As a newbie to the blogosphere, I have spent a good deal of time recently, wondering what value this blawg brings to the ether and, more importantly, to the urgent and ongoing struggle to resituate animals within society. This led me to ruminate on blogs as literary expression and as a forum for information exchange.
I have taught writing for many years, first to undergraduates and more recently to law students. To all of them I preach that they should never show anything they write to anyone – not even their mothers – until they have rewritten it at least five times. Then, they should rewrite it another half-dozen times before deciding whether it merits sharing with anyone else. Good writing, I maintain, requires great care. One of the best compliments a reader can offer is to say that an author writes like she speaks – that her prose seems conversational, approachable and easy to digest. However, the key to an easy-flowing style lies in multiple drafts, careful parsing, and unstinting attention to detail. This methodology bears no resemblance to common discourse and thus the paradox (and concomitant student resentment).
Furthermore, as an academic, my stock and trade involves laboriously composed scholarly treatises. Some run long and some short, but all are heavily sourced and often refereed. Because this form of writing consumes so much time and labor and because there is so seldom money involved (and so little money when there is), I must believe that my work in some way adds value to society or my motivation evaporates. In this sense, I adapt Johnson’s timeless adage that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” to the reality of academia and the marketplace of ideas.
All of this made me resistant to blogging, an endeavor requiring real or near real-time publishing of one’s virtually unedited thoughts (also for no money). In short, blogging demands jettisoning many of my most cherished ideals about the nature of the written word. Also, because I care so passionately about animal issues and because I believe them so philosophically and legally complex, I felt and still feel hesitant to throw thoughts out there unsourced and ungrounded.
Then I read this thoughtful piece in the Atlantic on blogging by Andrew Sullivan, a writer I admire very much, even when I don’t agree with him (he blogs here). Sullivan quotes Matt Drudge (who I admire much less but whose cultural influence both in and out of the blogosphere lies beyond cavil) that a blog is a broadcast not a publication. Its immediacy propels ideas straight into the discursive realm rather than leaving them to germinate for months or years in obscurity. This got me to thinking about my unhealthy addiction to footnotes and to revisit the wisdom of Noel Coward, who once compared reading footnotes to “having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.” He’s so right; notes are a buzz-killer and should be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.
The value of my scribblings -assuming they have any – lies in the discussion they generate. It is far less important that I be authoritative than that I be interesting and that animal issues be taken up and discussed by as wide an audience as possible. Public intellectuals like Peter Singer, Cass Sunstein, Gary Francione, as well as many lesser known but no less thoughtful folks (some of whom populate our growing blogroll while a small sampling of the myriad others can be found here, here, and here), realized this long before I. Sullivan notes that the medium’s true blogfathers are writers like Pascal and Montaigne, whose meandering styles, willingness to share fragmentary thoughts, and (in Montaigne’s case) to publicly revise and republish, pointed readers’ attention away from the authors and toward their ideas. (Fine essay about Montaigne here, although you may have to pay for access)
Upshot: The goal – smelting a new set of norms and laws that unhook human society from its exploitive relationship to nonhumans – is collaborative and the individual role within it minuscule. Hubris is addictive and as dangerous to good writing as careless prose. One must embrace both the medium and the message. The cause is urgent and the consequences dire. Nothing but full-throated blogging will do. With apologies to the Bard, I say: Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of prose.
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal ethics, animal rights, animal welfare, blogging, Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Sullivan, animal ethics, animal rights, Atlantic Monthly, blogs, Drudge, education, francione, Montaigne, Noel Coward, Pascal, Peter Singer, Samuel Johnson, scholarship, Shakespeare, Sunstein, teaching, writing | 2 Comments »