Sunday, August 07, 2005

Pre-computer blogging

Public Brewery has a post entitled "Mark Twain: Blogger," in praise of some of Twain's work on a common-yet-unmentionable practice.

He also asks,

I wonder what other people from the pre-blogging era might have made good bloggers. I'll throw out H. L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde for starters...

Whenever I teach The Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon, I always make the point to my students that the post-modern practice of the blog is descended from the earlier practice of miscellanies. Perhaps for that reason I find that Sei Shonagon teaches very, very well. In any case, the list of "people from the pre-blogging era [who] might have made good bloggers" has to include all writers of miscellanies. Of these, my favorites (of the top of my head) are probably Sei Shonagon and Francis Bacon, though if I really thought about it I could probably come up with a dozens more -- a whole flock of Transcendentalists, certain essayists, and even some late twentieth-century writers like Lewis Thomas.

Of course, some blogs are more like miscellanies than others; some emphasize links, while others tend to be short off-the-cuff essays (like mine). I also think the way that CD mixing and burning is practiced is much like the old practice of swapping journals or miscellanies. Whenever I ask my students if they have ever given to a friend or lover a collection of poetry they have copied, they laugh at the quaint anachronism of the idea, but whenever I ask if they have ever mixed and burnt a CD for the purpose of giving it to a friend or lover as self-expression (as opposed to burning whole albums for the purpose of copyright infringement), most of them have done it.

Same old practices, transformed by different technology in new media.

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