Sometimes I get hung up on words. I suspect this is the rule rather than the exception for people interested in linguistics or poetics. Accurate conventions of naming are important. Words can carry several layers of meaning. Some are more beautiful than others. The beauty usually comes through their connotative ambience rather than their accuracy in denotation.
Genre is an ugly word. However, it’s a useful word. I studied the debates over it fairly extensively a while back, and liked the idea that a destabilization of cultural, social and authoritative was complicit in the emergence of new genres—new forms, either grammatical, stylistic, or substantive to establish conventions to stabilize discourse. I think that exploring digital genres is a good idea. But “blogging” is too big of a net to cast in discussing digital genres. What about form? I don’t think I like that either. Form connotes substance. It also, because of this connection implies value. It’s also possible to use the well-traveled word medium. Same problem, really, and a few more besides. A medium, in painting, is a substance which holds pigment. A medium, in the sense of radio or television suggests a channel of transmission. It’s a conflicted word—on one hand, it connotes binding properties, and worse, it implies a transparency. It’s only a channel through which information flows.
For example, if we talk about the codex book as a form it implies several values. If something appears in a book, it means it has suffered through editorial review, or that the writer of the book has had either the means to self-publish, or the reputation to avoid excessive shifting of his message. If we talk about the book as a medium, then it connotes a sort of cultural reception, a book-culture bound together from its common literacy. However, it is also possible to think of books as a mode— a method of displaying text on sequential pages in a transportable package. Mode does not imply value the way that form and medium do.
I think I like mode best. Of course, it helps that it contains the word ode, which comes from the Greek verb “to sing.” But there’s more. Thinking about the poetic form of the ode and its history brought me to a new place in thinking about blogging.
When I first started studying nineteenth century poetry, I was really curious about the conventions of the ode as a form or genre. Learning about the classical pastoral tradition, the elegy, and other forms and genres helped me to read some things more deeply. But when I asked about the ode, my professor (a Victorianist) claimed that the tradition meant nothing in this case. This wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear. He was right though—in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, an ode was mostly a poem written in honor of something. I researched it anyway.
Classical odes can be divided into three major genres. The Pindaric ode is usually a vehicle for a public utterance on state occasions. It was composed of three parts, a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode. Written for performance in Dionysiac theater, the mood was emotional, exalted and intense. This reminded me of the early onset of the link-comment-post strategy of early weblog users. It seems rigid and intense, while maintaining a certain looseness and incomprehensibility to those outside the context of a relatively small community.
The Horatian ode is more introspective and reflective. Often philosophical, it has a similarly complex form though it is not nearly so dramatic. This seems to me to coincide a bit with the longer form bloggers that emerged outside the rigid structures initially proposed, though it maintains the same sort of public gesture at solemnity.
The most “modern” of the classical forms of the ode is the Anacreontic. Basically simple in form, it is unified largely by its choice of subject matter—love and drinking. The American national anthem uses a tune stolen from an Anacreontic ode. Before it was the Star Spangled Banner, it was a drinking song. Somehow, I see a lot of that going on in blogging too. Stavros comes to mind for some reason.
However, in the translation to the modern world, all the conventions fell apart quickly. There is no similarity in either form or subject matter between these classical odes, and the ode as it developed in England. The genres fell apart. The genre became a mode.
But what does a mode connote? An arrangement of notes. A way of doing things. A center of resonance. The most frequent value in a sequence.
Rather than thinking of blogging as a form, which would assign a sort of ethical value to it, or as a medium, which implies that it is a transparent channel, I would like to think of it as a mode. A mode is not a window into a new public. It is a tunnel through which certain things resonate— and are amplified or dampened.
Just what those things are, well, that’s certainly another post.