Introduction (by Todd B. Vick)
You are in for a treat with this blog post. Once again, Carney is going to peel back the covers of POASR and ask us, his reader, to see it in a different light. He will delve into the novel’s formlessness, how blog posts are akin to this formlessness (I kid you not), and then apply all this to POASR, along with the idea of genres of freedom, the failure of the novel, and REH and the pulp writer as pugilist. That’s a lot to take in, you might be thinking. It is, to a certain degree, but he does a first-rate job of explaining how this is all possible, and why it is important. In addition to his blog post, he commissioned artist Jessica Robinson to illustrate his work/REH, a first for On An Underwood No. 5. So, without further ado, I’ll leave you with Jason Ray Carney. Enjoy! —Todd B. Vick
I. The Blog Post and Genre Anxiety
First, I want to thank Todd for inviting me to write a guest blog post. I try to keep a blog and struggle to maintain it, and the primary reason for this is that I can't quite wrap my mind around the "anything-goes" genre of the blog post: its conventions, its goals, its use-value for readers. Here are some of my questions: Are blog posts formal academic writing? Are they a kind of magazine writing for an educated but casual audience? (I wouldn't call the REH fan community 'casual'). More specifically: if I'm discussing literature (one of the few things I feel qualified to substantively blog about), am I writing a digital version of literary criticism or does the blog post context change things fundamentally? Should I use footnotes? Should I use media-specific elements, such as embedded art, like the original drawing I commissioned the talented illustrator, Jessica Robinson, for this post? Should I use direct quotations? Should I use particular academic citation and style guide? If I'm reflecting on whether or not I enjoy a particular literary work, have I stopped doing literary criticism and begun writing a mere review? How personal or objective should I be?
Snaps open a can of beer. This might help.
The formlessness of the blog post as a genre spins my head, leaves me at a loss regarding how to proceed, and, so, to begin, I'm going to take my lead from a young H.P. Lovecraft writing in 1917 to Rheinhart Kleiner. Defending his wide-ranging epistolary style, Lovecraft asks Kleiner the same thing I'll ask you, dear reader: "Regard my communications not as studied letters, but as fragments of discourse, spoken with the negligence of oral intercourse rather than the formal correctness of literary correspondence." Replace "blog post" with "communications" and "studied letters" with "formal essay," and we're getting somewhere.
|Robert E. Howard|
Illustration by Jessica Robinson
Steve had wished to write life as he saw it--he had torturously pounded out a few realistic tales and had found the subject the most difficult of all. ‘I don’t know where to take hold,’ he said slowly. ‘Life is full of tag ends which never begin and never end. There’s no plot, no sequence, no moral.’
"I don't know where to take hold." Yep. I could say the same thing about writing blog posts, but I'm going to give it my best here. Every book or article I've read that gives advice about blogging basically boils down to these same bits of advice: choose a topic and imagine a specific audience; then, those decisions made, write about something apropos to your selected topic and in a style that will satisfy the needs of the particular audience you have in mind. Don't forget the blog post's chronological structure and ephemeral nature. Blog posts, unlike journal articles and academic monographs, are date-indexed; unlike journal peer-reviewed scholarship, which has a chance of maintaining its worth despite its aging, blog posts are acutely ephemeral, like acid-rich articles in a daily rag. Though they don't yellow with age and fall apart as papery snowflakes, they do disappear into the digital archive.
Bearing this advice in mind, let me put all my cards on the table, remove my black hat, and hang my holstered, silver-filigreed revolvers on a crooked nail (excuse the trite similes as I establish atmosphere): I'm writing a meandering blog post about Robert E. Howard's unpublished quasi-autobiographical novel, referred to as Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (Important note: Patrice Louinet told me recently that this is not actually the title of the novel; instead, it should be more accurately labeled Grasping at the Edge, a name referenced in an REH letter somewhere, though I am ignorant of the specific letter). My assumed audience is a group of diehard Robert E. Howard fans who read or are open to reading On an Underwood No. 5, who have the patience for a long essay, and who believe Howard was not merely a pulp raconteur who spun yarns that entertain (he is this, of course!) but was also a sincere literary artist who deserves wider visibility in Anglophone literary history, in the concrete form of academic monographs and articles, conference panels, and university courses that treat early 20th-century literature, popular culture, and genre fiction. Finally, I'm going to try my best to affect a minimally academic, hospitable, no BS, yet substantive prose style that hopefully entertains, educates, and starts a conversation.
II. Genre Anxiety in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs