The Best Blogs?

Richard Schickel, who writes book reviews for the Los Angeles Times and covers film for Time, wrote an impassioned plea for the continued relevance of criticism—in the old-fashioned more probing and less thumb pointing meaning of the term—despite its predicted demise as a result of the democratizing force of the blogosphere. After being numbed by a recently-published compendium of the 10 best blogs about music (nothing classical, jazz, or otherwise non-commercial, surprise, surprise) from Whudahexup, Schickel’s observations in last Sunday’s L.A. Times struck a chord with me despite my having already found something of an antidote to Whudahexup on Musical Perceptions‘ even more inundating list of the 53 best classical music blogs.

According to Schickel, “[I]n the best reviews, opinion is conveyed without a judgmental word being spoken, because the review’s highest business is to initiate intelligent dialogue about the work in question, beginning a discussion that, in some cases, will persist down the years, even down the centuries.” Certainly this isn’t what I read when I read most reviews of contemporary music, whether they are published in print media or online. However, admittedly, from time to time I read wonderful writing about music both in print and in various blogs. And since I frequently write about music myself, I’d be worse than a hypocrite if I were to claim that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Besides, I don’t dance.

I also think it’s possible to write meaningful, substantive commentary online, otherwise why bother doing it? Schickel, citing D.J. Waldie, claims that “blogging is a form of speech, not of writing” and that the “act of writing for print, with its implication of permanence, concentrates the mind most wonderfully. It imposes on writer and reader a sense of responsibility that mere yammering does not.” I disagree. I think that all forms of written speech, which includes not only online threadstarters such as this but all written responses submitted to it as well, impose responsibility as does public speech.

That said, if the blogosphere is about democracy as its advocates claim, mightn’t there be something somewhat undemocratic about compiling a “best of the blogosphere”?

4 thoughts on “The Best Blogs?

  1. Rob Deemer

    I understand and sympathize with your concerns about the blogosphere as well as criticism in general. I’m afraid, however, that your characterization of Scott’s rankings and subsequent comparison with the Whudahexup Top-10..umm…whatever you want to call it…are a little off the mark.

    Whereas Whudahexup is straight up about the fact that their list is an editorial pick of the “best” blogs in their own opinions, Spielberg makes it pretty clear that all he’s doing is collating objective data gleaned from search engines. I suppose he could titled his post “Busiest” as opposed to “Top”, but he’s careful not to label anything as the “Best” – I’m sure he wouldn’t have listed his own blog as #21 if that was his intention.

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  2. Kyle Gann

    Thanks for disagreeing with Schickel in your penultimate paragraph, Frank.

    I wouldn’t trade the seven years that I spent being edited, and thoroughly edited, and edited well, by the Village Voice‘s Doug Simmons for anything else that could have happened. But blogs do have one advantage over print. I would sometimes pick up the Voice on the street, read my article, and mutter, “Aw, geez, I didn’t really say that very well.” Nothing I could do about it. When I have that reaction to my blog, I immediately improve the offending sentence. The eye zeroes in on infelicities that the brain, listening to the inner ear, doesn’t always catch. I’d prefer that people not read my blog entries until they’ve been online 12 or 24 hours, until they’ve had a little time to ripen on the vine. Because they do improve.

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  3. mryan

    I’m just kidding! ;-)

    What I guess tends to bother me is when people give tools values. Tools are tools, they are not good or bad. One person may use the tool irresponsibly, that is bad. Another might use the same tool to be of great benifit to society, this is (I think) good.

    On my blog I try to alert people of what’s going on in new opera. There aren’t many sources for this kind of reviewing that is so nitch-oriented that it would never be put regularly in print. So for me, blogging is a good way to learn more about the subject, share my experience, and hopefully raise awareness of the wealth of new opera out there. The blog is a very useful tool.

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