Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blogs and Biogs

The Guardian used to do a bit of a Saturday round-up of the blogs, but perhaps because it's got such a well-used blog itself now, or simply realised the absurdity of taking the online offline, its given up the habit. It's a bit of a relief, really. This blog, amongst others, used to occasionally get a quote, and I wasn't then sure whether I should mention it in this blog, before realising that if you were reading this blog you'd probably already read what had been extracted in the Guardian. Such circularity! There is some point to this point, of course - in that the print/online relationship goes two ways. There's been a move over the last few years to put "online" (or at least on DVD) magazines from the archive. so that, for instance, the hard-to-find final Salinger Glass family story, Hapworth 16, 1924 is now easily retrievable, the complete "New Yorker" having been available as a boxed set for a few years now. I guess that's the idea behind the Google (and others) digitisation projects, though I'm not sure that scanning books en masse is as important a job as preserving printed materials. Moreover, who - and to what extent - is preserving the cyberspace only words that fill the blogs? The letters of Julian Mclaren-Ross has just come out for instance, a virtually forgotten writer who died in 1965, and is more famous for his lifestyle than his works, it seems almost ridiculous that 43 years after he died, that a well-edited selection of his letters should be given so much floorspace in our literary pages; yet that's the point. As DJ Taylor points out in his Guardian review, "even half a century ago the life of the rackety freelance, a feature of English literature since the days of Johnson, was growing steadily less tenable. Here in the age of Richard & Judy and the Waterstone's three-for-two, it is virtually extinct." The rackety freelance now will, I'm sure have a blog, and instead of begging letters to editors, will have a brisk, businesslike email conversation with commissioners, as well as whatever day job is necessary, still trying to carve out enough time to write "the novel". It's not that this stuff isn't being stored away, but that it could, indeed, take 43 years to identify what blogs are worthwhile. In a world where every new graduate - and every job - seems to be something to do with "marketing", it takes quite a lot of conviction to do something as economically useless as write a poem, a song or a story. Yet, it is these things, not the conferences, seminars, think-pieces, or reality TV shows, which have the only continuing value. Think of all the footage of old European Championships and Wimbledons, its always the shots, the games, not the comment, that gets repeated. Kathryn Hughes writes quite a considered, but somewhat redundant piece on "what happened to the golden age of biography?" Or rather she doesn't. The "crisis" is only really in the headlines, the piece itself is far more even-handed, bemoaning only the lack of time (and resource) that is being given to biographers these days to research their subjects. I think- at least in terms of literary biography - there is something else. Not just that everyone of stature has been done, as she says, but that our long-lived writers these days seem to fade away, not forgottten, not yet discovered. And, more than likely, with their literary archives bequeathed to one or other university. What will the blog generation have to bequeath, I wonder? A USB stick?

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