12 March 2006

Mozart the Blogger

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, I've been reading some of his letters, described by Einstein (Alfred, not his cousin Albert) as "the most lively, the most unvarnished, the most truthful ever written by a musician". It is extraordinary to think that these consist of the actual words that ran through Mozart's head, probably at the same time when he was composing some masterpiece or other as a background task. To read them is to eavesdrop on genius.

The other striking thing about them is their volume and detail. Mozart was an obsessive letter-writer, frequently knocking out more than one a day to his wide range of regular correspondents. And these are no quick "having a lovely time, wish you were here" scribbles on the back of a postcard: they often run to many pages, and consist of extended, complex sentences full of dazzling wordplay, describing equally rich ideas and complicated situations, or responding in thoughtful detail to points made in the letters he received.

Because they are so long, the letters have a strong sense of internal time: that is, you feel that the end of the letter is situated later than the beginning. As a result, his letters often function as a kind of diary entry, a log of the day's events and impressions - a kind of weblog without the reverse chronology (and without the Web).

Mozart was a blogger.

If this intense letter-writing activity can be considered a proto-blog, the corollary is that blogs are a modern version of an older epistolary art. This is an important point, because it addresses two contemporary concerns in one fell swoop: that the art of the letter is dead, and that there is a dearth of any real substance in blogs.

We are frequently told that modern communications like the telephone and email have made the carefully-weighed arrangement of words on the page, the seductive ebb and flow of argument and counter-argument, redundant in favour of the more immediate, pithier forms. One of the striking things about blogs is that some - not all, certainly - are extremely well written. And even those that are not so honed still represent considerable effort on the part of their authors - effort that 250 years ago was channelled into letters.

This means that far from being the digital equivalent of dandruff - stuff that scurfs off the soul on a daily basis - the growing body of blog posts represents a renaissance of the art of letter-writing. In fact, I would go further: no matter how badly written a blog might be, it has the inarguable virtue of being something that is written, and then - bravely - made public. As such, it is another laudable attempt to initiate or continue a written dialogue of a kind that Mozart would have understood and engaged with immediately. It is another brick - however humble - in the great edifice of literacy.

For this reason, the current fashion to decry blogs as mere navel-gazing, or vacuous chat, is misguided. Blogs are actually proof that more and more people - 30,000,000 of them if you believe Technorati - are rediscovering the joy of words in a way that is unparalleled in recent times. We may not all be Mozarts of the blog, but it's better than silence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hear hear!