The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, February 13, 2006

graphomania - the old blogomania?

As part of my preparation for my trip later this year I'm trying to read a few fiction books about the places I'm visiting. I've just finished The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, in advance of perusing Prague, and I stumbled across the below in Part Four: Lost Letters (Chapter 9, for the listeners at home):

I asked him what he wrote.

His life story. The story of a man who swam three days at sea, held his own against death, lost the ability to sleep, but preserved the strength to live.

"Is it for your children? A family chronicle?"

"My kids don't give a damn." He laughed bitterly. "No, I'm making a book out of it. I think it could do a lot of people a lot of good."

My talk with the taxi driver gave me sudden insight into the nature of a writer's concerns. The reason we write books is that our kids don't give a damn. We turn to an anonymous world because our wife stops up her ears when we talk to her.

You may ask whether the taxi driver was merely a graphomaniac. Let us define our terms. A woman who writes her lover four letters a day is not a graphomaniac, she is simply a woman in love. But my friend who xeroxes his love letters so he can publish them someday - my friend is a graphomaniac. Graphomania is not a desire to write letters, diaries, or family chronicles (to write for oneself or one's immediate family); it is a desire to write books (to have a public of unknown readers).


Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of a mass epidemic whenever a society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions:
1. a high enough degree of general well-being to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities;
2. an advanced state of social atomization and the resultant general feeling of the isolation of the individual;
3. a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation...

But the effect transmits a kind of flashback to the cause. If general isolation causes graphomania, mass graphomania itself reinforces and aggravates the feeling of general isolation. The invention of printing originally promoted understanding. In the era of graphomania the writing of books has the opposite effect: everyone surrounds himself with his own writings as with a wall of mirrors cutting off all voices from without.

(my emphasis)

Kundera wrote this is 1979 - replace the word "book" with "blog" and I think my point is made. It reminds me of our habit, in the NZ political blogosphere, of so often talking past each other, so rarely actually having a conversation that isn't primarily about point-scoring.* If I ever stop blogging, that will be why.

(I actually wrote all the above [well typed, in the case of Kundera's words] a couple of weeks ago, but it seems even more apt in the wake of the Mohammed cartoons.)

- Milan Kundera
- Blogging

* Thank you though to the many commenters here who don't descend to that level, and also to Idiot/Savant of No Right Turn who I believe maintains a high standard that I certainly aspire to, even though I doubt I will ever reach it.


Apathy Jack said...

That pretty much sums up bloggers. (Except me: I'll leave the doing to those who can...)

Apropos of very little, I remember something Matt Nippert, ex of Fighting Talk, mentioned. To paraphrase (and expand upon) - that the worst thing about blogging was that people didn't realise that it had one major difference from keeping a diary/journal: The dream that your diary will be discovered, recognised as a work of genius, published and lead to your fame and adulation and all of the people who wronged you realising how great you are and they should have invited you to all of their cool parties but it's too late and you'll laugh at them now, oh how you'll laugh...

Well, that theory is never put into practice, because you hide your diary under your bed. You never live the dream, but you never lose the hope of it one day being fulfilled.

However, with blogs, people are putting their diaries online, actively begging the world to look at them, and still hoping to be recognised as a work of genius, published etc etc...

It strikes me like a lot of the folks I saw at a "beginner's night" for stand-up comedians a while back: A huge number of people who clearly had their mates in stitches down at the pub of a Friday night, who assumed that, because their mates laughed at their impression of that time Jono got drunk and threw up all over Shazza's couch, that an audience of sober strangers would find it equally as side-splitting...

Hell, I've lost track of what I was saying. Maybe it was something about bloggers putting on airs, but that can't be right: I'm the guiltiest of them all in that regard... At any rate, here (if I can make the link work) is Nippert's article as mentioned above, where he says, in unequivocal terms, that blogging is something you do until you become a real journalist, and then you piss off immediately out of it, as he did the moment he hit "upload" on that very post.

Still one of my favourite entries from any blog...

(And, just for good measure, a link to this - slightly dated - post, for much the same reason.)

(Disclaimer - To everyone who thinks this song is about them: Of course I don't mean you. I mean all those other blogs. You know the ones...)

Make Tea Not War said...

You know the thing that most struck me about that excerpt- which did make me think of blogging before I even reached your conclusion, Span, was the word "isolation". I think lots of people who blog, or are otherwise heavy internet users, are isolated and lonely people for whatever reason- be they stay at home mothers, free lance writers, graduate students, unemployed, or else people just generally alienated from those in their immediate surroundings. They are striving for connection but the medium is always going to limit that. Purely text based communication is really very limiting and ultimately lacking in human warmth and maybe in the end just reinforces isolation.

litlove said...

Really interesting post, and intriguing that we should write about the same thing in such different ways. Hmm, I'm quite persuaded by your view although it's opposed to mine - I'll have to think how to reconcile that! But a brilliant use of Kundera.