Sunday, February 19, 2012

Facebook, Blogging and Narcissism

I got into an interesting Facebook discussion yesterday on narcissism; whether or not poetry blogging was simply a narcissistic activity which stole time away from what was truly important – writing poems.

Well, the irony that this discussion took place on Facebook is not lost on me. Facebook is surely the most potentially narcissistic activity ever invented. Just as football matches may indeed help young males to scream away their latent aggression, Facebook can end up as an unbelievably massive pit of pent-up hubris. Do you need to say something about yourself, your opinions, products, beliefs or attitudes? Now you can throw it all up in public and no one will hand you a mop and bucket afterwards. In Facebook, self-reference is not only expected, it’s the entire raison d’etre – if you bypass those who use it only to hook up with old friends or get a date for Saturday night.

Facebook is a giant blog. Or rather, it’s a zillion different blogs all rabbitting on at one another endlessly. But even a poet’s most considered Facebook wall (is there such a thing?) or ‘Timeline’ will invariably lack the breadth and depth of the better poetry blogs, and will be a hundred times more narcissistic than most. If you went through this blog from beginning to end, you would find some entries I’d probably want to disown and one day I may delete everything I’d rather not leave future generations to snigger over, on the off chance anyone from a future generation actually stumbled in here – probably drunk and frittering away a research grant they got to study barbarian communication methods. But I wouldn’t delete everything.

Basically, saying that blogs are hubristic is like saying books are manifestations of mad egos or that songs are sung only by people who love the sound of their own voice. Anyone who publishes anything anywhere in any medium is saying, “I think this will interest other people.” The bad news is that most of it won’t. Some of it will for a few minutes, but almost nothing will last. Value resides in a tiny spoonful of this glutinous soup.

The argument runs that at least a book or album has been selected and worked on by publisher, editor, agent, producer etc, whereas blogs are mainly inane, self-driven ramblings of people who could have spent their time more productively. But most books are rubbish, most albums too, even despite this level of control and input. “Inane, self-driven ramblings” could describe many poems published today and I’m not talking about ‘confessional’ poems or any other kind of autobiographical verse (some of which is good), but poems which seem designed to offer the reader the promise of wisdom, insight, epiphany or joy and instead present him/her with an earnest exercise in cliché, or just scream, “Look how original I am! Look how fun I am! Look how clever I am! Look at this unique image/phrase/technique I created (and don’t realise has been used before by about five million other poets before me because I don’t read poetry so as to avoid being influenced by it)! But please save your applause until the end of my ninety-seven pages...” In other words, a blog is not necessarily any more self serving than a poem, even a poem that has been accepted by a magazine.

I suppose I could have written a poem in the time it’s taken me to slam down this article. But I see no reason to bring yet another poem into the world to join the millions of other poems no one wants to read just for the sake of it. I write a poem when it feels necessary to do so and I work hard on getting it just right. Every semi-colon of it. I write a blog post if I feel in the mood and people can take it or leave it. Leave it? Sure thing. Be my guest. Or don’t be. Facebook, after all, is waiting for your attention...

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