July 12, 2008

Matt Yglesias asks: "Does This Blog Suck? Do All Blogs Suck?"

"This," meaning his, not mine. He's responding to a reader who wants to know "What'd you think about David Appell's smackdown of you?" Matt's defense is: "I don't think the post was really about why I suck, it was about why the punditsphere as a whole sucks with me just as a prominent example." And the first commenter says, "No, it's a pretty good smackdown of you in particular." Hmmm.

Here's the main thing I found interesting in Appell's piece:
[W]hat's especially bad, "professional bloggers" seem so intent on posting 20 times a day that all of their individual posts are basically useless, conveying nothing whatsoever.

For example, I think Andrew Sullivan, by becoming a blogger, has completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis. Now he posts 40 times a a day [sic], and includes so many insipid or inconsequential things and meaningless pieces of campaign gossip, and very, very little (i.e. none) of what he writes changes my life in any way whatsoever. I have stopped reading him.
Appell goes on to pick apart a post by Matt Yglesias, who, like Sullivan, blogs at the Atlantic. So I'd say it's not so much "a pretty good smackdown of [Matt] in particular" as it is an expression of concern about the efforts of writers and readers. Appell would like people to read more weighty writing by serious experts, and this, I think, misapprehends human nature. People will study difficult things sometimes — mostly, when it's necessary in the pursuit of their career. But with or without blogs, people read for fun. And blog reading — especially when there's a comment section — provides a kind of social interaction that you can't get from a book. It's a different experience from reading a book, and it's probably richer than what most people would be reading if they weren't reading blogs.

The question whether blogging is ruining the writers is quite different. Posting 40 or even 20 times a day does seem excessive, and I have a problem if Sullivan and Yglesias are cranking out posts because their employer imposes a quota. I think there is a kind of prolific, money-driven blogging that would suck the life right out of you. Sullivan had 37 posts on Friday! Did all of that just spring out of his fertile, energetic, overflowing brain in the pure joy of blogging or is this commerce?

I love prolific, eccentric blogging on divergent topics, and I do blog for the sheer intrinsic pleasure of it. Could I put the same energy into writing a serious book every year? I would have more time for other projects if I didn't blog, but I can't just take the energy and put it somewhere else. Blogging creates its own sort of energy. To say take that energy and write a serious book is like saying to someone who is in love with a guy who's no good for her that she should take that love and give it to this other guy who's got a steady job and stays home in the evenings.

But I don't know why Andrew Sullivan is blogging the way he is or how valuable the books he doesn't write would be. Nevertheless, his blog is wonderful. It's a model of multifariousness. I don't trust anyone who thinks writing like that undermines the other, longer, focused writing that he happens to get done at the same time. The notion that he has "completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis" is quite simply insane (or jealous). Being serious all the time is not the only way to be serious, and it's probably not even a good or healthy way to be serious. It might be that Sullivan, with his elite, advanced education, could have become more of a scholar and less of a polemicist, but he went right into journalism after he got his Ph.D, long before blogging was invented.

Yglesias is another matter. He's young and unproven. Unlike Sullivan, he hasn't written books that have made a difference. Nor does he have an advanced degree that would make us think he should be writing scholarship. He's just a young pundit, and who knows if he has anything more useful to offer than his blog and his blog-like book? I'd rather read his blog than his book, but what difference does it make if he writes in a book or on a blog? If it's on the blog, people can comment — unlike Sullivan, he has comments — and other bloggers can cut and paste and link. That's all perfectly fine. Who thinks there is a more profound book that we're missing out on?

As for me, I'm old and I've written plenty of scholarship. Hardly anyone has read it and it has had approximately zero effect. Blogging is my métier. That's just the way it is.

29 comments:

Ron said...

I often wonder what good is all the scholarship from aspiring academics if it is done by force. If you don't really want to write on your area of interest, than maybe you should not be in that area?

martha said...

Ann's blog never ever sucks!

Baron Zemo said...

Have you been reading it?

Or are you still in prison?

m00se said...

In his linking to this article, I like how Sully calls his blog a "conversation".

I wrote him and noted that in a conversation, you can hear both sides of the conversation, not just the selected portions of it that one side wishes you to hear.

I noted that if his were truly a conversation, he'd have his comments section enabled like all his other cobloggers at the Atlantic.

Meade said...

"To say take that energy and write a serious book is like saying to someone who is in love with a guy who's no good for her that she should take that love and give it to this other guy who's got a steady job and stays home in the evenings."

Suppose this other guy has a steady job and stays home in the evenings leaving wisecracks and witty remarks on the comment sections of various blogs. Set aside, for the moment, the fact that no one finds him even remotely as funny as he does himself. Say he attains status as a licensed credentialed ace commenter - "A" number one, top of the list, king of the hill, crème de la organic non=genetically modified crème.

What would not be hot about that, eh?

Suppose further he never goes out in public wearing short pants unless he's running a marathon, folds his own laundry in the most achingly adorable unperfectionist way, never fails to get 100% of his daily fiber needs met before noon, AND would never EVER even dream of asking you to eat a cold egg salad sandwich (unless of course you were well-compensated for it -- at least two figures).

Admit it - your pulse quickens.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Too bad Yglesias didn't stick up for himself a bit more. Appell never does manage to tell us, in all those snarling paragraphs, just what is wrong with tradeable water rights. When someone's only objection is "What about all the complexities?" the proper response is "Well, what about them?"

ricpic said...

Just as all conversations, at a certain point, suck, so do all blogs suck. And then they unsuck or unstuck again and go merrily on their way until they suck again and then...

garage mahal said...

Reading Sullivan's blog is like riding in the Jurassic Tour Bus looking out the windows in shock and horror, wondering how and why you got on the damned thing to begin with.

Dave Schuler said...

What amused me about Mr. Appell's post was how unserious it was which would seem to me a serious flaw in someone criticizing another for being unserious. He provided no information; he gave no references; he didn't even tell us whether he disagreed with what MY was saying or only denied his right to say it.

1jpb said...

"his blog is wonderful"

I agree. His "dissents" are biting at times, that's admirable, even though he still controls them, and he's probably predisposed to this since he openly understands and displays his internal conflicts--healthy and beneficial, but weak and unmoored when run amok, he's got it about right (maybe a little weak), but his lack of a filter may undermine him in the eyes of some folks less self-aware of their own dissonance. And, by linking to Althouse, he has sent at least one obnoxious person over here.

Appell is being silly. Attention whore; going after big game. People just can't see that he knows what is best, they just can't see--hilarious. As a practitioner of nuisance goading and unrestrained arrogance, I know it when I see it. Not worth the effort responding.

Dr Dre's Underpants said...

If you be sucking more bitch, than the peoples be coming round more.

vbspurs said...

As for me, I'm old and I've written plenty of scholarship. Hardly anyone has read it and it has had approximately zero effect. Blogging is my métier. That's just the way it is.

This sounds defensive, as much as explanatory. There's no need for it.

You know why people blog? Because one can now.

Before blogs came along, people wrote newsletters (hello Ron Paul), which you carefully mimeographed or sent out to the printers, and then hoped someone might not throw it away with all the rest of the junk mail.

I've said it a dozen times: bloggers are the pamphleteers of the 21st century. I'm sure there is a Thomas Paine amongst the lot.

No need to explain away. Let your blogs do the talkin'.

Cheers,
Victoria

John K. said...

Victoria said: "I've said it a dozen times: bloggers are the pamphleteers of the 21st century. I'm sure there is a Thomas Paine amongst the lot."

If so, this guy looks like a pretty good candidate. Also, these guys.

Miss Faustina Bundt said...

"it's probably richer than what most people would be reading if they weren't reading blogs."

In other words: your own reading material is of such low-grade, that everyone else's must be also.

Because, if it turns out that you're wrong, and "most people" are reaching for lofty, more ambitious prose than you imagined......then you are really out-of-step with your fellow man!

Randy said...

Scott Adams argues that ignorance is underrated:

But experts always disagree on the complex issues. When knowledgable people can't agree on the best course of action, there's no reason to think ignorance will get you to a worse place than knowledge. The only thing you can know for sure is that the ignorant people wasted less time reading about things that didn't help.

blake said...

Nice close to that Scott Adams piece:

When it comes to picking our next president, I can't decide if I prefer the smooth-talking, inspirational candidate who promises to give my money to people who don't work as hard as I do, or the old, short, ugly, angry guy with one good arm who graduated at the bottom of his class and somehow managed to shag a hot heiress and become a contender for president. It seems dangerous to underestimate that guy.

Richard Dolan said...

Why all the defensiveness about blogging? Good writing stands out; bad writing is easy to skip. Why should it matter that the writing happens on a blog, rather than in a magazine or in a book? If the point is that blogging tends to be tossed off, just a lot of words popping up on screen without any thought behind them or care taken in the composition, well, you're just talking about a bad or lazy writer.

The idea that blogging can ruin a writer, or distract from "serious" writing, is really strange. It comes from the same source as the idea that "high culture is boring and happens in musty places," now repackaged for the internet. And, anyway, most "serious" writing is the end product of a lot of preliminary stuff that gets handed around, critiqued, and polished. But that doesn't make the earlier efforts any less "serious."

Sullivan hasn't ruined his standing as an writer of "serious" stuff because he blogs. He's lost his standing (somewhat) because he often turns out really bizarre, half-baked stuff that he hasn't thought through. Blogging may make it easier for him to do that, but blogging isn't the problem.

If there's any loss to the art of writing that blogging as an activity may be responsible for, I think it's mostly the art of letter writing. No one is ever going to put together an interesting volume of blogs the way many lit academics do about famous writers of the past.

William said...

I think this blog is more like a loosely plotted 19th Century novel than a pamphlet. Much is revealed about the heroine but only incidentally as the stagecoach bounces down the highway. Minor characters appear, come vividly to life, and then disappear. Tangents swallow the plot line. The sex, such as it is, is highly sublimated. Will Instapundit's knife postings ever defoliate one of Althouse's flower pictures, or will the heroine be stricken with a neurasthenic illness that restricts her last years to bed ridden blogs about waste removal plants in Bagdad. In this picaresque novel the reader is allowed to not only comment on the characters encountered but to be, in fact, one of the characters encountered. And the whole point of the trip is to kill time in the most amusing way possible before time kills you.

Doyle said...

You're old and a proven moron.

vbspurs said...

John K wrote:

If so, this guy looks like a pretty good candidate. Also, these guys.

Hmm. I'll definitely take a look at them, thanks!

I used think one such candidate was Wretchard over at Belmont Club (recently moved to PJ Media). A friend of mine directed me to him, and he's impressed every time.

Cheers,
Victoria

AJ Lynch said...

Ann:

See if you can find a pic of a stagecoach bouncing down the road. Then photoshop it and place a picture of Doyle underneath it. Heh. Fen & Paladian should be driving it of course.

Ralph said...

Serious gay analysis = fisting?

Methadras said...

m00se said...

In his linking to this article, I like how Sully calls his blog a "conversation".

I wrote him and noted that in a conversation, you can hear both sides of the conversation, not just the selected portions of it that one side wishes you to hear.

I noted that if his were truly a conversation, he'd have his comments section enabled like all his other cobloggers at the Atlantic.


Oh, you aren't the only one, believe me. I've been hammering Little Miss Sullivan for a long time now that his blog is nothing more than a thought bubble and that allowing a dialogue to challenge his thoughts or ideas is anathema to who Sullivan is. He hates to be challenged on his thoughts or ideas because he might just have to read the scrutiny or perish the thought, actually engage somewhat in a discussion where he might have to defend those thoughts.

No, he has no interests whatsoever in having a comments section. It would prove his undoing. Hey Sullivan. I know you are reading this, I dare you to start a comments section, you little sissy mary.

Methadras said...

1jpb said...

As a practitioner of nuisance goading and unrestrained arrogance, I know it when I see it. Not worth the effort responding.


Hmmm. Yes. Failure becomes you.

Methadras said...

John K. said...

Victoria said: "I've said it a dozen times: bloggers are the pamphleteers of the 21st century. I'm sure there is a Thomas Paine amongst the lot."

If so, this guy looks like a pretty good candidate. Also, these guys.


You know, I really miss those old government dictats in the form of PSA's or pamphlets that used to be on TV and then at the end they would tell you that they all come from Pueblo, Colorado.

bearbee said...

Blogging is my métier...

I always feel that a book is percolating somewhere, That you write, put out the lure and wait watching how like piranha, we swarm, attack and churning the water, strip differing size chunks of thoughts and spit back ideas, laying bare the bones, or sometimes not.

Ann Althouse said...

And that sounds like a book wanting to be written because....?

blake said...

how like piranha, we swarm, attack and churning the water, strip differing size chunks of thoughts and spit back ideas, laying bare the bones, or sometimes not.

How quickly can the Althouse commentariat skeletonize a cow?

Ron said...

I'll be one of those piranhas who works for Ernst Stavros Blofeld and only moonlights on Althouse for the warm and cuddly vibes we few, we happy few, we band of commenters (for he that crosslinks with me today shall be my commenter!)get and give our bloggeress...