(I wrote this post in Sept 2011, in the heady early days of blogging. As I celebrate my one year Blogiversary, I think it’s as pertinent now as ever.)
An ironic title for a blog post from someone who has TWO different blogs, right? But not really. Let me explain.
I’ve written about Fernando Pessoa before (here) and I want to quote him again:
“What is there to confess that’s worthwhile or useful? What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only to us; if to everyone, then it’s no novelty, and if only to us, then it won’t be understood.”
Given the proliferation of blogs – and that fact that most bloggers write about their own lives – Pessoa’s point here is a very interesting one. If you’re blogging about something that’s been done or said before, then it’s nothing new, so why would anyone want to read it? But if you’re blogging about something that is specific only to you, then no-one will be able to relate to it, and again, why would anyone want to read it? So, what’s the point of blogging?
Pessoa was one of the first of what could be termed ‘confessional’ writers, writers who wrote in an autobiographical style (Henry Miller of Tropic of Cancer fame was another). So, when he wrote that line, he wasn’t talking about fiction; he was talking about a very personal style of writing. And that’s the clincher for me – and the reason I don’t agree with Pessoa’s quote. Because when you read something that Pessoa or Miller wrote, they might be writing about familiar subjects, but they’re writing about them in a way that no other person has written before.
Take Henry Miller, for example. He wasn’t going through anything that others hadn’t gone through before – a starving artist on the streets of Paris – but he wrote about it in a way that no-one had before. And this is the crux of the matter: the writing is brand new and fresh, but you can completely relate to the experiences and emotions.
Nowadays, autobiographies and memoirs are written by everyone from Big Brother celebrities to footballer’s wives. And many of the so-called “literary” memoirs are just about titillation. Messed-up childhoods, or worse, fake messed-up lives in the case of James Frey. It’s literary voyeurism; all sheen and gloss. It doesn’t connect with the reader. And I don’t mean to sound to overly earnest about a silly ole thing like a blog, but that’s what we as readers want – that moment of clarity, where we connect with the writer and think, “This person gets where I’m coming from.”
And, I think, that’s what bloggers do. They write about their personal experiences in a way that registers with people. And it doesn’t have to be sad or tragic; it can be funny as hell and still be true. But that’s what we as readers of blogs are drawn to – the writer’s ability to tell the truth. And how much of that truth is specific to me and not true from somebody else’s perspective? That will always be the case. There are things that are specific to me in what some people have written; there will be things in other writings that are relevant to other people but not to me.
I posted a blog a while back linking to my favourite blogs, so I’m not going to mention them all here again (click here if you’re interested). But the blogs that I read all give me something different: memories of a different time and place, insights into writing, funny stories or anecdotes. And all of them I can relate to in one way or another. That, I think, is why we blog and why we read blogs.
I’ll leave the last word on this to Aaron Sorkin, as delivered by the great Toby Ziegler in The West Wing:
“An artist’s job is to captivate you for however long as we’ve asked for your attention. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky, and I don’t get to decide what truth is.”
(Henry Miller pic by Brassai)