Commonplace Book: Writers and the Trappings of Internet Fame

Now that I have a new book, I should have a new platform to get the word out. Moreover, I still need what back in the paper days they used to call a commonplace book—somewhere to put selections, with or without commentary, of what I’ve been reading and looking at lately as an archive for later and more formal pieces of writing. I used Tumblr this way for a long time, but, as I said in my farewell post, that scene is dead. In my series of Commonplace Book posts, which will go on and of which this is a part, I’ve tried to replicate some of what I did on Tumblr on this site, but it’s not the same. I considered Twitter; if that’s anything other than a machine to generate purposeless acrimony, mere angertainment, though, I can’t see it. So I’m giving Instagram a try. I’m using my Tumblr name there, grandhotelabyss, Georg Lukács’s old commie insult against the Frankfurt School for their pseudo-political nihilist aestheticism—

A considerable part of the leading German intelligentsia, including Adorno, have taken up residence in the ‘Grand Hotel Abyss’ which I described in connection with my critique of Schopenhauer as ‘a beautiful hotel, equipped with every comfort, on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity. And the daily contemplation of the abyss between excellent meals or artistic entertainments, can only heighten the enjoyment of the subtle comforts offered.’

—refashioned by me into a badge of honor.

Don’t worry—just because I’m on the ‘gram doesn’t mean you’ll have to look at pictures of my lunches or my lewks (though I may indulge in some #bookstagram-style distressed paperback posting, even though I arrogantly tell myself that I love not books but literature). I plan to keep things fully on the impersonal aestheto-intellectual plane.

In general, writers, artists, and thinkers shouldn’t reveal so much of themselves online. Letting slip as much as they have has lost them some charisma over the last decade or two, especially in the journalistic and academic worlds. There should be some mystique, some distance—and not only between writer and reader, but between any two people in any serious relation. To adapt the controversialist Slavoj Žižek’s half-bleak and half-utopian Hegelo-Lacanian erotics, some fantasy of the other is necessary to structure, enable, and empower every successful relationship, for the obvious reason that without fantasy—without spirit, Father Hegel would have said—we’re all just rotting meat. (The last part is almost a quote from my new novella. Have I mentioned my new novella?)

Consider Neil Gaiman. He was one of the first successful writers to blog regularly, starting around 2000 or 2001, and he said at the time that he did so to remove some of the mystique from being a writer. He wanted to show that even glamorous goth scribes like himself had to put in the work—had to apply the ass to the seat, as the old adage goes—to write and to promote their books, and moreover they had to take the garbage out, too. But this replaces one falsehood—that writing is all glamor and inspiration—with another and a worser one—that inspiration and glamor play no role in the making of art. If all it took was hard work, we’d write masterpieces every day. Maybe, by contrast, Socrates was right when he told Phaedrus that

he who, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art—he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted.

And has Gaiman written anything truly significant since he gave away his everyday life to his fans? Now he’s just a celebrity: we study not his literary works for significance but his social media feeds for signs of his marriage’s survival. Much as I wouldn’t mind his money, I don’t anticipate making his mistake. But who knows how a new social media platform will go to my head? Please follow and find out!

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