Monday, June 28 2010
Oscar Wilde and What I learned At WBC 10Oscar Wilde
WBC 10 was a real eye-opener for me, both in terms of how big the wine blogging world is (estimates ranged up to a thousand wine bloggers currently posting) to where the divide between 'traditional' wine writers and bloggers lies (solely in the minds of each) and what is my worst sin as a blogger (writing too long and not often enough).
Other seminars included
- Effective Wine Writing, hosted by Meg Houston Maker, Andy Perdue and Hardy Wallace, with wildly varying views
- The Future of Wine Writing, hosted by Steve Heimoff, Ken Payton and Tom Wark, very sharp gents
- Top Gun blogging, hosted by Maverick, Goose and Iceman. No, it was Andrew Lazorchak, Ben Simons and Joe Herrig
- Live Wineblogging, an exercise in intensity and organised thinking that also hurt the liver
There was also a number of informal tasting opportunities (partying) most of which I chose the better part of valor on, being old and wimpy, vineyard tours and an evening of staggering about Walla Walla, inundating tasting rooms with hundreds of other bloggers. A very good time was had, and if you're thinking of a wine destination for your next vacation, Walla Walla knows how to put on the dog and make a visitor feel more than welcome. You can check out some pictures of my walkbout in my Unreserved Gallery.Tom watches Lettie struggle to answer a question about hair-care. I kid you not . . .
The whole experience was great, but one aspect of it got me thinking very seriously: the constant introspection about the nature of blogging versus traditional criticism. I had a couple of very useful exchanges with Tom and Steve about it, as well as a quick chat with speaker Lettie Teague (wicked smart wine critic for the Wall Street Journal) and a whole bunch of back and forth with attending bloggers. There seemed to be this gulf between what I saw as the false perception of traditional wine criticism as cold and dispassionate, undertaken by insiders with agendas and the image of bloggers as shoot-from-the-lip cowboys (to be fair this does actually apply to Hardy Wallace, but in a very nice way)
It bugged me until this morning when I recalled a quote from Oscar Wilde, in the forward to The Picture of Dorian Gray,
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
I don't actually think that people who sneer from one side of the debate or the other are corrupt, but this quote takes on a fascinating level of meaning if you've studied the book. The central them is responsibility for one's actions: Dorian foists all blame for his wretched excess and immorality onto the painting that keeps getting uglier and uglier, and in the end he destroys it not in a fit of remorse, but to cover up evidence of his guilt.
The lessons I'm taking are twofold: first, no matter how objective a wine writer or critic strives to be, they'll always be filtering wine through their own sensibilities. This can either be 'voice' or pernicious prejudice and will quickly inform an audience of where they stand. Better have your voice in order!
Second, anybody who writes about wine, in whatever continuum of print media, blogs or even tweets, should talk responsibility for the quality of their writing. Excuses about time constraints, or being an amateur don't excuse one from doing their very best each time, and conversely, good writing is good writing, and cannot be condemned by entrenched authorities without imperiling their status and future relevance.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a picture to burn.
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