Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blogs vs. "continuous eloquence"

Blaise Pascal said:

Continuous eloquence wearies. Grandeur must be abandoned to be appreciated. Continuity in everything is unpleasant.
(Quoted by Ambivablog.)

My initial reaction to this quote was: this is a huge problem with blogging. You can't do consistently eloquent posts while making a large audience want to keep reading on a regular basis.

But then I thought: no, it really explains the problem with books, and blogs are the perfect antidote. Even the best blogs are rarely if ever "continuously eloquent," but that's a good thing.

Blogs put more of a burden on readers to make their own judgments about what's worth reading and where the real truth is. Books and blogs both consist of the same basic substance: human thought expressed in language (with maybe a picture here and there). But only a book seems to beg its audience to revere it as a grand accomplishment. Blogs are criticized as incomplete and lacking in credibility, and it's fine to point out those flaws, but only if we also recognize them as virtues.

People who have a knack for "continuous eloquence" have a dangerous power, because they can lull you into beliefs that have little basis but the eloquence itself.


Jason (the commenter) said...

Perhaps he was listening to a bore and needed a polite excuse to leave?

John Althouse Cohen said...

Ah, that could explain it too!

Anonymous said...

When you refer to "books," do you mean books in general or non-fiction specifically?

While I'm not sure I completely agree with his quote, I can appreciate what Pascal is "driving at" (to quench any inadvertently-superfluous eloquence).

Although there is always the danger (or promise) of being spellbound by the eloquence of the author (even if, as you astutely indicate, our enchantment may be based on little more than their "way with words"), I am inclined to grant a certain degree of "immunity" to poetry and fiction, because most of its readers are not trying to place a dogmatic emphasis on it.

Oh, yeah ... unless you're me. Then you worship fiction and definitely need to wear the proverbial life vest so as not to be swept away in its seductively-imaginative currents. :-)

John Althouse Cohen said...

Danielle: good point -- I should have specified I just meant non-fiction books. I agree that fiction has a lot more license, though that's part of why I read nonfiction rather than fiction.