It has been unusually hot in San Diego this past week, and with the excuse of avoiding the heat of my home, I ventured to a local bookstore to "enjoy the air-conditioning." Needless to say, it only took ten or so minutes before I had found a book that needed to come home with me. For some time I had been searching for a compilation of essays by E.B. White, the author of the beloved children's books Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. Besides these works in children's literature, White has been heralded as one of the premier essayists of the twentieth-century.
As I was reading, I was struck with some of the similarities between the essayist of White's time and our modern day 'bloggers.' Now, I am not saying that many (or any for that matter) bloggers are of the same literary level as Woolf, Owell or White - but some similarities do seem to appear.
The excerpts bellow are all from White's own forward to his collection of essays Essays by E.B. White, published by HarperPerennial, 1992. When reading, it is not a far stretch to replace the 'essayist' with the 'blogger.'
The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest. He is a fellow who thoroughly enjoys his work, just as people who take bird walks enjoy theirs. Each new excursion of the essayist, each new "attempt," differs form the last and takes him into new country. This delights him. Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.
I think some people find the essay the last resort of the egoist, a much too self-conscious and self-serving form for their taste; they feel that it is presumptuous of a writer to assume that his little excursions or his small observations will interest the reader. There is some justice in their complaint. I have always been aware that I am by nature self-absorbed and egoistical; to write of myself to the extent I have done indicates a too great attention to my own life, not enough to the lives of others.
Too, true. A blogger must first believe that someone, anyone, even a stranger, is interested in their day-to-day happenings and random thoughts. If you are not self-centered enough to believe that someone is out in cyberspace waiting and even excited to read your musings, you wouldn't have a blog in the first place!
Read on, however, for a warning to all you over-eager bloggers.
I tend still to fall back on the essay form (or lack of form) when an idea strikes me, but I am not fooled about the place of the essay in the twentieth-century American letters - it stands a short distance down the line. The essayist, unlike the novelist, the poet, and the playwright, must be content in his self-imposed role of second-class citizen. A writer who has his sights trained on the Nobel Prize or other earthly triumphs had best write a novel, a poem, or a play, and leave the essayist to ramble about, content with living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence.
Ah, the pin that will pop our narcissistic bubble - our words are quickly forgotten, our thoughts read and disposed, each entry lasting only long enough to be checked off of someone's google reader list.