The Labyrinth Unbound: Weblogs as Literature

Calling a weblog ?literary? does not require content that is about literature or even content that aims to be literature. It is not an attempt at categorizing one weblog and its author as more worthwhile in a canonical sense than any other. To the contrary, I propose that every weblog can be considered literary in the sense that it calls attention not only to what we read, but also to the unique way we read it….The novel… is defined as much in how readers are trained to enter its shared codes as it is by the specific delivery of those codes. Likewise, the weblog relies on particular codes enacted by both author and readers?readers who become, in this case, secondary authors. —Steve HimmerThe Labyrinth Unbound: Weblogs as Literature (Into the Blogosphere)

While Himmer acknowledges that bloggers choose all kinds of topics and methods, I think his choice to mostly exclude pundit and k-blogs from his analysis makes the following statement problematic: “A typical weblog offers both factual and interpretive information at once, making the distinction between truth and fiction irrelevant in favor of differentiation between trustworthy and untrustworthy.”

Yes, it’s useful to make the distinction… but there is a huge subset of bloggers who meticulously cite their sources. I recently responded to what I felt were some elisions that were excessive on an entry posted by The Pink Bunny of Battle, and the next time I checked his site, he had a major entry that was meticulously cited. I’m not saying that he changed just because of my entry, but he recognized that his credibility depended on his accuracy, which would increase his legitimacy in the eyes of many readers. (The Pink Bunny is now blue, by the way.) The effectiveness of his Battle Bunny persona wouldn’t be as strong if he didn’t pay careful attention to the facts that he uses in order to support his points. The polemic and the political speech are both long-standing literary genres. Yes, they depend more on ethos (character, trustworthiness) than logos (facts, accuracy), but bloggers can easily append a comment that links to a fact — in a way that a citizen cannot stand up and shout out a correction to a speech given in Congress.

Himmer’s assessment of weblogs in terms of Aarseth’s ergodic text is useful, because it reminds us that weblogs are serial and cumulative, meant to be experienced in short bursts over time — rather than, for example, in extended, frantic sessions just before one’s academic blogging portfolio is due. Himmer’s observation that a blog is a text that is never “finished” meshes with the experience one often has with hypertext literature, which never comes to a definitive end. Some people find the open-endedness of the text intriguing because it leads to critical inquiry. A reader who has a consumer attitude — read the text in order to get to the end and come to a conclusion and get it over with (or get credit for writing your homework) — brings to the act of reading a completely different set of expectations.

I’ll have to think some more about what those expectations are.