Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Arts of Meditation and Blogging, before the Age of Computing

Robert Boyle
The reflective essay on a variety of topics can be traced back to Montaigne (1533-1592). His essays display erudite wit and a slippery, speculative, anecdotal approach to a range of themes. In the course of reading his work we start to piece together fragments of his personality and we warm to his humane openness to life.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was also significant for his ability to compose meditative and inspiring short essays on any topic. Examples are The Christian Virtuoso (1690-91) and his Occasional Reflections on Several Subjects (1665) which included a defence of his methodology.

The notion that ordinary, ephemeral topics were suitable for serious readers and profound spiritual reflection was most famously parodied in Jonathan Swift’s Meditations on a Broomstick (1701)

But a Broom-stick, perhaps you'll say, is an Emblem of a Tree standing on its Head; and pray what is Man, but a Topsy-turvy Creature, his Animal Faculties perpetually mounted on his Rational; His Head where his Heels should be; groveling on the Earth, and yet with all his Faults, he sets up to be a universal Reformer and Corrector of Abuses, a Remover of Grievances, rakes into every Slut's Corner of Nature, bringing hidden Corruptions to the Light, and raises a mighty Dust where there was none before, sharing deeply all the while, in the very same Pollutions he pretends to sweep away: His last Days are spent in Slavery to Women, and generally the least deserving; 'till worn to the Stumps, like his Brother Bezom, he's either kicked out of Doors, or made use of to kindle Flames, for others to warm Themselves by.

The potential afforded by common topics and events in urban life was also demonstrated in the magazine- style journalism of the early eighteenth century. Most noteworthy in this regard were The Spectator papers composed by Steele and Addison in 1711-12. The Spectator aimed to "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses" (No. 10) In that respect there was a democratic and anti-hierarchical element that corresponds to the unrestricted ethos of blog composition.

Typically articles or papers were about 2,500 words and together they composed over 500 of them. Although the print run was about 3000, the publications were passed from hand to hand, or read aloud to groups. As a result it has been estimated that perhaps as many as 60,000 people encountered their work.

Social historian and theorist Jürgen Habermas has proposed that The Spectator was instrumental in the "structural transformation of the public sphere" because of its inspirational role in fostering gentle conduct and mild mannered cultural exchanges between member of the emergent middle class communities. Like blogging the open form contributed to a wider and more inclusive public sphere.

While interactivity is a modern technological notion, it is nonetheless clear that Steele and Addison cultivated and played on a response to and engagement with their readers by reflecting their community interests; by being true to life; taking on an amicable personal tone, and even including and responding to ‘reader’s letters’ in the course of their reflections on social topics, trends, and customs.

The Joy of Linking - my new book: The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences here.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The gentle art of reading and writing blogs

Because there are now millions of free blogs we have the opportunity to dip into lots of different kinds of writing and to sample quite different approaches to recurring topics or themes. Doing this kind of reading randomly can have wonderful results. It's called serendipity which involves surprise discoveries and unexpected connections.

Serendipity is, of course, an eighteenth century word (1754). While we may consider that the period of the Enlightenment was obsessed with reason, system, order and process, the variety of different kinds of topical, fictional and journalistic writing offered many opportunities for fluid expression by creative people and mercurial personalities.

Serendipity is also a useful strategy for broadening your interests and for avoiding the so-called writer's block.

I believe that all great writers are also intelligent critical readers. I despair when I hear people saying that they want to write, but then proceed to say that they are not interested in other people's work. Sometimes it's a good idea to imitate or parody writers that you like or dislike. (Imitation is not the same as copying.)

Part of writing is a craft, and it's good to learn the rules before you start to break them creatively. There are plenty of style and grammar manuals on the market.

In order to establish your own voice and style it’s essential to compose regularly. It is also correct to say, in my view, that improvements come slowly over a period of time. In the art of writing there are few miracles that manifest themselves overnight. And genius is 90% effort and training. Learning to write fluently and effectively can be as difficult as learning to play an instrument such as the piano, violin, or guitar,

It is crucial to be self-critical, but you should avoid becoming self-destructive. Think about how you would the improve blogs that you wrote 6 months ago. Reviewing past material should also build your confidence by giving you a sense of progression.

Also, ask yourself how you are responding to an issue, and think about the kind of reader that you have in mind - this is also something that you can research. These days, writers tend to know who they are writing for.

I would also say that blogging is a genre in itself. This means that you will need to write differently when you turn your blogs into a larger article, essay, or book. Typically, the most popular blogs are very personal, or they offer lots of tips in bullet points. That said, there are REALLY no fixed rules or expectations for this genre. My own blogs have a variety of styles, and I see them sometimes as experiments, and as work-in-progress.

Another positive aspect of blogging is that you can break a larger project down into smaller components, or event fragments that do not fit together as you compose them. After a period of time you start to see links between the pieces, and new patterns of significance are established.

Finally, one of the most valued aspects of blogging is the opportunity for dialogue and what we have come to term interactivity.

In our time, writing is a bit more collaborative and a little less solitary.

Quote from Wiki:

"Although not a must, most good quality blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments and even message each other via GUI widgets on the blogs, and it is this interactivity that distinguishes them from other static websites. In that sense, blogging can be seen as a form of social networking. Indeed, bloggers do not only produce content to post on their blogs but also build social relations with their readers and other bloggers."

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... 
also available on Kindle, or to download