I am continually fascinated by the blogosphere—its odd blend of willful insularity and often-startling reach; its dominant personalities, at who’ve succeeded not so much at being larger than life, but at simply recreating parallel versions of themselves online, seemingly able to document every waking thought in real time; at the alliances and infighting that dominate, especially in political commentary; at the way it allows us to see the evolution of language, the spread of ideas, jargon, and stylistic modes, at a an amazingly rapid pace. In just the last few years, blogs have generated reams of material ripe for critical evaluation.
So I was rather disappointed by Sarah Boxer’s essay on blogs in The New York Review of Books, which seems written for people who have never—or only rarely—encountered blogs. The essay provides a cursory summary of how blogs work, notes a few of their literary tics, and suggests that they are popular because of the freedom they provide. It’s sort of “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog” in 5,000 words. It’s a primer on blogging, but it suggests very little about the medium that isn’t patently obvious to a regular consumer. All this might have been fine in 2004, but in this case, it comes off as a marginally less awe-struck version of what Ross Douthat has called the “critic-as-fanboy style of criticism,” which he says usually come in the form of “extremely long critical essays that describe their subject, often in painstaking and florid detail, without bothering to interpret it.” I’m glad to see that writers are taking the internet seriously as a medium that deserves thoughtful examination, but if Boxer’s essay offers indication, the critical community has yet to figure out what to make of it.