[My posts having occasioned some intest in the Italian press (see ‘Tristful Post Makes News in Trieste’, March 23), I was asked to write something on blogging to coincide with the paperback publication of the Italian edition of River of Smoke. The piece – I will not call it an ‘article’ because I thought of it as a ‘post’ – was published in La Repubblica on May 13. The posts will appear here as a four-part series. This is part 1 of 4.] 




began to interest me only after it had ceased to be the hottest new thing. Until then its possibilities were obscured by the urgency that was demanded of it. Blogs were all about the Here-and-Now; they were expected to provide the equivalent of live news feeds and reality TV. Posts were streams of abbreviated words; punctuation was often ignored and the typeface was usually an unappealing sans-serif. The form seemed to be striving to mimic a conception of the ‘real world’ in which events and passions rush past the spectator like the jumbled debris of a river in flood. It might even be said that an unfinished appearance was to the blog what scansion is to certain kinds of verse: a condition of the form itself.  Its ‘look’ provided graphic proof of urgency and authenticity. Posts were often intended to be read as testimony, or acts of witnessing, and their words had to look as though they were being blurted out, under the pressure of time, or extreme emotion, or of some irresistible external stimulus.

But those days are long past. Today the functions of bearing witness and providing live news feeds have been taken over by the social media and texting. The blog post after all, no matter how urgently composed, does require an extended use of language and some formatting. Tweets and texts are another matter altogether; the blog cannot hope to compete with them in speed or urgency. Nor can blogs compete with Facebook and Twitter as forums for public discussion. Internet trolling is well on its way to rendering the ‘Comments’ feature a luxury that only well-funded websites can afford.

St. Luke’s Secrets, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge




These changes have had a winnowing effect on the blogosphere. Some very well-known sites have shut down. One such is Sepia Mutiny (sepiamutiny.com), a hugely popular, South Asia oriented site. Earlier this year, the site shocked its followers with this announcement: ‘After much deliberation we are going to send Sepia Mutiny on to retirement and cease all new posts after April 1st, 2012, almost 8 years since we first started (August of 2004)…. Although we all still love our work on SM, the blogosphere has evolved quite a bit since we first started … Most of the conversation that once took place daily on blogs now takes place on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  To try and fight that trend is a losing proposition.’






But there were other aspects to this trend. Couldn’t it be said, for example, that the pressures of urgency had stunted the blog in some ways?



For it was only after that pressure was removed that bloggers began to pay more attention to the things that make the blog a specific kind of artefact, an object that is shaped and crafted before being put on display. And this is exactly what is most exciting about the blog: not its immediacy but the fact that it offers the possibility of a return to an older form of representation, one which permits a seamless union of words and pictures, images and text.


Kalpasutra, Sanskrit Ms Project, MS Add. 1765, Cambridge



4 thoughts on “On Blogging: Part 1 of 4”
  1. Sepia Mutiny blog off the blogosphere- that is a big loss. I do hope you will keep your blog going.As you say in the blog making it an artefact – ‘a union of words and pictures’ as you do is wonderful. Both the St. Luke’s secret and the Kalpasutra has whetted my appetite.

    btw I just finished your book ‘The Hungry Tide’. Fantastic Indo- Scot connections. My Scottish friends here are really interested in our twinned history. Edinburgh Napier University has just set up a Scottish Centre for Tagore Studies and of course ‘Jam and Jute’ city of Dundee has Calcutta in its heritage.

    ps; I have also read the ‘Sea of Poppies’ and hope to read the’ River of Smoke’ soon.

    1. Thanks Leela – one day I will post excerpts from the memoir of Sir Daniel Hamilton in Balmacarra that one of his relatives sent me. It is a fascinating document.
      all best

  2. I will have to check out this book your commenter mentions. My fiance and family are Indo-Scottish and very involved in the South Indian community here in the UK. Thanks for both the post and the comment!

  3. Dear Mr Ghosh
    You are very right about the union of images and text thing. I never put the idea in the same words, but I’ve practised it for many months now. You see I am from Varanasi/Kasi, and I have done posts on my city: hybrid travelogue cum memoir sort of things, both in prose and verse, nearly always with snaps that I had taken myself. Somehow, they synergize.

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