I love Sven Birkerts’s literary criticism, and I found Gutenberg Elegies a deep and important book. But his latest jeremiad on the fate of the printed book review strikes me as wrongheaded. He suggests that bloggers are to blame for its decline:
[P]eople in various quarters, literary bloggers prominently among them, are proposing that old-style print reviewing — the word-count-driven evaluation of select titles by credentialed reviewers — is outmoded, and that the deficit will be more than made up by the now-flourishing blog commentary. The blogosphere’s boosters pitch its virtues of variety, grass-roots initiative, linkage, and freedom from perceived marketing influence (books by major trade publishers, which advertise more, sometimes appear to get premium treatment in the print book review sections).
I’m sorry, but the decline of the print book review was underway long before the blogosphere bounced on the scene. Birkerts should lament some other culprits, including the increasingly profit-driven media scene, before blaming the bloggers. If newspapers go the way of local evening news, full of cute dog stories, ever-more-intricate weather and sports information, and “news-you-can-use,” the blogosphere may be the last refuge for intellectual engagement.
Birkerts makes it sound as if a festival of bloggers, unhinged like the dancing mitochondria in a Wind in the Door, have decided to desert the print world for unserious self-indulgence:
My impulse is to argue that if the Web at large is the old Freudian “polymorphous perverse,” that libidinally undifferentiated miasma of yearnings and gratifications, unbounded and free, then culture itself — what we have been calling “culture” at least since the Enlightenment — is the emergent maturity that constrains unbounded freedom in the interest of mattering.
That’s one impulse he should have sublimated. I just think he hasn’t found the right corner of the blogosphere.