Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Since beginning this blog I've read a great deal about the impact of blogging on media, literature, and the world at large. I've read the recent dustups courtesy of certain literary mags and writers who felt the need to insult litbloggers as fools with Dell laptops. I've read about Kathy Sierra. I've read about self-imposed civility codes and whether or not they impede free speech. I wasn't going to comment, and I wasn't going to comment some more. Then, today at work, I received the April 6th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, where the "Lit-Blog Wars" merited a Critical Mass column. See page B4, if you are interested.

And now I'm going to comment, and I hope this is the only time.

I decided to blog because I wanted to talk about books and writing. Literature is my passion. I look forward to certain books the way other people look forward to opening day or the Superbowl. I reread other books time and time again for their beauty, their comfort, their enlightenment. I also blog because I want to write as well as the authors I love, and blogging is one way to do so. Conventional literary avenues, always narrow, are now all but closed except to a fortunate few. While it's convenient to blame the publishing industry, the reality is fewer and fewer people are seriously interested in reading. I'm not the first to notice the market for literature is shrinking. I think this denotes a poorly educated society.

When I began blogging, literary criticism was the furthest thing from my mind. Contrary to the nervous naysayers, I believe it is possible to talk about literature without framing it in criticism. I say this as a person with a Master's Degree in English Literature. I was trained in Deconstructionism, Marxism, Feminist Readings, New Historicism, the works. I loathed it. Detested it. I will never forget taking a course where all the reading material was criticism of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. None of us had read the book. It was neither required nor suggested that we do so. But we had to read all the critical material, which was of course meaningless without the source literature.

Another class focused on Dickens. The class--all seven of us--fell into arguing about Dickens' lack of feminist sympathies. I raised my hand and asked how we could criticize Dickens, a writer whose writing illuminated the appalling conditions of the poor, particularly poor children, for not being a good feminist in the Steinem/Friedan mold. Further, I went on, this brand of feminism hadn't taken root as a movement until well after Dickens was writing. How could we, as modern readers, blame him for failing to address what had yet to happen?

I stopped talking. I was certain I'd destroyed my credibility.

I never thought of that, the professor replied.

So much for critical thinking in the academy. This is not to say criticism is worthless, or that grad school is a waste of time. But if you sit down and read Dickens, you're bound to learn something whether you're in school or not. And formal criticism will never have the impact that scientific discovery does. Another Julia Kristeva article will never get as much attention as stem cell research; the "unwashed masses" are more interested in reading about potential cancer cures than they are the new Irene Nemirovsky translations. Perhaps this is why some academics are so terribly touchy about their work, and see litblogs as a great target for their anxieties.

Which leads us to civility. It may be observed that we are not especially civilized these days. Road rage, cell phones, blaring radios, unjustified war, and ignoring the Geneva Conventions all come to mind. So the fact that people are badly behaved out here in the 'sphere is sad, but not surprising. I can only say I strive to be civil here, even when I'm criticizing a writer or poking fun at catalogues. I am not a big enough fish to get much real nastiness, and what little I've received has been deleted. You are most welcome to disagree with me, but in my little corner of the world, I'd ask that we treat one another decently. You can go just about anywhere for abuse. You don't need it from me, nor I from you.

Finally, in all the litblog nastiness we forget why we're even doing this. We love books. And there aren't as many of us as there once were. Instead of fighting about mediums or grandstanding about our credentials, we should be banding together beneath the flag of literature. We don't have to like the same books or even each other. But mutual respect should be a given. The energy we're wasting sniping at one another could be used reading, writing, and promoting literature.

We have work to do.


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November 11, 2009 12:15 AM  

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