Why I blog

When I am asked why I write a blog, the ready answer – and, for once, an honest answer – is “pure egotism”. How can one not be thrilled by the thought that there are people whom I do not know, from, literally, all round the world, who actually read what I have written? Even if – as is more than likely – their response on having read my posts is “What a load of shite!”?

I recently submitted myself, not too unwillingly, I must admit, to a period of extended navel-gazing about this blog. It has been going for over seven years now. I have spent on it more hours than I care to think of. And, in recent months, I have been so physically tired that writing even casual posts has been proving difficult. I have even wondered whether I should stop now.

Other than egotism, I really am not sure why I do it. To share my enthusiasms? To let off steam? To come into contact with like-minded people, with whom I can talk about matters other than football? Yes, all of these, I suppose. But one motive I disclaim is the pedagogic: I do not pretend to know or to understand any of the works I write about to anywhere near an adequate level. All I think I am doing is setting out my own thoughts and reactions to what I read. These thoughts may occasionally hit the mark; at other times, they may be wildly off target. But, for better or worse, they are my thoughts at time of writing. And since every individual human is different, every individual’s reaction to a major work of literature – for only major works may be validly viewed from different perspectives – is different also.

And, I argue with myself, recording my own perspective – one perspective among many, obviously – may be worthwhile, even with works such as, say, Hamlet or Don Quixote, where it is not humanly possible even in an entire lifetime to read all that has been written about them. It is highly unlikely, to say the least, that I have anything to say about these works that hasn’t been said before, that I have thoughts about these works that haven’t been thought before. But so what? Does that mean we must stay silent?

I think there are really two main reasons why I blog. The first is that I feel the need to let off steam when I get angry about something. In this blog, what tends to rile me is the intrusion into literature – or into anything else, for that matter – of identity politics. I tend to lose my temper also when the sense of transcendence that the arts can induce is denied, or is denigrated. I realise that a quick temper is not the particularly conducive to cohesion either of thought or of expression, but, as the Earl of Kent said, anger hath a privilege. (Mind you, he was put in the stocks shortly afterwards.)

The second, and, I like to think, the more important reason is that I really do find it hard to contain my enthusiasm. I don’t really care that I have no new insights on Hamlet or on Don Quixote. I am not aiming to impart fresh new insights in the first place. I merely want to record my experience of reading – explain what I felt and what I thought while I was reading; or, sometimes, what aftertaste the book leaves behind. Of course, I try to make my writing as readable and as entertaining as I can: it is true that I write this blog primarily for myself, but I do want others to read it as well! I try also to say a bit more than “I liked it” or “I didn’t” (or, in contemporary parlance, “It was awesome!” or “It sucked!”). For, with the possible exception of supporting the Scotland football team (another of my vices), there’s nothing more boring than that.

In defiance of many modes of thought currently fashionable, I believe that there is such a thing as intrinsic quality, that everything isn’t merely “a matter of opinion”. Nowadays, “it’s just my opinion” is usually said with the intention ending a dialogue, rather than starting one. That is not to say that opinion (or personal taste) does not exist, or isn’t important: but we are not trapped inside our own minds – it is possible to take a leap of the imagination and look beyond our own personal perspective, and, in the course of doing so, broaden it.

For if there were no such thing as intrinsic quality, dialogue can get no further than a mere exchange of opinions. (And, to judge by so much I see online, dialogue usually doesn’t get further than that: it is very depressing.) But the corollary is that if there is such a thing as intrinsic quality; if Hamlet and Don Quixote are indeed great works, irrespective of how we may personally view them; then dialogue becomes not merely possible, but also important. Not just dialogue between learned academics, but also between ordinary readers like myself. For how else can we look beyond our own personal perspectives but by getting to know the perspectives of others? Now, more than ever, we need dialogue that goes a few steps beyond “It was awesome!” or “It sucked!”

And this, I think, is why I blog: I want to be part of this dialogue. I am not always very good at responding to others (especially these days, when the spirit is still willing but the flesh is even weaker than before), but I do feel it important to read and to absorb what other readers make of their reading. This kind of dialogue I don’t get, I’m afraid, from Goodreads or from Amazon “reviews”: but I do from many a blog I could name.

And so, for the moment at least, I think I shall carry on blogging. And all those readers from around the world who flatter my ego by adding to my blog stats can continue reading my posts, and saying to themselves: “What a load of shite!”

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21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jonathan on July 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Well, I certainly hope you conttinue to blog, Himadri, even if it’s at a reduced rate. I especially like your posts on subjects like identity politics etc.

    I think we all end up asking ourselves at some point why we blog. I sort of fell into it really when I was asked to contribute to a Zola blog. I tend to prefer writing blogs that impart specific information, say on different translations available. I also like posting about books I think others may not know about and may like where I’m basically saying ‘Hey everyone, have you heard of this book? It’s really good (or bad)!’. I tend to veer away from critical reviews as it’s something I find impossible to do; I’m always impressed by others’ critical analyses and I wish that I could write them too. I’m also impressed with how some bloggers post on every book they read. But it’s not something I would want to do as it would seem like too much of a chore and I tend to just blog about a book if I feel inspired to.

    Reply

    • I’ve been blogging now for almost nine years, and the reason is pretty much in line with what you wrote: in general, it is communication. If nobody ever commented, either positively or negatively, then I probably would have stopped years ago.

      I think enthusiasm is more important that egotism as a motivator. Egotism is there, but I have to be enthusiastic about something to write about it. That seems to be true here, for I have never found any of your commentaries to be posted just for the sake of posting something. I can always detect your strong interest in what you are saying, and that, to me, is enthusiasm.

      Reply

    • Thanks for that, Fred. I do agree with you about enthusiasm. Keeping things to oneself that one is enthusiastic about is deeply frustrating. And when people around you do not share your enthusiasm, you can become isolated. The internet really has been a boon in this respect.

      Reply

    • Thanks for that, Jonathan. I think you’re right that if you’re writing because you want to stick to some pre-set plan (e.g. write about every single book you read), it becomes a chore. And there’s no point continuing with it.
      I like to think I am an “amateur” in the true sense of the term – i.e. what I write, I write for the love of it. Eventually, one finds one’s own voice, and it’s a curious thing that one’s writing voice is not necessarily the voice recognised by those who know you personally!

      Reply

  2. I try not to look too deeply into my reasons for blogging. Cowardice, perhaps, that I might discover more egotism than I care to admit? Initially I thought I did it for accountability, to be able to claim that I’d written something on a regular basis (I am a writer too). But over time, as comments started coming in, particularly repeated comments from a few bloggers whose opinions I valued and whose writing I enjoyed, I began to realise that the need for connection was there too. I used to be able to discuss books and art and theatre etc. with my real-life friends, but as they have moved away and I find myself surrounded by friends who share my location but not necessarily my passions, I find I sometimes feel closer in spirit to the online bookish community.

    Reply

    • “…I find myself surrounded by friends who share my location but not necessarily my passions…”

      Indeed, that is an important aspect for me. I studied physics and mathematics at university, and my colleagues are very much on the science side of the Two Cultures. The internet offers an opportunity to speak to people who share your own passions. I used to write on book boards, and I have made many good friends from there. But on the whole, I find blogging has been more rewarding.

      Reply

  3. Posted by mudpuddle on July 7, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    i’m not a blogger, i just comment… but i see the valuable and informative communication that results, and the intellectual stimulation that for many presents the most valuable point of life… and i see the sparks fly occasionally, which is good: blogging is the quintessence of thought, it seems to me, shared with interested and interesting others; maybe a new social consciousness will erupt; who knows?…

    Reply

    • Funnily enough, despite the title of this blog (the joke sadly has long worn off, if, indeed, it was ever funny at all), there have been very few sparks if any on this blog. It’s a far cry from the days of posting in book boards, where questioning of a stated opinion was regarded by many as a personal insult. In my experience of book blogs (and not just the comments on this one), debate and discussion are seen, rightly, not as confrontations, but as efforts on all sides to reach a better understanding. Or perhaps I have just become less abrasive with age … that may well be the case.

      Reply

  4. I blog—because when it became clear to me that Donald Trump was going to win the US election, I felt a need to retreat to a purely literary corner. I write mostly–but not exclusively–about poetry. I don’t know anyone who actually reads poetry with whom I can discuss it in real life.

    I wanted also to read other blogs, like your blog–especially your blog–which give me new perspectives. I am a dying creature and I will move along with greater ease when I read people who are passionate about literature and culture, and who have a great facility with language. Thank you for your blog and I hope you continue to let out steam. don’t keep it bottled up!

    Reply

    • I think I can identify with that very strongly. The more boorish and brutal and nasty the world becomes, the more I feel the need to inhabit a world more cultured and refined – not, I must stress, as a retreat from the world, but, rather, to live my life in this world in a more fulfilling manner.

      Towards the end of Ibsen’s last play, When We Dead Awaken (one of the most poetic and resonant titles of any work of literature), one of the characters says “When we dead awaken, we shall find we have never lived”. Perhaps that is the eventual fate of us all. But we can at least try, at least in our own minds, to inhabit a world other than the mean and nasty one that, we are told, is all there is.

      Reply

  5. Posted by jacabiya on July 8, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Himadri,

    Curiously I was thinking about this the other day, and I am afraid that there’s truth in what you are saying, and that is why I decided to stop writing until now. It seems that you as owner of a blog are too busy and have too much in mind, plus your health situation, to particularly care about so many people who contribute to the blog, or get personal with them, plus the need to keep the blog at a professional level. I am sure you have asked yourself this question, but maybe could discuss it next: Why people write in my blog? In my case I was looking at the beginning to share ideas but eventually to develop some kind of empathy with you and other writers from different backgrounds and cultures, but after 2+ years I did not see this happening. Cheers!

    Jose

    Reply

    • Hello Jose, I don’t know if it would be right for me to claim that I am too “busy”. I am certainly not idle, no, but claiming to be “too busy” is a bit of a slight to all those who are at least as busy as I am, and still manage to blog. But I do find myself getting very tired, yes!

      And I do care very much about those who contribute to this blog. It is heartening to know that I am not merely talking to the wind. It just bothers me that I am not very good at returning the compliment. This does not mean that I do not care for other bloggers, and their blogs: I read them often, because, as I say, I want to know how others read books; I want to know their perspectives. Without that, I really am stuck in my own mind. (And believe me, that’s not a particularly nice place to be stuck in!) But all too often, all I really have to say is “Thanks for that, that’s illuminating”. Or something similar. And it seems to me a bit of a trite thing to say, and, when repeated across several blogs, possibly not worth saying.

      And there are also times where I would like to debate some point someone has made, but since I lack the energy these days to do that properly, I usually don’t.

      Cheers for now, Himadri

      Reply

  6. Actually I just read you for your sense of humour.

    I’m glad you decided to keep blogging and I hope your health will get better.

    Reply

  7. Do carry on! Like Emma I love your sense of humour and hearing your opinions. I think you’d hit the nail on the head with your mention of enthusiasm – I think it’s exactly that, my love of books and wanting to share it, that set me off blogging. Yes, I’m sure we all have some ego, but the bloggers I like are the ones who can send me off in different bookish directions and obviously love what they do!

    Reply

    • Thanks! I do certainly try to communicate my enthusiasm – if only to compensate for the lack of much else worth communicating!

      Someone asked me once why I imagine anyone should be interested in my take on, say, Don Quixote when there are so many more scholarly and insightful professional commentators they could turn to. They’re right, of course: it would be good sense to leave this sort of thing to those who are better qualified than myself. But the logical conclusion of that is that I must remain silent on what I am most enthusiastic about, and that is too great a price to pay for exercising good sense!

      Reply

  8. Posted by Charley Brady on July 8, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    I don’t really care why you blog, Himadree; I’m just glad that you do. I don’t have the time or the patience to go through everything that anyone ever wrote on ‘Don Quixote’ either. But for a great many things I’ve found your blog the ‘go-to’ one that I ALWAYS find interesting.

    However, you’ve had a tough time this past year health-wise: put that first…

    Reply

    • Thanks, Charley, but rest assured I’m a right lazy bastard, and the last thing I’d do would be to endanger my health with working more than I need to! As the late and very lamented Dave Allen put it, it is my ambition to be able some day to look back on my old age…

      Reply

  9. Posted by alan on July 10, 2017 at 10:48 am

    I guess the “Why I blog” is meant to be an echo of Orwell’s “Why I Write”:
    http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw
    “What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.”
    I think you’ve made a contribution to the art of political writing. Your determination to avoid the fashion for seeing literature through the lens of contemporary political philosophy is a political statement in itself.

    Reply

    • Ah – I was hoping no-one would notice my presumption in titling this post after Orwell!

      I try not to broach political matters directly on this blog, as I am simply not in possession of all the facts and figures one ideally needs to engage properly in political debate. Also, my understanding of economics is at best superficial. However, there are, of course, different kinds of politics, and cultural politics is certainly important. And here, for whatever reason, I feel less reticent. Especially given how passionately I feel about so much that’s written about it. Maybe that’s a good enough reason to carry on blogging!

      Reply

  10. Goodness! I really wasn’t fishing for compliments here … I was just musing aloud a bit! Please do bear with me a bit – I’ll reply to all the comments in time.
    Cheers, Himadri

    Reply

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