The Greatest Blogger of the 16th-Century | Bruce Turkel

Depending on when you started reading this blog it may or may not be obvious to you that it’s an experimental and constantly evolving work-in-progress.
When I started the blog in August of ‘06, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that I wanted to begin a dialog and I knew I wanted to build an audience but I didn’t know how. So I repurposed articles and book excerpts that I had written for other publications, posted interesting essays friends of mine had written, and even uploaded articles I found on the web that I thought people would enjoy reading (with attribution and links to the original, of course).

Eventually I tired of just being a clearinghouse for other people’s ideas and my musty old ones and started writing fresh commentary on what I know best: advertising and branding. Because I was writing for a business audience (or so I thought) and because I was writing for a business purpose, I tried to keep my articles proper and professional without becoming pedantic. I’ve written about Toyota’s recall faux pas, rebranding the Republican Party and a number of articles about how the hotels and destinations of the Southern Coast could attract tourists during and after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

While the size of my audience slowly increased, I didn’t get much more than a handful of comments on each post. That changed when I wrote about Michael Jordan sporting a Hitleresque mustache in a Hanes commercial. That controversial post sparked a number of responses as well as a record number of unsubscribers. Perhaps people felt passionately about the issue or perhaps it was the power of controversy, but that post was the first time TurkelTalks went from being a monologue to a conversation.

Then one afternoon, not thinking about the blog at all, I sat at my laptop and wrote about a personal issue, as much to think it through and get it off my mind as to memorialize it. Because I was running a “professional” blog, I had no intention of posting this personal essay. But as my deadline got closer and closer and no other interesting subjects came to mind, I finally opted for expediency and uploaded my more intimate comments to the web.

Much to my surprise, that post generated more interesting responses and conversation than anything I had written before. So the next week I tried another experiment and posted another personal essay. Again the essay got more positive response than any of the work-related posts had received.

Through time and continued experimentation, with one eye on the text and one eye on the metrics, my essays evolved into a blend of personal comments and observations, usually leading to a personal conclusion about a timely marketing or branding issue. I even started to feel like I was finding my voice.

So imagine my surprise when I read an article in Saturday’s New York Times on the 16th-century French nobleman and essayist Michel de Montaigne. The article explains how Montaigne is “considered the creator of the essay, a form that melds the intellectual and the personal, and his musings have inspired countless writers including…Friedrich Nietzsche and Virginia Woolf.”

In her biography of Michel de Montaigne, How to Live, Sarah Bakewell goes on to add that Montaigne has also influenced “every blogger, tweeter, Facebooker and YouTuber…” even though it’s safe to assume that few of them have ever heard of Montaigne or read his essays.

Ms. Bakewell says that Montaigne’s form “…writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity – has not existed forever. It had to be invented.” Certainly an erudite and thoughtful description of what my blog has evolved to, but accurate just the same.

What’s most interesting to me is that Montaigne sussed out this whole blogging thing all the way back in 1580. That means that if I were more up to speed on my 16th-century French literature, and had actually read anything by Montaigne, I wouldn’t have had to figure it all out for myself. Or as Michael Keaton’s character, Bill Blazejowski, blurts out in the movie Night Shift, “Yeah, I invented it first. But they already had it.”

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