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Orwell and Marx as Bloggers?

Trevor Buttersworth on the blogging culture:

To illustrate the point, I asked a number of bloggers whether they thought Karl Marx or George Orwell, two enormously potent political writers who were also journalists, would have blogged if the medium had been available to them. And almost always, the answer was, why of course, it would have given them the widest possible audience and the greatest possible impact.

“We’re sure Marx and Orwell would have blogged,” said Heather and Jessica of gofugyourself.com. “When it comes right down to it, blogs reach the greatest amount of people in the least amount of time, and they reach the very people Marx and Orwell wanted to speak to most.”

“Orwell, definitely,” said Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds. “Marx would have had to acquire a bit more ‘snap’, I’m afraid, to have made it as a blogger.”

“Orwell maybe,” said Cox. “Orwell was pathologically productive. He never doubted himself, that’s for sure. And maybe he shares that trait with many bloggers.”

The question was, of course, rigged. The great critic and editor Cyril Connolly fell into despair over the prolixity of Orwell’s wartime writing: “Being Orwell, nothing he wrote is quite without value and unexpected gems keep popping up. But O the boredom of argument without action, politics without power.”

Connolly was the constitutional opposite of Orwell – a spry wit given to sloth, a portly bon vivant who masticated away his genius. But he recognised, in effect, how awful Orwell would have been as a blogger, and how he would fall into the kind of dross exemplified by the author’s “In Defence of English Cooking”: “Here are some of the things that I myself have sought for in foreign countries and failed to find. First of all, kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crumpets. Then a list of puddings that would be interminable if I gave it in full: I will pick out for special mention Christmas pudding, treacle tart and apple dumplings. Then an almost equally long list of cakes: for instance, dark plum cake.”

The point is, any writer of talent needs the time and peace to produce work that has a chance of enduring. Connolly provided that to Orwell with the influential literary magazine he co-edited, Horizon, a publication that gave Orwell the chance to write some of his most memorable essays.

As for Marx, journalism was an act of economic necessity that, initially, necessitated Engels doing all the writing. But Marx was a quick learner with a deft wit, and in his brisk biography, Francis Wheen posits that “had he but world enough and time Marx could have. made his name as the sharpest polemical journalist of the 19th century. But at his back he could always hear the nagging voice of conscience whispering, ‘c’est magnifique, mais c’est ne pas la guerre.” For Marx and Engels, journalism was trivial – an impediment to serious, memorable and above all influential work. “Mere potboiling,” wrote Engels of the more than 500 articles he and Marx wrote for The New York Daily Tribune, “It doesn’t matter if they are never read again.”

And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence. No Modern Library edition of the great polemicists of the blogosphere to yellow on the shelf; nothing but a virtual tomb for a billion posts – a choric song of the word-weary bloggers, forlorn mariners forever posting on the slumberless seas of news.

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