The blog is swiftly becoming a new sub-genre of literary nonfiction. In much the same way as the popularity of the iPad crystallized the theoretical “tablet space” in between the laptop and the smartphone, the blog-form seems to be crowding up against the aphorism, the article, and the essay in more or less equal measure.
If you wanted to be persnickety, then I suppose you could say that these modes of expression are all just variations of the essay, with different word counts, focal lengths, and character — but that’s really the only difference between the short story, the novella, and the novel. Plus, let’s be honest, when I first started talking about the “form of the blog,” didn’t some analytic gears start chugging in behind your eyes? You know what I’m talking about. We can point to this model of presentation, so therefore it exists. By sketching out the similarities and differences between this new form and its forebears, the blog’s idiosyncratic shape can begin to emerge: a rough shod constellation of opinion and thought, expressed via thunder and noise, somehow held together by personality and gusto.
The aphorism is punchy and colloquial. It starts off with a bang and pulls the ripcord when there’s nothing more to say—“Peace!” The blog post is very similar. As a form it doesn’t waste any time setting up context, or drawing novel conclusions. The internet is serious business: when you’re competing with animated cats you’ve gotta pump the sauce immediately, and anyway, you don’t need to pad things with contextualizing explanations like you would for an article. You can basically flip the bird to the general reading population as it is understood by the mainstream print media, since we’re on the internet. Don’t understand the context? Read this link. Then you move on.
In many ways it’s like good sketch comedy. Just baller set-up, dog-piling one-liner after one-liner, tossing a final rhetorical twist in there, and cutting out before the energy of the statements dissipates. The twist hangs in the air, and the echoes stir from within.
An article is like a laser beam of information. Unlike the essay or aphorism, which might fall into the category of belles lettres, each article is more often than not incredibly focussed, even when it is hellass mundane and meandering. This is because people want to know what they’re getting (or at least some element of it) before they’re gonna bother clicking on the link in the first place. Your title has to say it all.
Furthermore, unlike an aphorism, the article and the blog post don’t exclusively rely on tugging you into an alternative state of consciousness. What I mean is that the aphoristic mode possesses a kind of cognitive leap similar to a joke. You either get a joke, or you don’t. But with an aphorism — and many blog post sentences — you enter into a wrestling match with a paradox. The cognitive leap isn’t necessarily laughing, although it often accompanies the mental “click” of connecting with an aphoristic association. It’s like a bone sliding back into a socket it’s never been in before. The information isn’t new, the model clicks because it fits with the way things were all along, only now you have a new way of looking at it, at everything. When it works, it’s like there is a new kind of light shining on the world.
This is the molten magma heart of the aphorism, but not the article. The article presents this hardened gem of information in a digestible form. It has no hiccups or cul-de-sacs to push you into a new modality of thinking. The blog post, the best ones anyway, demand that you click with the author in an almost confessional mode of sympathy. Yet they also present information directly, making them both more and less than an aphorism. Like an article, but with these weird bits that demand you get down to a bit of acrobatics.
Now, the essay is another beast entirely. An aphorism is pithy, even when it’s being perpetrated by the likes of Lichtenberg. An article is directed to a single point, even when it is a real high-flying whiz-banger of H.L. Mencken’s. But an essay becomes an essay by building layers of complexity upon itself.
The first two forms are cabochons. They can be polished until they gleam, even blindingly so, but they contain only one perspective at a time. The essay, on the other hand, is made by cutting that gem so that it becomes multifaceted and contains a number of perspectives within it simultaneously.
Take the standard five-part essay format: intro, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. Like the article there is a single thread spun throughout, but the breadth of space allows you to weave together multiple (or three, anyway) perspectives, and show how they contribute to a deeper understanding of your thesis. Then, in the conclusion, you’ve gotta twist them all together into a single vision and leave the reader with something resonant. The subject matter of an essay is pulled apart, analyzed, and spun back together.
With its space limited only by the endurance of the writer, a blog post can certainly contain multiple perspectives, but it is perpetrated with such candor, experimentation, and gusto that it often isn’t hemmed in by a thesis in the same way an essay is. What’s more, each post on a blog makes up but a single node in a wider matrix. An aphorism, article, or essay must stand alone. The blog is a heap of cut and uncut gems, with countless posts providing intersecting perspectives. If there is a guiding thesis to a blog, it must be borne via repetition of a theme, resonating between whatever cluster of posts any particular reader might experience. There is no need to weave as there is in an essay, or draw conclusions. The blog ends when its user runs out of words, every conclusion therein is at most provisional.
The good blog, then, is like a master-crafted sword in the sense that each of its posts cuts to the quick like an aphorism and is straightforward like an article, but its overall meaning can be folded over and over, folded into itself — within a single post, or over time, hardening through the build-up of ambient kinship with the author’s perspective and idiosyncrasies.
This kinship is required because the blog contains the rhetorical cues of voyeurism, of a more direct view into the mind of the author. They eschew standard literary structures for rivers of consciousness, proper spelling and syntax for neologisms and crazy sentences, and editing for immediacy. This epistolary feel contributes to their god awful roughness, their charm, and the honest sheen they have in equal measure. Blogs generally look like the first draft of thunder that flew out of the author’s fingers as they hammered those keys, possessed by whatever demon they had to unleash onto the internet. In a way, a blog is almost performative, and its roughness makes those few well-crafted rock-and-roll sentences scream that much louder. A good blog is one that makes the gutter jam of the net sing a burlesque opera.
More power to them.
(But goddamn if the name isn’t atrocious. Say it out loud. Blog sounds like something a sick dog barfs all over your grandma’s birthday cake.)