When I wrote the first post for my blog on 13 December 2005, I began a virtual journey that has taken me to places I would never have imagined. Little did I know that my first foray would plunge me into the midst of a digital revolution that has now placed every relationship in publishing in limbo. But it was not a headless charge. At first, I was apprehensive about the challenges of maintaining a blog, so I read as many blogs as I could—Nalo Hopkinson, Maud Newton, and John Baker—to get ideas about the kind of blog I had imagined. Having witnessed the disappearance of book reviews from newspapers and academic journals that were more concerned with critics commenting on the opinions of other critics of a work based on the theories of Foucault and Derrida, I wanted to create a space where conversations about Caribbean writing could flourish. I also wanted to discover the answer to these questions: What is my role as a writer? What is my relationship to my community? Growing up in a postcolonial culture and influenced by Rastafari, I was deeply distrustful of any solution offered by my teachers and believed that every assumption should be questioned. I was also fearful that blogging would “take away” from my imaginative writing. What I have found, however, is that far from weakening my writing skills, blogging has clarified my ideas about poetry and fiction.
For whereas in a poem I am limited by rhythm and metaphor, or in fiction by plot and character, with blogging I have no such constraints. In both poetry and fiction, I have to put the text in the service of the imagined speakers or characters to discover the latent possibilities of theme within the sound and sense devices or a character in conflict. But sometimes you need more. Sometimes you need nekkid prose.
And that’s what blogging is: nekkid prose. And rather than taking away from my imaginative writing, it has added another dimension. Let me explain.
According to Joseph Brodsky, in Less Than One, “Every writing career starts as a personal quest for sainthood, for self-betterment. Sooner or later, and as a rule quite soon, a man discovers that his pen accomplishes a lot more than his soul.”1 Ever since I realized that I wanted to be a writer, and following my disenchantment with evangelical Christianity, I’ve thought about the connections between Rastafari and Buddhism. In particular, I’ve been trying to reconcile the Gordian knot of desire and enlightenment. The central tenet of Buddhism, the First Noble Truth, asserts that human dissatisfaction, dukkha, is caused by desire arising from the ego’s attachment to impermanent things, and that enlightenment is achieved by the tempering of the ego and awakening to Nirvana. But if Nirvana is an ego-less state that is not achieved by grasping at impermanence, how does one “gain” enlightenment without desire? For me, the answer came with the Rastafari concept of InI—an idea that has not been fully explored in Caribbean letters.
Rastafari posits that there is no difference between the individual, the community, and the divine. This idea is encapsulated in the term InI. Within InI, individuality (“I”) is maintained, but it is balanced by the relationship to the community and the divine (“nI”). In other words, when an individual acts authentically, her deeds are in line with her character, community, and a sense of the divine.
But what does this have to do with blogging? Everything. These are ideas that I’ve thought about for the past thirty years, but I’ve never found a character or speaker through which to explore these ideas. And I wasn’t going to offer chopped-up prose and pass it off as poetry or interrupt what John Gardner describes as the “vivid and continuous dream”2 of fiction to have a protagonist say something that did not advance the plot or reveal character.
These are important ideas to me, but I never had any way of exploring them until I started blogging. My earliest attempts at getting anything published were stymied because many academic journals were not interested in the subject—some still aren’t. But with blogging, I no longer have to be a supplicant at the table of the gatekeepers. I have written about these two ideas on my own blog: “‘Get Up, Stand Up’: The Noble Truth of Rastafari” and “Desire, the Secret, and Literary Fictions.” With these two posts and others, I hope I have begun a conversation that may continue for as long as I’m alive. Writing these posts has helped me to understand my connection with these two important religious traditions.
Has blogging “taken away” or changed my writing, as one interviewer suggested it could? Far from it. This is one of those assumptions that is based on the idea that human imagination is finite, that one could “run out of ideas.” But as Jorge Luis Borges has stated, in an interview with German Kral: “The task of art is to transform what is continuously happening to us, to transform all these things into symbols, into music, into something which can last in man’s memory. . . . The work of a poet never ends. It has nothing to do with working hours.” In other words, the unconscious is the engine of the imagination and the writer’s task is to align her ego with the unconscious.
But more than anything else, I’ve also learned that blogging is a cruel sport. At the first sign of any kind of inauthenticity, readers disappear. And they may never come back. So I’m no longer afraid of writing in the first person. This was one of those habits that would incur the dissatisfaction of my teachers in secondary and tertiary instructions. But is this a bad thing? It depends.
One of the major flaws in Caribbean fiction and poetry is its dependence on academia. While it is true that the universities have kept the works of our best writers alive in the memory of the educated, this has produced a tendency within the younger writers to create texts that are unintelligible.This is another of those unquestioned assumptions about academia, which has its roots in the European idea of the college as a hermetically sealed garden where genius is protected: genius exists to be served by the community instead of serving the community. A medieval idea that has been perpetuated in many universities, information remains the sole preserve of the institution and to which only a select few may gain access. The transparency of the democratic ideal has never penetrated these towers of knowledge.
I would even dare to say it has created in some younger writers a stilted—sometimes arrogant?—tone, as if a reader is obligated to read one’s book merely because one has survived the enormous difficulties that Caribbean writers face in order to be published. It creates a false dependence on academia that is harmful to writers.
But the larger question remains. In an age of Internet publishing and print–on-demand are these assumptions still warranted? Blogging and the Internet represent the opposite of this tendency toward exclusivity. They are the most evident forms of transparent democracy. Blogging and the Internet expand knowledge beyond the literal and virtual walls of academia and out into the hands of the people, where the ideas, if they are useful, could have the ability to transform lives.
Also, blogging by its very nature is a public act that seeks to engage with readers. The writer must be engaged with her audience. In order to be a successful blogger, one must create quality content on a consistent basis by capturing and maintaining reader interest over time. In the parlance of our digital revolution, by creating a platform the authentic writer gains authority.
Anything that teaches a writer how to engage with a reader is a good thing, and in my book makes her a better writer.
Blogging has taken me on an incredible journey, a journey that has just begun. As far as the future of the digital revolution is concerned, no one can foretell the state of publishing. The vehicle, means, and terms by which writers and readers connect are still being negotiated. However, one thing remains clear. As writers, we have control of the content produced, and if we pay attention to creating remarkable texts, then the future is infinite.
Geoffrey Philp is a poet and fiction writer who teaches English at Miami Dade College, where he also chairs the North Campus College Preparatory Department. A critically acclaimed author, Philp's work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. His most recent collection of poems, Dub Wise (2010), was published by Peepal Tree Press. He maintains a blog at http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/.
1 Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One: Selected Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1987), 161.
2 John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers (New York: Vintage, 1991), 31–32.