Blogging the Personal

Larry at OF Blog of the Fallen raises an interesting point about the “lack of liveliness” in some blogs :

While no one has to do any of the above or more, sometimes I’m reading through a blog and it’s as though the person operating it has largely chosen to remove him/herself from the material being presented. It seems as though for many of the blogs that I’ve read, that the blogger has taken a fairly passive role to the material s/he is presenting. Yes, some will use the first-person on occasion, but it often feels tacked on, as if s/he were writing a plot summary and then decided to use a paragraph or two at the end to interject his/her opinions on the matter. Such things feel bolted-on to me, as if two separate things (description of book, reaction to book) are forcibly combined, rather than an integration of the two taking place. While useful for many as an indicator of how the reviewer reacted to a piece, as a review essay, it is rather wanting to me.

This is rather a timely comment as, over the last week, I have been thinking of fiddling with the format a bit.  When I started Ruthless Culture my aim was to write about films in a way that was not possible at the various reviewing gigs I had and which sat uncomfortably with the SF-focus of my old blog.  Because of that ‘mission statement’ I also cut out most of the editorialising and linking that I traditionally did in between any substantial pieces I might write.  I saw this as cutting out the fluff.

I think that this has resulted in a blog that feels a trifle dry.  So, in addition to the longer critical and review pieces I produce I am also going to produce shorter non-critical posts which should serve to even out the tone somewhat.

However, I can completely understand why one would not want to go down this particular road.  In fact, off the top of my head, here are four reasons for sticking to the facts :

1) Most of us lead quite dull lives – We’re not all trapped in the middle of a civil war or living through a flu epidemic or making our way  in the world as rent boys catering to the Argentinian political classes.  Most of our lives are crushingly mundane and it has never been completely clear to me why anyone should take an interest in my life.  In fact, I tend to think that the trend for ‘compulsive sharing’ that our culture has drifted into is rather narcisssistic.

2) Some of us are trained to filter out the subjective – The skills I have as a critic stem largely from my academic training and in academic circles the subjective is neither here nor there.  I was once castigated for using the first person pronoun in an essay (I kept doing it though).  So for many bloggers I suspect it never occurs to them to write about themselves whilst writing about other things.

3) There are different reasons for keeping a blog – I think it’s pretty clear that, even among intellectual blogs, it is better for readers if the blogger strikes a stance more friendly and discursive than that required for proper intellectual analysis but some bloggers are not overly bothered about what their readerships think.  If you write for yourself then there’s no reason why you should strive to be more accessible and transparent.

4) It’s a Jungle Out There – By including personal matters in one’s blogging one is effectively putting information into the public domain.  Some people (Larry included) do not blog under their own name and so insulate their real life from their online life by making sure that nobody can gogle their name and discover that they’re a cross dresser, a manic depressive or a collector of Nazi memorabelia.  Some of us do blog under our real names and so might well ‘withhold’ in quite a different way, namely by refusing to share personal details about oneself.

Clearly, there’s a spectrum here with nothing but hard-core criticism at one end and nothing but discussions of your lover’s oral sex technique and the health of your cats at the other but I think that pretty much any position in the spectrum one chooses to adopt is entirely defensible as long as one realises the trade-offs one is making by adopting one position rather than another.


  1. Interesting.

    I have mixed views on this. I write up books that I read. I figure if you read an entry, it’s because you want to hear my thoughts on that book, or more likely still because you want to hear thoughts on that book and mine are among those that are out there that you’re looking at (though there are some books I cover that don’t seem widely covered elsewhere admittedly).

    I generally figure if someone reads my writeup on Chester Himes say, it’s because they are potentially interested in his work, not because they want to hear about my holiday in New York a few years back and how I wanted to go to Harlem but didn’t make it, or whatever. In other words, I tend to think the personal is probably irrelevant to the purpose of the blog.

    Sometimes it isn’t. If I write up a book which touches on topics I have personal experience of, that will inevitably colour my thoughts and it’s worth touching on that personal element, but I don’t write to let people see the real me (a concept I don’t much believe in anyway), I write because I think the stuff I write about is worthy of attention.

    Blogs I read, I read because they cover stuff that interests me. Where they are more personal, that’s nice and we can all feel like buddies but the analysis often suffers. I don’t really care about the fact of whether you or I or anyone else liked or disliked something, I care quite a lot about why any of us might have liked or disliked it though.

    That said, although no doubt I’ve made the error myself, a writeup which is a plot summary is a waste of space. If you’re going to write about something, say something about it. Say why it works, where it falls down, what its themes are, what comparators might be. If I want a plot synopsis I’ll read the back.


  2. That last para was a general comment by the way, I’ve read a few blogs where someone just basically says “I read this, this and that happened, I liked it” which is frankly pointless.


  3. There’s a continuum though. At one extreme is nothing but analysis, at the other is “lol cat pictures”, “my girlfriend doesn’t know how to give head” and your holiday in New York.

    I think that blogs feel dry if they are purely analytical and stick too closely to the academic style of expression, but I think they are pointless is they delve too much into the personal.

    However, I also think that there’s a sweet spot between the two.

    My idea was simply to off-set the longer analytical posts with shorter punchier ones. Not so much to drum up more readers as to make this place more of a reflection of who I am.

    I think that one of the most important aspects of criticism is transparency. A good critic is someone who explains why he reaches the conclusions he does and the only way that subjective judgments can be transparent is if they are placed in a wider psychological context.

    Just a thought really.


  4. Nothing wrong with punchy pieces, certainly, and I agree on the transparency point. I need to write up soon The Crystal Cave, which I’m abandoning. Knowing that I don’t really enjoy fantasy works is potentially quite important given that it’s regarded as a classic and I’ve lost interest to the point where I likely won’t finish it.

    More subtly, an idea of my politics might help give context to my thoughts on a book with a political subtext, an idea of my interests and personality in a broader sense might help show where I have blind spots or a desire to be supportive (both equally important, Barry Norman was useless reviewing British cinema, his desire to support it tended to overwhelm his critical faculties).


  5. Personal Stuff can also inform criticism in positive ways. If you have a genuine love of something the flows from a particular world-view or experience then that’s completely valid and interesting.

    It doesn’t need to be just a question of blindspots and biases.


  6. For me blogging simply serves a few, I suppose quite pragmatic functions. Writing a blog helps me organise my own thoughts (all the better if they are challenged or enhanced by a reader) and this then strengthens my thinking for creative projects . It’s a way of staying ‘match fit’ – you get used to honing an argument and presenting it in public. I guess it’s like a test screening. It’s only when a stranger’s eyes fall upon your work that you see it anew yourself, and are liberated from the fug of self-delusion. Hopefully, you iron out some bad habits along the way as a result of this. Hopefully!

    More than this, I wonder where else I might stick all the conjecture and musing that finds its way onto The Drift, if not in a blog? I fear it might drive me insane to retain it in my head. Blogging as therapy then. I guess it’s better than starting fights in the Trocadero. And if people don’t want to read, then fine. One must always write for oneself, anway right? The rest is just conversation.


  7. I think there’s a balance to be struck.

    On the one hand, yes… it’s vital to write for oneself. I stopped writing for myself on my own blog and effectively disgusted myself with the whole process. I’m now a lot happier with my output. I don’t think I’ve been this productive well… ever.

    but on the other hand, I think that dialogue between bloggers is a really good thing and so you can’t be completely solipsistic about it.

    I have no desire to start engaging in therapy-by-blog but I can see value in allowing more of oneself to filter through. Actually I think that THE DRIFT is a really good model of what I’m talking about. You filter through in the subjects you choose to talk about and you’re not afraid to be quite punchy.


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