85% of Everything Is Awful

Jonathan Rauch on blogging:

There are a few great bloggers out there. Andrew Sullivan is one of them. But they're depressingly rare. If some strange magnetic pulse wiped out every blog post written since the format began, hardly anything memorable or important would be lost; and, after 15 years or whatever, it's too late to hope for maturation. The medium is the problem. The Web is great for shopping and research, but intrinsically lousy for serious reading and writing. Over the past decade and more, the most striking fact about the blogosphere is how little it has produced of distinction or durability.

I think you could substitute virtually any profession in that first sentence and it would be true. "There are few great novelists out there. Edwidge Danticat is one. But they're depressingly rare..." And so on. The very definition of "great' is relative to the field. I've yet to encounter a genre where greatness was, say, pleasingly common.

Leaving that aside, even the heart of the critique seems off, in that it conflates durability with quality. There are many things which are durable and are also quite lousy. This is world where Uwe Boll is crowning two decades of directing with a film about Auschwitz. Boll has most certainly proven to be "durable."

On the other hand, there are many things which are ephemeral and quite beautiful. One need only go back to that art-form which blogging is most accurately compared with -- DJIng. A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the house when DJ Spinna did an entire night of Prince and Michael Jackson. Do I remember his particular mixes? Vaguely. 

Can I name five songs he played? Probably -- but mostly because I'm deeply acquainted with the repertoire. But I do carry with me the feeling from that night, the excitement of watching the crazed and bacchanal crowd, of watching Kenyatta -- around 1 AM -- dip off from our fatigued group to dance in the middle of the floor. And it was all precipitated by an artist whose actual work I can't really recall.

It was a great night.

Likewise, I meet people all the time who, gripped by very different emotions, recall the 2008 elections through the blogs they read -- through Andrew, through Nate Silver, through The Corner. Perhaps they are all imbeciles who, lacking an eye for "distinction" or "maturation," would be better off under the sway of a high-power magnetic pulse. 

For the first 12 years of my career I worked almost exclusively in print. I wrote long, and idolized writers who did the same. Nothing beats print for me. It's my home -- and it's been greatly improved by blogging. At this very moment I am preparing an essay for the magazine which is pulled from a series of blog-posts and conversations I had here. In the main, that describes my process at the Atlantic. Blogging is where I figure out what I really think. I believe in that process. I believe it has value. 

P.S. For the record, and I submit this without sarcasm, I do appreciate Rauch's sense of humor. His list of things he won't do is quite funny.



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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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