Monthly Archives: January 2005

As I Please…

I will never claim to write like Orwell, but I would like to consider claiming him as a sort of disembodied blog father figure.  He wrote a lot of essays in what were some of his era’s most accessible print media.  He wrote with a manifest assumption that most people think about the things of daily life, and with a reasonable approximation of common sense as well as sophistication.  Clear writing and sophisticated but common sense, he seems to assert, are broadly appreciated.  One can make the interesting and even illuminating distinctions about daily life without trivializing, and still be understood.
Like many others, I’ve been inspired to step forward onto the public web by other bloggers.  What I find in the blogs I like the most, whether I agree with what is written or not, is a personal presence.  This doesn’t mean I need to know everything about someone’s private life.  I am interested in the personal context of their expression. 

It seems to me that one of the things blogging is about is reinfusing representation with personal bias.  There is (but of course!) a huge  professional  literature about what "unbiased" reporting might mean.  What can reporting be in the end but personal testimony?  Writers can aspire to present the clearest  and least personally cluttered record of what they are  seeing.  But I would argue that a sense of their personal view is more helpful than not in sorting out our reaction to their content.

For sure, would have had a go at Orwell from time to time.  He was highly opinionated.  But, as with a lot of blogging, he made no attempt to present his thoughts as flowing from some sacred font of truth.  And he did really mean what he said, which, I think, made his readers value what they got from him even if they didn’t agree.

Wb1940_3One other blog-god, if I may: Walter Benjamin, because of his fierce belief in the value of thinking acutely about everyday existence.  Ian Balfour and Thomas Keenan write of him during the late 1920s.

…Benjamin, a Jew born in Berlin, studied Hebrew
and considered leaving Germany to teach in Jerusalem with Gershom
Scholem but decided against it. Without academic employment, he wrote
extensively for German newspapers and magazines well into the 1930s. He
published reviews, autobiographical texts, literary studies,…studies of
cities, and hybrid works of social commentary and cultural theory, such
as the aphoristic Einbahnstrasse (1928, One-Way Street,
1979). He insisted, thematically and formally, that only "fools lament
the decay of criticism. For its day is long past. . . . What, in the
end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism? Not what the moving
red neon sign says–but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt" (Reflections 85-86).

Another fan, Larry McMurtry (yes, the uber-pop novelist), starts his autobiographical book Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen  pointing out what they have to do with each other.  He recalls opening Benjamin’s Illuminations while drinking a lime Dr. Pepper at a local Diary Queen and reading "The Storyteller", which he describes as

…really (I came to feel, after several rereadings) an examination, and a profound one, of the growing obsolescence of what might be called practical memory and the consequent diminution of the power of oral narrative in our twentieth-century lives.

McMurtry ties Benjamin’s preoccupation with shared locales for communication to Dairy Queen in this way:

What I remember clearly is that before the Dairy Queens appeared the people of the small towns had no place to meet and talk; and so they didn’t meet or talk, which meant that much local lore or incident remained private and ceased to be exchanged, debated, and stored as local lore had been during the centuries that Benjamin describes.

Blogs are virtual Diary Queens.  Rather than moseying on down to McMurtry’s local to meet, we can hook up across space and time, but still with that critical sense of locale and "local".  A local place is where you know people, where you can get your acquaintances’ personal testimony.  Orwell creates that sense of locale in his essays—he’s the interesting guy you met the other night down at the pub. 

I’ll never write or think like either Orwell or Benjamin.  But I’d like to see if I can get past what the neon signs say, and look a bit more closely into their fiery reflections in the asphalt…

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