. . . than "literature," that is. Which is another backwash of the "what is art?" question. It's taken on more importance for me lately, since I volunteered to be the thesis "advisor" to an MFA thesis that is, in fact, a blog (viz., Jen Humphrey's Up From the Ground).
Now, I've found all of her posts interesting. They're about life on her farm, Kansas, weather, animals, and occasionally blogs (and lit). Since I know Jen, and b/c I live in Kansas, all of these things are de facto interesting to me.
"But is it ART?" the John Housman character intones from the back of the room. On one level, who cares. On another level, this blog is being produced within one of the Institutions of Literature (university English Dept. MFA program) in order to achieve that institution's official seal of approval (a sheepskin that has "art" written on it somewhere).
So, either one has to destroy (or leave) the institution, or one has to start thinking about what constitutes art.
Now, once somebody puts a urinal in an art museum, it's pretty pointless for anyone else to do that. A more interesting instance is the "Claude glass." Claude glasses are named for Claude Lorraine, the famous French landscape painter. The nobility would sally forth for picnics, and, when they saw a particularly beautiful scene, would tell their servants to hold up the Claude glass. This device consisted of a large picture frame, with poles attached. In other words, the scene would be framed, as it would in a Claude Lorraine painting. Voila! (Today we call this a "camera").
Derrida has a thing or two to say about the frame - the parergon - and what it does and does not contain (cf. his essay "Economimesis"), so I am leery of framing generally, esp. unselfconscious framing. But it seems to me that the process that Jen describes is a process of striving to fit into the frame - that is, the accepted (orthodox, canonical - pick your adj.) model of what a blog post should be - which, in this case, sounds a lot like pretty old-fashioned notions of what an essay should be.
She puts the problem thusly:
"I typically think of blog posts as having an arc, of telling a story, whether by word or image or both, but I also am drawn to blogs that are mere snippets of thoughts and information. I have resisted writing the latter here, for concern that it is not artful enough. If I go off on tangents or write unedited, on impulse, unimpeded by these rules I have made up for art in the thesis sense, what would I create? This means letting go of the idea that if it isn’t artful enough, then perhaps it doesn’t count as the art of an MFA thesis. I haven’t given myself the permission to do anything outside of what I think is acceptable for a thesis. Time to break that rule."
Indeed so. Blogs do a lot of different things. An environmentalist blog may have education - information sharing or consciousness-raising - as its goal, for instance. But what's the goal of blog-lit? Well, here's my comment to Jen's post:
"Tangents, impulse, unimpeded, letting go: right on. Personally, to me, those sorts of things lead to art more surely than all the rules in the rule book of writing."
So we have The Spectator on the one hand, and Keats' letters, on the other. But even Addison and Steele had fun with it - with Will Honeycomb and the cast of characters.
In more practical terms, here is a possible lit-mus (ha ha) test: Would someone who has no interest in farming (and who doesn't know Jen) read this blog? Would someone who is looking for "literature" turn to it? Or someone who could care less about either?
A couple of posts down from this one, you'll find me questioning Gertrude Stein's (and her critics) use of the term "exactitude" (and its synonyms). Well, Anonymous put it well in her (?) response:
"How commensurate is 'exactitude' with Stein's experimental bent? I'm not expert on the topic, but Stein fascinates me precisely for her hell-bent inexactitude and seeming devil-may-care pursuit of this quality. It is a very emboldening stance that frees up one's thinking, thawing one's inner snow woman and relaxing creative fears."
Does that mean we're not in Kansas any more? . . .
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