Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Why do people blog? What explains the popularity of this impulse?

Is it that we live in a more political time than before -- or more egotistic -- or are these things the same, or that the impulse has always been with us, only it is much easier now to find a soapbox?

In Kundera's astonishing The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is the following discussion that has our attention. We have abbreviated and lightly edited it without (hopefully) losing its essence.

Kundera runs into a Paris taxi driver who tells him he is writing a book.

Why? Is it for your children? A family chronicle?

My kids don't give a damn, he responds. No, I think I can do a lot of people a lot of good.

From this Kundera derives a profound insight about a writer's concerns. They write because their kids don't give a damn. They turn to an anonymous world because their spouses stop up their ears when they talk to them.

Then Kundera defines a Graphomaniac. A woman who writes four love letters a day is not one. A man who xeroxes his, so he can publish them someday, is. Graphomania is not the desire to write for oneself or one's near and dear one's; rather it is the desire to write books or have a public of unknown readers. In this sense, Kundera writes, Goethe and the Parisian taxi driver share the same passion. What distinguishes them is the result of their passion, not the passion itself.

Graphomania becomes a public epidemic when:

1. a high degree of general well-being exists that people can turn to useless activity
2. a high degree of social atomization exists, leading to a general feeling of isolation in individuals
3. a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of a nation exists (on this he cites the statistic that in France, where nothing really happens, the percentage of writers is 21 times higher than in Israel !!)

It is the absence of content, a void, that impels writers to write -- the effect causing a flashback to the cause. If general isolation produces Graphomania, then Graphomania in turn reinforces and aggrevates general isolation. The invention of printing initially enhanced mutual understanding. In the era of Graphomania, writing has the opposite effect: everyone surrounds themselves with their own writing as with a wall of mirrors cutting out all voices from without.

If Kundera is right, why then do people blog? What explains the popularity of this impulse? Hmmm.


Roonie said...

My opinion on why we blog is that many people are becoming increasingly aware of their surroundings and the life they're leading. It begins to reach the degree of sensory overload, and any normal human being has opinions (be they profound or not) on these situations that we are living, day in and day out. So, we blog. I mean, my blog is for amusement purposes only, because everything is completely injected with my own slant, but it's kind of relaxing to blog, and allows me to voice my opinion to the world, regardless if anyone is listening or not. I like to write, and writing for "publication" (if you want to call it that) adds a new element to the writing process, as opposed to writing for myself in a journal.

Primary Red said...

Which is the more selfish act -- writing for one's own amusement and/or introspection, or for finding a livable perch on other people's ears?

We think it's the latter -- and to that extent our public writing is different from our private thoughts, Graphomania or not. Fayza, you note as much in your comment.

In fact, isn't the sensory overload you refer to merely a manifestation of Kundera's social atomization -- the pace of life so quickened that no one isolated individual can keep pace? You argue that this dynamic provokes opinion given voice in the blog. Kundera would argue the opinion is in fact merely a shield to keep out the kitsch of the world intruding on our private realm -- kinda' like when in a room full of noisy children, an irritated teacher screams, then there is silence,

Our public words are thus a primal scream to drown out the kitsch of others -- thats why it feels so good. No?