Thursday, January 3, 2008

One year

With the knowledge that this blog (or any blog) may be little more than an indulgent proclamation of my own deluded importance, I typically try to avoid writing posts about my own plans, aspirations, and goals. But I think this occasion -- the one year anniversary of The Cinematic Art -- may be appropriate for some outward reflection on the year that was. But before I reminisce on this blog, particularly the act of spontaneity it took for me to actually I create this blog, it's perhaps necessary to provide a bit of history regarding my place in the world of film blogs.

From the time that I had been exposed to Jim Emerson's scanners blog through Roger Ebert's website (sometime in late 2005), the digital film world with which I was largely unfamiliar progressively grew. I started to read other blogs such as That Little Round Headed Boy (which has long since disappeared and has been replaced with Welcome to LA), Dennis Cozzalio's Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Matt Zoller Seitz's The House Next Door, Kim Morgan's Sunset Gun, and Steven Shaviro's The Pinnochio Theory, to name a few. These blogs each unique possessed a unique flavor to their writing and perspectives. They offered what I believed to be totally fresh views (both academic and journalistic) on film culture, news, and criticism -- the kind of varied analyses, critiques, and off-the-cuff ramblings on film that was so crucial to film writing and criticism as a whole. As I familiarized myself with this ever-growing world, I came to understand that it was much bigger than I could possibly imagine; too big to wrap my mind around, or to follow to the extent I wanted to. It was a whirlwind of discovery, Encountering new blogs all the time, some which were brilliant, others not, I was entranced by the amount of real, personal, and analytical commentary available online that I didn't even knew existed, not just on blogs but on website, zines, and journals in all shapes and sizes all over the web. All the while I was reading, I became curious about the people who took the time to write them. Some were professional film critics or editors with entertainment publications, while others seemed to be enthusiastic film lovers with the gift of writing craftmanship who wanted to share their insights.

The variety of writing made me curious about my own place in cinephilia or criticism. Quite simply, I was jealous I wasn't becoming more involved with it. My professional path, which saw me take my first job in medical publishing, was moving away toward my aspirations of being in film criticism. Yet, I was still engaging that obsession in my graduate courses in communication, which more mostly geared towards media and culture. Though many of these courses introduced me to schools of inquiry that largely contrasted with film scholarship, I found ways of exploring the relationhip between media, culture, and cinema in my readings of Marshall McLuhan, Gilles Deleuze, Walter Ong, Roland Barthes, Christian Metz, Laura Mulvey, Henri Bergson, Louis Althusser, as well as more contemporary scholars like Paul Messaris, David Bordwell, and Donna Haraway. Of course only a few of these individuals cared to offer analysis of cinema, but all of their work connected to the central concerns of media, culture, and communication that constitute empirical and social inquiry into their intersections and manifestations.

So on this day last year, I had the idea of converging my interests in communication and media and my love of film, writing, and criticism. Arbitrarily named The Cinematic Art (because I was more interested in writing that first entry than with naming this site), this blog would represent a kind of experiment within which I would combine my involvement in various pockets of criticism, education, and film culture. It would be my personal diary of occupying a place that lacks definition. By that, I mean that I felt like I was being torn in so many directions in my pursuits in film. My professional career was headed elsewhere, I was settling down in marriage and home ownership, surrounded by loving family members and friends who had no interest in this world I'd always been a part of. As I was driving away from film in my personal, day-to-day life, which has always been a struggle, my readings (online and in print) and encounters with students and teachers on campus on long nights after work ensured a balance, if maybe a tension, that would enable me to keep that passion alive and to explore it in ways I wasn't even sure of.

Due to all of these disparate elements in my personal and film life, I felt a blog was a way to make sense of my own thoughts on criticism and cinema. It seemed like I had so much to say, but no place to start. Finally on a down week at work, I started writing, and writing, and writing some more. I didn't realize at the time that this was the start of a year in which I would write more than a hundred lengthy, time-consuming, and demanding posts. Over the course of the last year, I've learned a lot of about criticism, cinema, and myself, in trying to keep up with this blog, constantly battling my own thoughts over whether it was worth it to devote so much of my time and energy to something as insignificant as a blog. I never thought it would amount to much, and I am more than gratified that others -- including my blogger heroes -- have linked to my site and cited it on their own blogs. It's still kind of surreal that my name is even recognized in the blogging world, but I am more than flattered because of it. One thing I've learned about writing in this medium is that you never know where it will take you.

But what does it meant to "blog", anyway? I have asked this questions many times in several long-winded posted representing my attempt to reflexively inquire into practices of media and culture. But I'm not sure anyone can really answer that. Digital communication has enabled a variety of possibilities in terms of communicating that to say that "blogging" means one thing would be too simple. I readily admit that a great majority of bloggers aren't using this medium productively. But the possibility of productively using blogs, which no one can actually state right now, is the advantage of it. For me, the best blogging is decentralized, scattered, and lacking a certain definition. It's engaging larger critical discourses and commentaries in ways unexpected and expected. It's a larger discourse, not bunch of isolated, self-enclosed commentaries. The fascination with this medium is the level of connection that exists, among people and among ideas. I've come to learn that my place here in the "film blogosphere" is tiny, practically insignificant. But it is exhilirating to be a part of something larger, something that is quickly becoming the embodiment of criticism, commentary, and discourse: setting ideas in motion, contrasting thoughts and perspectives, and in the process yielding new possibilities without quite being in a position to recognize or define those possibilities yet.

As I look ahead to another year of writing for The Cinematic Art, it is my hope that this site continues to develop along with its author. Writing these rambling, sometimes non-sensical posts has already opened doors for me that I could not have even imagined a year ago. In two months, I will present as part of a workshop for the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. The presentation will be about -- surprise! surprise! -- blogging, film criticism, and cinephilia. I would not have been asked to participate in this if I never started The Cinematic Art. And I would not have launched The Cinematic Art were it not for my educational pursuits. It's all weirdly cyclical, but this is just one example of how blogging can be benefical and produce real positive effects for those who try to productively partake in it.

In terms of my own wishes and desires for this blog, I am unfulfilled (as many writers are), but also hopeful for the future. As I look back now on my postings in the last year, I see great change. I cringe when I read a lot of my own writing, a lot of which I'm in such a hurry to our pout onto the screen that it often comes across as muddled and lacking focus. I seem to be developing my ideas better now and focusing much more, but I have a long way to go.

I'm not sure if I have any future in criticism or scholarship, but I am certain that this blog will continue to morph and develop as I trudge along in whatever I'm doing. And as long that others keep providing me the inspiration in their writings to explore my own ideas in writing. Through this constant process of reading and writing can we begin to grasp our own ideas and the plurality of others that exist in the world. That's one of the many things that all this online reading and writing had taught me in the last year. In the next year, I hope to continue that process, and offer some semblance of insight to readers as many others have provided me.

I acknowledge that there are a number of writers in the published fields who try to convince you that blogging is insignificant or inconsequential, but these positions only speak to the utter importance of online writing, or blogging. As individuals entrenched within the institutional practices of established camps and disciplines assert their importance by making such vast and unsupported value claims, blogging will continue to be relevant to folks seeking new ways of engaging existing dialogues and discourses, about cinema or anything else. The point is not to overthrow previous systems of knowledge and understand, but to harness them differently, to juxtapose them in new ways, and to form new relationships. The best bloggers provide hope and incentive for budding writers, critics, and scholars to achieve their voices and perspectives through this new form of one of the most essential human practices: writing.

With that short reflection, I'd like to thank all of you who contribute to the growing body of great film writing on the web. Most especially, I'd like to thank those who have taken the time to read this blog. Have a great new year, everyone, and happy reading and writing!


Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Congratulations on your milestone, Ted. I enjoy reading you and look forward to more insightful pieces in the coming year.

Ted Pigeon said...

Thanks for the kind words, Matt! And you, too, keep up the great writing (and editing) over at your blog. It's one of the most important blogs on the web, I think. Thanks again.

Larry Aydlette said...

Ted, add my congrats. You're a very good writer. I really enjoy your site, and look forward to more of your posts, as well.

Ted Pigeon said...

Thanks very much, Larry. It's nice to know that those who have inspired me to start this blog in the first place occasionally read it. Love the new blog, by the way.

Adam Ross said...

Great post, Ted. I have similar thoughts about the world of film blogging, especially since it often feels like a world of its own. I stumbled upon it completely by accident -- I was googling for information on Drive-in theaters and found Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. It's fun that you actually have to work to find your way through all the blogs and find the ones you like, there's no central home page for all of them.

Good luck in the new year and your presentation on blogging.