Monday, 27 May 2013

Kleist Would Have Blogged

Heinrich von Kleist has a website, although it's not updated all that often. It says:
Societal reform ideas and literary experiments went hand in hand for Kleist. He joined the Prussian army at the age of fifteen and left seven years later as a lieutenant, he studied philosophy, physics, mathematics and political science in the city of his birth, Frankfurt (Oder) and was always interested in technology, education and administration.
Apparently he was a nomad who craved recognition but didn't get it, finally despairing of life and committing suicide. But before that he published two different journals, Phöbus and Berliner Abendblätter. While they weren't mere vehicles for his writing, Kleist did place a lot of his own material in them. Nobody bought them though, and both of them folded for financial reasons. I imagine without the burden of printing costs and the fallings-out with his co-editors, Kleist could have gone on sharing his work in self-run journals for much longer. And with a taste for literary experiment and technology, you know he'd have had his own blog. I think his desire for fame and his sense of urgency are quite characteristic for bloggers. If his letters are anything to go by, he'd have been a hit on Twitter too.

But the main reason why Kleist would have blogged is his 1805 essay "Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden". In it, he explains how just talking to someone else about your ideas helps you to formulate them. Thoughts don't have to be fully rounded to share them with others; you learn a great deal by voicing incomplete ideas.
The French say, l'appetit vient en mangeant, and that voice of experience remains true if one parodies it and says, l'idee vient en parlant.
Blogging, for me, is frequently a way of voicing my thoughts. I often write quite quickly, before ideas have had time to settle. In these cases, I work them out as I go along - but because I don't feel I'm forcing anyone to read them, it doesn't matter to me that they're rather nascent. Kleist writes about the look on his sister's face when he tells her things. I feel I get that minimum of feedback through the comments function, and I'm always grateful for comments, even though I don't always want to enter into a fully fledged discussion.

I've been thinking about the differences between literary blogging and literary criticism or professional journalism. Perhaps I'm being naive here, but my guess is that critics and journalists usually know what they're going to write before they sit down and do so. Kleist writes that speaking about ideas that are already complete is an act that takes the excitement out of the speaker (I'm reminded of many a dull lecture). Just because a thought is expressed in a confused manner, says Kleist, doesn't mean it's been thought in a confused way.

And that's what I love about blogging - the opportunity for instant publishing, for sharing incomplete ideas and developing them like in a conversation. Only it's a conversation that stays in the world, a conversation you can look up and return to and add to and really build up a considered opinion over a longer period of time. *Plus - as I'm doing right this instant between the asterisks - you can update your posts and refine them and just type in something that occurred to you a little while later, correct any slips, add in extra witty comments, and so forth.* L'idee vient en bloggant. Kleist would have loved it.


manan said...

Go Kleist!

Wabbeldickwurst said...

Delving a little deeper into his letters, one can't help but notice that the guy was also a bit of a complacent dick. So I guess he would have commented, too!

kjd said...

He'd have been all over the internet. He'd never have left the house.

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of
Then you have missed the real things.

kjd said...

Who know, Heinrich, that you had quite so many blogs. My favourite is probably the shop though. Why no T-shirts?