishing, I’ve found that editors (as a summed group — with exceptions!) add more errors and infelicities than they fix, and that the more immediate and far-reaching the publishing venue, the more damages are inflicted. And my more tenacious writing friends have provided me with plenty of evidence that things don’t get better as one’s career progress.
    The glamor of seeing my name attached to someone else’s mistakes soon wore off. Peer review and opportunity for revision is all an ethical writer needs.
    Writing is not Aaron Brown’s principal job. As a performer, he would appreciate editorial overrule of a writer’s words: accuracy sacrificed for smoothness would only make his job easier. The writers might differ.

  4. I do too. I think it’s silly to treat blogging as a “genre” (it may even be silly to treat literature that way, but that’s a different megilla), and I dislike people laying down rules in any area of life. My only concern is that people choosing to present themselves as telling the truth about their lives or the world (as opposed to the millions of other ways to blog) actually do so. No rules — if you offered me the magic power to make everybody conform to my preferences, I’d decline it — but if a blogger disappoints me in that regard, I stop trusting them. No big deal. (If a journalist fails in that regard, they get fired. That’s the big difference between journalism and news-blogging.)

  5. To call blogs a “genre” is like calling all books of every style a single genre. Some people, mostly professional journalists, keep trying to narrow the definition of blogging. A blog is just a medium, like paper and ink is a medium, film is a medium, etc. I have seen almost unlimited variety in blogs. People use their blogs for different interests – politics, art, medicine, law, gardening, nature, everyday life – and they also present those interests in different ways, from quick links and one-liners to near novella length essays.
    I think the lack of editors is more of an advantage than a drawback. Professional editors tend to stifle individuality in favor of uniformity. Read a few articles in any newspaper. Except for a few popular columnists everything reads like it was written by the same person.

  6. (Er, my “I do too” referred to Dorothea’s “Well, I do.” I guess when I was writing the comment I saw hers immediately above and stupidly thought mine would wind up below hers, not realizing it would float up, ever up, and finish between Ray and Lynn S.)

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