My sister Lisa knows I’m a Joan Didion fan and linked me this week to a New York article describing Didion’s recent reactions to electronic reading and writing. One Didion comment quoted in the article gives us to understand that writing is a slow business: “‘Well, I don’t really understand blogging,’ she [Didion] said. ‘It seems like writing, except quicker. I mean, I’m not actually looking for that instant feedback.'” Truman Capote’s cryptic critique complaining that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, written, according to literary folklore, in a three-week bennie frenzy on a single roll of paper, comes to mind; what Kerouac had put out, said Capote, was more like typewriting than writing. I suppose if Kerouac had been tapping on an electronic keyboard instead of pounding away on an old standard his novel would have taken only a week or two to knock out. But no, for as it turns out, from start to publication, Kerouac clinched his draft in the ring for six years. The difference between blogging and real writing, as Didion and Capote would have it, is that with blogging there is no editor.
The problem with Didion’s concern is that blogging (not blogging, exactly, but the notion that blogging is talking, as opposed to writing, and the apparent ease of writing therefore that blogging suggests, and also the vast number of bloggers) actually diminishes the important irrelevance of the writer, for it’s the irrelevance of her writing that Didion values. Writing is, for Didion, the objective correlative for the emptiness of the Hollywood her characters experience. Lore Segal, in her August 8, 1970 New York Times review of the then new Didion novel, Play It As It Lays, points us to the irony: “The problem is how to write people till someone comes up with a new convention. But the trouble with Miss Didion’s novel is more radical. In the preface to her essays [Slouching Towards Bethlehem] she says that she has sometimes been ‘paralyzed by the conviction that writing is an irrelevant act.’ Her new book feels as if it were written out of an insufficient impulse by a writer who doesn’t know what else to do with all that talent and skill.” If, for Didion, writing seemed an “irrelevant act,” the average blogger takes that very irrelevancy and makes it irrelevant, for writing can only be irrelevant if you’re the only one doing it. In other words, blogging makes writing as irrelevant as talking; Didion must deny that blogging is writing or risk seeing her own writing reduced to talking, and talking is only irrelevant if we are talking to ourselves, which, of course, is what most bloggers are doing. Most great writers, like Didion, spend most of their time talking to themselves, but with the conviction that the rest of us should eavesdrop on their conversation. Most real writers value that eavesdropping of their reader, while most bloggers are looking (in vain, usually) for a conversation.