Blogging is for Ironists


16 February 2009

“My mother’s was, I think, a nineteenth-century consciousness… this is far from the register in which ambition expresses itself in the early twenty-first century.  A reader looking for irony will find none.”  –-David Rieff on the early journals of his mother Susan Sontag

(So I’m almost done with the Sontag journals.)

Long for This World is a novel in which a traditional rural culture and modern (media) culture collide.  Its “register,” for me, is hard to pinpoint — I will leave that to readers and critics.  But I will say that, for the most part, “a reader looking for irony will find none.”  

I got nothin’ against irony.  As a writer, I enjoy riffing in ironic registers as much as the next guy.  Here’s a draft passage from my novel-in-progress, Sebastian & Frederick:

Joe Sonnenberg was, among other things, a superb arguer.  His penchant—more like zeal—for nose-bloodying debate (always above the belt, but sharp weaponry permitted) created the exact conditions, the parameters, in which I felt free to chuck things against the wall and see what would stick.  Joe was our Socrates and our Ali in one. “The question, Lee, is who the fuck cares?  You’re sinking dangerously into the swamp of subjectivity here.  The general reader doesn’t care enough about you to care about the boyhood memory that came to you when you entered that interrogation room. Get your goddamned childhood outta there, for Chrissakes…”

Joe was a newspaper man, a Senior News Editor, before coming to World.  It was a controversial hire, he was much more rough-and-tumble—a yeller, a gesticulator, a phone-slammer, with black brillo-pad hair and giant hands—than the refined Marsden Letts (Yalie, author, curator, lecturer) who preceded him.  But the magazine had begun losing readership during the last years of the Letts reign, alienating, they used to joke, Gerard and Gillian Master’s Degree, who couldn’t get beyond all-but-dissertation and thus missed the subtle intonations of Lettsian World intellect and humor.  Joe Sonnenberg may have been rougher ’round the edges than some, but the hiring circle—that’s what they called it, a circle—and anyone who’d ever worked with Joe, knew that his mind was as sharp and brilliantly nuanced as any; and that he understood the business of media.   

What fun, writing this passage! And yet, who knows if it will make the cut in later drafts.  An ironic voice is not easy to sustain, not if it’s also going to be compelling and on some level trustworthy.  The truth is, my natural temperament, and my novelistic interests, are probably, like Sontag’s, more 19th-century than 21st-century.  

This is a journal where art is seen as a matter of life and death… And [Sontag] never lacked for people who tried to get her to relax.

Sontag would never have been a blogger.  Too much built-in expectation for blip and byte, for irony and entertainment.  

Well, God help me; 11-and-a-half  months to go…


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