The CCCC conference sessions on blogging are still sending out waves, as Will Richardson writes about some of the problems Richard Long and others helped me think about during and after the conference. Over in the comments to that post, Tom Hoffman and Will see a virtue in looking at blogging as reading, which strikes me as a wonderful chance to think freshly about the process.
Maybe some folks write flat, empty posts or bad diary posts because they don't know any other genres (they just aren't readers, in one sense) and because aren't responding to anything (that is, they aren't reading anything right now). If they aren't readers in general and aren't reading anything now in particular, then they both won't have the genre chops and won't have any particular content to bounce off of. They will be literate in a basic and functional way, but for two reasons their literacy won't be the active and generative kind we see in people who are really writers.
This sounds like a version of the Burkean parlor*, where people have to hang around and listen to how the insiders talk the talk for some time before they can really join in themselves.
If you are a reader and if you are reading, you start to be able to find something you want to say beyond shallow commonplaces, and you start to know how to say it, and maybe even who to say it to. Then the later comment from Dennis Jerz seems right to me: links and comments can then help you form networks and create audiences, as he says. He points out that this is a constructive act, rather than mainly an interpretive act, and I agree in part: the linking does construct the relationships with others that make audience possible. But prior to making those links and animating them, I think, are the acts of interpretation necessary in Burke's parlor -- you have to learn how to read or hear, which is interpretation, before you can write or speak or before you can make those constructive links to others, it seems to me.
We can tell that Dennis is right at least in part because we've all seen complete blog posts that are, implicitly, like this one that I'll make up here:
I'm such an important blogger that I don't have to give you any reason as I urge, even command, you to visit this link.
But when famous A-listers write those self-satisfied one-line posts, they aren't really blogging well. Instead, they are just spending the social capital they've already accumulated. They accumulated that social capital by first learning how to listen and read the professional and blog genres that interest them (interpretation on one level), then following the conversation closely enough to know how to contribute something (more interpretation), and then, when they are at their best, linking in richer, fuller posts that build social networks, yes, but that also discuss what they are linking to (interpretation again). I think Jorn Barger said that good links add value to the thing being linked to -- for interpretation, Kurt Spellmeyer sometimes says, is saying something the text has not already quite said. Not just quoting it or pointing to it, not just linking alone.
And of course it becomes useful to end the thought experiment, to stop thinking about blogging as reading and start thinking about it as writing again, as usual, but maybe Will was onto something even better when he chose Jay Rosen's quotation for his masthead: "Every reader is a writer, every writer is a reader." Properly understood, reading is writing and writing is reading. Could it be that students who don't read, even though they can, are people who, on one important level, don't and can't write?
And maybe that means that links are vital for new bloggers for a completely non-constructive reason. Instead of assigning students to go write, we should assign them to go read and then link to what interests them and write about why it does and what it means, not in order to make a connection or build social capital but because it is through quality linking (not the flaccid A-list stuff I spoofed above) that one first comes in contact with the essential acts of blogging: close reading and interpretation. Blogging, at base, is writing down what you think when you read others. If you keep at it, others will eventually write down what they think when they read you, and you'll enter a new realm of blogging, a new realm of human connection.
If there is any truth to this line of thought, then we should place more emphasis on, have more faith in, reading. We should teach close and careful reading as the essential practice of blogging that allows us to generate something worthwhile that may enage an audience and create a community. And with that thought I bring this rambling post to a close.
*Where does the drama get its materials? From the "unending conversation" that is going on at the point in history when we are born. Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. -- a quotation from Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (110-11).
Will Richardson continued the discussion the next day on his weblog.