Yesterday I caught author and historian Simon Schama discussing his new essay collection Scribble Scribble, on WYC’s Leonard Lopate Show. During the interview, he bristled good naturedly at Lopate’s suggestion that the book, which is subtitled “Writing on Politics, Ice Cream and My Mother,” might be stream of consciousness in style, and lamented the fact that there was altogether too much of that sort of writing on line. Indeed, Schama said that blogs had “deformed” the essay into an “indiscriminate effusion of free association” predicated on the idea that if it’s interesting to me, it must be interesting to everybody. This, he said, is the absolute the opposite of the essay, which has a clear structure, “a dramaturgy” as clearly defined and carefully constructed as a great short story. Ah yes. I flashed back to my tenth grade English teacher who, on a weekly basis, would eviscerate what I thought was pretty terrific prose (Long sentences! Many adjectives! Big words galore!) until I learned to write an organized, effective essay. I can only imagine what she thinks of the blogosphere.
In any case, I’m not sure that I’d issue quite the blanket condemnation of bloggers everywhere. Given the numbers, I feel sure some are writing essays of the sort Schama might approve, but as cranky and school-marmish as Schama sounds, I could not help but agree. My inbox overflows with proposals for personal narratives that are heartfelt, horrifying and even heroic (struggles with cancer, devastating loss, political repression, etc.) but not especially well-constructed or well-suited to a broad readership. Whether this is a result of the deforming influence of the blog, I’m not sure, though blogs certainly aid and abet the notion that because every person has a story, he or she really ought to share it with the world. I do, however, realize that I am not exactly part of the solution. Much as I’d like to tut tut along with Schama, few of my own on-line ramblings on publishing would stand up to Mrs. Groveman’s red pen.
What say you? Just as video killed the radio star, has the blog killed the essay?