By ‘thick’ description, I mean an extended, detailed, evidence-based, written interpretation of a subject. If you want to write a feature, or blog, or wikipedia entry, be it about the origins of the first world war; the authoritarian turn in Russia; or the causes and effects of the 2008 financial crisis, in the end you will have to refer to a book. Or at least refer to other people who have referred to books. Even the best magazine pieces and TV documentaries — and the best of these are very good indeed — are only puddle-deep compared with the thick descriptions laid out in books. They are ‘thin’ descriptions and the creators and authors of them will have referred extensively to books to produce their work.
In this sense, authors and publisher-curators are in the ‘civilisation business’, trafficking in the knowledge that provides the building blocks for culture and society. They probably shouldn’t go around talking about ‘civilisation’ too often, but it’s true nonetheless. Books are a different class of object, profoundly unlike magazines, newspapers, blogs, games or social media sites. The world they evoke is richer, more dense and, literally, more meaningful.
At times, tired from other responsibilities and bereft of inspiration, I’ve forced myself to consider whether I might have taken this blogging thing as far as I can. The answer I came up with is no, I enjoy writing too much to simply stop doing it. But in the course of my musings, I did have to acknowledge that I was spending too much of my already-limited free time looking for things to write about on a web that, to my curmudgeonly eyes, at least, was increasingly filled with ephemera and effluvia. The pop culture/current events section of the web, to be more specific, is overflowing with clickbait trash and superficial treatments of topics that deserve better.
I’m not pining for some lost Golden Age when the web was truly scintillating or anything; I realize that it’s just my own perspective which has changed over time. But with that aging perspective comes the realization of the many ways in which the web is a younger person’s game, and the recognition of how uninterested I am in keeping up with what today’s undergrads find important and exciting. Mundy reaffirms what I’d already been thinking, that there’s something unique about the form of the book that enables deeper consideration of a topic. I haven’t given up on the idea that there are still interesting blogs to be found out there somewhere far from the bright lights and big traffic of the mega-blogs, with authors diligently setting down their thoughts on whatever interests them, taking no notice of the changing fashions or stat-measuring contests on social media. But it appears increasingly clear to me that I will need to feed my writing habit with material found in books rather than on blogs. I’m sure that means my output will continue to be much reduced from what it once was, but so be it. You have to stop talking if you want to do some worthwhile thinking.
August 10, 2014 @ 10:20 pm
Perfect. It's a trap, the self-imposed pressure to "generate content" with some consistency, and still maintain the quality you expect from yourself. And of course there's the temptation to talk about what everyone else is talking about, to convey to the world one's own fresh, unique spin.
There's value in that, but there's also value to just writing about whatever sounds good and feels right, and hoping a conversation springs up around that, instead of what our insect corporate overlords think we should be talking about.
August 11, 2014 @ 1:10 am
Yeah, for a long time, I found it useful to approach writing that way — use something topical as a springboard for my own thoughts, and try to do it on a more-or-less daily basis. But that can start to feel like an obligation after a while, even if it's an entirely self-imposed one, and the last thing I want to do is mindlessly turn my beloved hobby into another job that I resent.
It's tough to shift gears and turn away from that, because I've never thought of myself as the type of fellow bright or deep enough to articulate a new, interesting perspective from scratch. So the intermediate step I've been trying is to go looking for different sources of inspiration, and when I find them, to spend days or even weeks thinking them over to see if I can surprise myself with something new to say. Time will tell, I suppose. But there have been just too many times I'd go to write a post, only to realize I was basically just doing cover versions of my own songs. I don't want to be my own bar band!
I see where you were recently making noises about letting HOTB go dark at year's end. Is that a genuine plan to quit, or just a similar sort of frustration? My two cents would be that your stellar writing ability seems to indicate someone who also enjoys reading and writing just for the fun of it, so it would be a shame if you couldn't find the time and energy to keep writing something, even if it means a complete stylistic overhaul to keep it interesting.
August 11, 2014 @ 6:41 pm
I would miss you if you killed your blog, Damian…even if I am argumentative too often on a few topics. You always remain an interesting and thoughtful writer.
For that matter, I would miss Heywood's blog as well.
Two unique voices.
August 11, 2014 @ 10:50 pm
I think I've passed through my dark night of the bloggy soul. If I go too long without writing anything, I feel mentally sluggish and bored.
August 18, 2014 @ 7:08 pm
"The pop culture/current events section of the web, to be more specific, is overflowing with clickbait trash and superficial treatments of topics that deserve better."
So true, that. I'm glad you're still here. Your deep thoughtfulness is much appreciated.
August 18, 2014 @ 11:41 pm
if this is your writing without thought, then i won't be able to comprehend your writing "with thought!" some of us aren't brainiacs, ya know. x)
and i'm only in blogworld randomly. but i'm missing out, so perhaps i'll make more of an attempt to check in more often 🙂
August 18, 2014 @ 8:45 pm
If I'd known you were still hanging around here, I'd have tried to put a little thought behind what I write!