Sunday, March 21, 2010

Immaterial Structures

Multiple coinciding and recent experiences must have occupied my sleeping self during the night—because I woke up this morning thinking of invisible castles in the air. Do we think or meditate in sleep? I’m sure we do. In the first instance I was thinking of my and others’ blogs but by extension of all creations of the mind that take the form of words. Before I read, say, Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, that work was just a title—and a little distrusted. Mann? Writing about biblical characters? What later I read was a physical book of fairly substantial heft. Since that time the structure has existed in my mind as an immaterial reality. I’ve consulted, meaning “remembered,” a sequence of it, or the whole atmosphere of that book, quite often over the years. The whole of that, or any other novel, can’t be experienced instantly. A compressed feeling brimful of complexity is there. Or it’s there as a physical object. After it is finished, the author’s own experience of the book is exactly like mine.

In a post on form and content on The Ruricolist yesterday Paul Rodriguez suggested that the blog has unique characteristics. In his words they are familiarity and flexibility. Yes. Let me draw some contrasts. Common to all books is their physical manifestation of pages bound between covers; the content never changes unless the reader adds scribbles in the margins. Common to all blogs is their electronic form and their life-like quality of sprouting at least superficially new content all the time. Books are finished creations in which, to use terminology from Dorothy Sayers (The Mind of the Maker) an idea is worked out, executed, brought into form, and—if the idea is worthy and the effort has succeeded—will have a power, a radiation that will reach an audience. Sayers suggests that this trinity of Idea, Energy, and Power (she likens it to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), underlies all creative effort, thus every immaterial structure, not least those designed to be material—like sculptures and architectural works.

Are blogs creative structures? That is the question. Some are—to the extent that they express the process Sayers describes. In that process the idea comes first and, if the work lives up to its intention, the idea must also permeate the work. The execution, needless to say, must also express it harmoniously. Applying this rule at once suggests that most blogs are, well, something else. The outer form—an electronically rendered and distributed serial presentation of content—may qualify the effort as a blog. But to achieve some quality beyond “diary,” “chat,” “family journalism,” “journalism,” etc., it must display the trinity—even in its episodic, serial, and open-ended execution. I would bet that the majority of creative bloggers quite regularly struggle with the urge to finish this thing, to round it out, to have done, enough already! Some give this urge expression by restarting the blog on another platform. At least then it is new, another start. Veering from my subject still, there is no sense as hollow as the end of a work finally accomplished after traumatic wrestling with the angel—and nothing so blissful as the dawning of the new…

But the thought that came to me this morning and central to this post is the idea of immateriality. Blogs express this feeling well. Yes, I keep copies of posts on the hard drive. No, I haven’t printed them out. The twenty-minute failure of WordPress some weeks ago brought to mind the ephemeral character of works that persist as bits and bytes. And that event also left its mark on me and produced the early seeds of “castles up in air.” But immateriality may be—and I for one think is—more permanent than the material expression of thought in print or stone or pigment on canvas. But in this dimension for the radiating work of the creation to have its effect, it must have material incarnation, even if only electronic.

A final note on this subject. Blogs attract their own readers by their radiating power. This, in turn constellates ideas like affinity, revulsion, and adequacy. I glance at many blogs that I rapidly forget. Very few get book-marked; of those, too, quite a few fall away after I’ve followed them for a while. We choose our own reality. I’ve read lots of lots of things in the service of work; for work we need information; but then there is life. The recent upsurge in visitors to Ghulf Genes was also in the background of this post. It was a flurry caused by name recognition. Very, very few of those visitors—as indeed but a tiny handful of those who chance across this blog by doing searches on names or words—become real readers. And those who do tend already to be inhabitants of an invisible continent I also call my home.

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