Nevertheless, I take issue with this statement, near the essay's close, about the difference between text and television:
Moving and talking images are much richer in information about a performer's appearance, manner, and tone of voice. . . . The viewer may not catch all of the details of a candidate's health-care plan, but he has a much more definite sense of her as a personality, and his response to her is therefore likely to be more full of emotion. There is nothing like this connection in print. A feeling for a writer never touches the fact of the writer herself, unless reader and writer happen to meet. In fact, from Shakespeare to Pynchon, the personalities of many writers have been mysterious.The first two sentences are mostly unobjectionable, but the last three get my vote as the stupidest thing ever said about writing by someone who purports to be both a reader and a writer.
Yes, yes: we probably learn more about the average person and his personality from a video clip than we do from a paragraph of his prose (though God save me from having to scrutinize either). But when it's writers we're talking about, I'm not sure that anything conveys personality better than the written voice. Do we learn everything about a writer from his work? Not a chance. But we probably learn more from it, over time, than we do from seeing him at the supermarket every week or catching the occasional t.v. interview.
Writing isn't a transparent medium, and even autobiographical writing like that on this-here blog involves some masking or resculpting of reality in order to produce a prettier or simply more coherent self. But that's true of all public performances--whether they're enacted on the page, before a t.v. camera, or live and in person. I'm not sure that someone who wanders into a panel and sees me deliver a conference paper, or even someone who chats with me over coffee, knows me any better or any more authentically than someone who only knows me through my blog. The two people probably know different things about me, but the person who has only encountered me, casually, in person does not know more. Likely he knows less.
Maybe not everyone is attuned to writing in the same way, but I believe that diction, syntax, and sentence rhythms are profoundly revelatory. I've fallen in love with some people, and become convinced that I know them, through their writing, while absolutely hating others--and all in ways and for reasons that have less to do with the subject of their writing than with matters of style and rhetorical self-presentation.
I imagine there are many people in the blogosphere who have had similar experiences. And I can say that, although there's always a moment of surprise and readjustment when I meet a blogger in person for the first time, I've never yet been wrong about someone's personality based on our initial, purely textual encounters.