Health foods, a wit once said, don’t make you live longer, they just make it feel that way. Reaching now my 104th post, which could be called the end of my second year, I am inclined to say something similar of blogging. Has it only been two years? It seems much longer than that. Back when I was a journalist I used to say that I could never be a columnist, forced to have something to say to the world every week. And yet this is more or less the program I have put myself on as a blogger (and for no money).
I would say something about money. I have been re-reading John Rewald’s classic History of Impressionism which goes on at some length about how little money the Impressionists were able to get for their paintings and how hard it was for them to support themselves as painters. But the prices they were getting, even in their youth and when their work was scorned and ridiculed, were rather more than what I receive from those journals that purchase essays from me. (And there are also journals, including my own, Zeteo, that pay nothing.) I do not think this is a treatment reserved for me. It might be simply said: there is no market for intellectual essays and there never has been.
I have also long believed that money—the desire to sell one’s writing (or painting); a need to sell in order to support one’s writing habit or one’s family—can have a tremendous influence on the writing one does, what one is willing to write about or say, and how. The mind molds itself for the sake of its marketability, Theodor Adorno noted (in German). And I have long been inspired by Emily Dickinson’s verses:
Publication – is the AuctionOf the Mind of Man –Poverty – be justifyingFor so foul a thing
Possibly – but We – would ratherFrom Our Garret goWhite – unto the White Creator –Than invest – Our Snow –
I understand that Dickens, Balzac, Shakespeare, Nora Ephron—many writers have found that commercial constraints and their own interest in becoming rich have in fact helped or allowed them to do their best writing. But in this day and age, when capitalism has become like the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages—more or less all we know—my gut instinct is that writing for money is worthless. When I was a journalist I worked for a weekly paper that (though financed by wealthy liberals) had for its stated aim speaking truth to power. Very hard to do.
I am going to stop here. This will make the current post seem a little ungainly and incomplete. On the one hand I am willing to accept these limitations in order to keep the piece short. One thing I have learned in two years of blogging is that short is often better. On the other hand, I have a sense that trying to approach truths may require a commitment to ungainliness and incompletion.
Credit & Links
What can Mailer — and Dickinson, Rousseau, Conrad and Geisel — tell us about how to earn a living as a writer? from Web del Sol, Writers on the Job website.
The complete Emily Dickinson poem “Publication – is the Auction” from the Poetry Foundation website. Among the various Montaigbakhtinian posts that quote or discuss Dickinson and her work, one might start with The Bravest Grope a Little.
The source of the Adorno comment I have never been able to track down, but I have quoted it many times, to include in Was Adorno Right?.
John Rewald, The History of Impressionism (Museum of Modern Art; first published in 1946).