Originally published on May 11th 2011, somehow got lost till now
Suppose I took it on myself to explain what a blog is, to someone who’d never encountered the idea. How would I go about it? Is there a common root to which all blogs are connected? I’m not thinking so much of topics, which are clearly as diverse as the authors themselves. But I wonder whether, if you dig deep enough, you might find that they have a similar intention.
I propose that a blog is the expression of its author’s enthusiasm. It’s one thing to be a fan of something-or-other, separated from the common tribe through one’s unique bent or outlook. There’s a lonely intensity in that. But there is something else, a kind of consummation in sharing one’s favourite things with others, especially strangers, when their interest is genuine. I wonder about this word ‘enthusiasm’, and how people managed before it was coined. Its first recorded use in English, based on Greek words meaning ‘possession by a god’, was in 1605. And until the word ‘fan’ was coined, as an abbreviation of ‘fanatic’, how was it possible to say that you especially favoured an actor, a musical ensemble or a team at sport? The OED tells us that ‘fan’ in this sense was first used in the USA, in 1889.
What enthusiasm inspires me to blogging? What god possesses me?–that notion was surely hyperbole from the start. Possession is dire and requires exorcism. But I do love to catch whispers from the Muse, and look in the direction where my Angel points. I treasure nothing more than the other-worldly connection which can come through immersion in wild Nature, music or literature. These are hardly instances of ‘possession’. But there’s a fulfilment when one’s strenuous efforts, so often chaotic, find their groove in passive surrender to unseen guidance. This is something treasured by Man, as honey is treasured by bears. So I don’t look for the honey–the inspiration–in just one tree, or even one forest. The honey I speak of doesn’t come in lidded jars. I know of no outlet where I can buy it. You stumble upon it, or perhaps you sniff it from a distance. So that’s how I blog: more or less constantly trying to track down a source, for love of the chase as much as the quarry. All I want to do is chase a feeling, but the world of reason, problems and necessity crowds in so much that it’s easy to forget that quest, or treat my enthusiasm as something that can lead me into quagmires, like a will-o’-the-wisp. Such ‘pixy lights’ haunt the mists of Exmoor. Scientifically they are phosphine or methane, from decayed matter, spontaneously igniting. Pish! the poetic imagination is not affected by scientific explanation.
My enthusiasms, like my ideas, flirt with one another, mingle, mate and reproduce, in a fickle promiscuous orgy. I’m now a real fan of “My Diary” (see previous post), because it allows me to put in a ragbag of ideas, observations, and notes for “the trivial round, the common task”, which, so the hymn tells us, “will furnish all we need to ask”. And what will come of it? In its turn, it will become decayed matter and perhaps gives off a gaseous mixture which handled rightly may ignite spontaneously in someone’s imagination, perhaps a hundred years hence.
I snapped the Oxford skyline, above, in South Park on my way to see a friend, ex-blogger of this parish and a prodigious diarist himself. Will his diaries ever be published? He thinks they may, and thereby fulfil a charitable purpose. Self-effacingly he declined my offer to photograph him but took one of me, which he emailed later. We first met in 1973, when we were both, almost literally, “possessed by a god”–about whom I have nothing to say.
As a kind of postscript I think that a blog is more than its author’s enthusiasm. There is the urge to contribute something to the world’s conversation, and to give something free. I would extend this to many websites too, and to ‘social networking’ sites. Together, their content has had a big impact on the world and changed it. There is some kind of consummation in that too, but a sense of responsibility, which makes us want, not to be ‘possessed by a god’, but in receipt of some wise inner guidance.
The post attracted 30 comments, I can’t copy them here very well but they’re still preserved in Blogspot