Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Endings



Like a book, suddenly unwritten. There are blogs that cease to exist just like that, that disappear without so much as a whimper, or that linger but in mutilated form, their archives hacked into digital pieces. I’m fascinated by these endings, whether hesitant and stuttering or lucidly planned and executed. And I want to put forward two ideas: firstly, that to the extent that they even exist in time, blogs have no duration. Secondly, that a blog doesn’t become a text until somebody puts an end to it.

The talk of an end of blogging started years ago, but has become rather more intense of late. There may be some objective truth to it (at least in term of a general decline of the phenomenon from its peak), although it seems to me that the data used to back the proposition – in report such as this one – is a little contradictory. At any rate, I’m not very interested in whether or not blogging is in fact on the wane. It is quite possible, as a number of people have pointed out, that other forms of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter, or that adorable hybrid, Tumblr, are competing for some of the medium’s original functions, namely the sharing of links and photographs and the posting of quick entries, autobiographical or otherwise. Really, though, who cares? Except insofar a relative decline in the popularity and degree of saturation reached by blogging may motivate us to better interrogate the form.

Scott Hamilton attempted to do just that last week, arguing that blogs currently stand to the other social networks (which he labels ‘inferior innovations’) as the medium for thoughtful and critically engaged writing, and that blogging ‘may become an act of resistance against the dumbing down of culture and political discourse in the twenty-first century’. There is possibly not a single sentence of that post that I agree with, and I would be quite happy if we made 2012 the year when we stop quoting Nicholas Carr except to disparage his vapid arguments, but it is intriguing that blogging has gone in the space of a few years from being charged with dumbing down traditional journalism and commentary to being hailed as the saviour of the same. Intriguing, and at the same time unsurprising: there is a circularity to these media arguments that has become very familiar, even comforting.

But back to those endings, of which there seemed to be a lot in 2011. Nina Power retired the enormously influential and much cherished Infinite Thought, deleting all the entries previous to last summer’s riots. The Deterritorial Support Group abandoned Wordpress, liquidating blogging as a stale medium suited mostly to ‘link-baiting dross or dull, rote journalism’. Evan Calder Williams put an end to the Socialism and/or Barbarism (on which more below), Alan Jacobs to Text Patterns. There were some false endings, too: merc briefly closed down Love Is a Symbol, and by the time he reopened it the artworks that accompanied the old entries no longer appeared (people familiar with merc’s work and the intimate and painful history that it communicates will realise the extent of this loss, however partial); Marian Evans declared the end of the research project at Wellywood Woman, but continued posting; Francesca came close a couple of times to letting go of Buchi nella Sabbia – the blog that makes me wish more of you could speak Italian – but relented. And then, as always, there is the unnerving business of the indefinite hiatus. Memory, Amnesia and Politics hasn’t been updated since last April; k-punk since July. Owen Hatherley posted very little (although he trawled), Jolisa Gracewood only three times, and Douglas Murphy, who kept at it, was not alone in commenting on the effort blogging takes, suggesting that the hill is getting steeper.

One of the peculiar things about blogs is that they are rarely conceived of as finite writing projects from the beginning, yet they mostly end at some point, and not just because the author has become permanently incapacitated (in fact the facility of scheduled posting allows for the intriguing possibility of regular posthumous writing, if one were that way inclined). Oftentimes what causes a successful blogger to stop updating her blog is that she is getting paid to write the same stuff elsewhere, but even when this is not the case – and one can hardly be blamed – there is the issue of the effort, the work of blogging, whose returns and usefulness, of whichever nature they might be, are liable to diminish for a variety of reasons. There is an economy to this ostensibly free exchange of immaterial labour, if only because the time occupied by blogging could be spent doing something else.

Many of these issues were grappled with by Evan Calder Williams in the sensational final post of Socialism and/or Barbarism, a blog that I reviewed last year along with one of the two books that it spawned. I won’t comment much on the post, which speaks very eloquently for itself – all 4,000 words of it – except to say that it makes very interesting reading against Scott Hamilton’s polemic, particularly in terms of its evaluation of what is politically and creatively useful, as well as its sacrosanct defence of ephemerality (‘perhaps what was, and perhaps continues to be, the most important aspect of the form of online writing’) and of the need to cultivate a degree of discomfort with the form.

Socialism and/or Barbarism is (was) a blog concerned primarily with genre and form, typifying what Jody Dean calls in her book on Blog Theory ‘reflexivity, all the way down’, including at times misgivings about its own rhetorical strategies – which spilled out and culminated in the disorienting critique mounted alongside China Miéville of Evan’s own book on the occasion of its launch. What made the book available to this critique was precisely its coming into being in that printed form, an event which is by definition untimely – hence the image of the birthgrave, of the beginning that is also an end, and viceversa (in which moment, as I have argued, the text demands not to be evaluated but re-evaluated, recovered, as something that is already obsolete).

Which leads me to the business of blogs having no duration. Whilst it is not factually incorrect to say things like ‘I’ve been blogging for three years’ (so long as it happens to be the case), a blog only exists in the moment when it is called up – and effectively ‘created’ – on a computer screen. Before and after that moment, it’s just a scrambled string of numbers. Let’s say that on a certain day you printed a page of a blog, or the whole thing: even if we stipulated that the text thus produced were a good enough representation of the original, this doesn’t fix the blog in time, it merely creates a time-stamped copy of it. There could be no guarantee that the electronic version wouldn’t undergo modifications after that moment, thus falsifying the printed copy. In this respect, like every other electronic text, a blog – lacking a material context – is a virtual construct with no time dimension; alive, while it flickers on your screen at the requisite Hertz frequency, yet not quite fully in existence.

If you think that this is a sophism, or just plain silly, I invite you to consider how easy it proved to be for Nina Power to disappear a blog that had had, and continued to have, many thousands of readers, and contrast this with how hard it is to withdraw a book from circulation once it is out there, and for reasons that aren’t merely contractual.

However what makes a book a text, just as much as its material instantiation, is the fact that it ends – as indeed it must, in order to become an object at all. And so too blogs with an explicit ending, however provisional, become quite different things, and have their meaning restructured by the authorial act of saying enough of this. Just as they lose the fundamental quality that makes a blog what it is, namely, the expectation of future updates, it becomes possible to evaluate them in a different way, to treat them as proper objects of critique, for they have exhausted, or claim to have exhausted, the drive to mean more.

At this moment, perhaps, in order to be true to itself, a blog should be deleted, and cease to exist altogether, but that would imply a belief that its meanings could only be correctly interpreted in the continual present of their ongoing production, and not salvaged, recovered at a later stage, in circumstances and for purposes that may be vastly different from the original ones. In spite of their uncertain temporality, these relics also constitute a fragile archive of the early age of the internet, a document of our first collective attempts to establish a set of native forms. In this they might well prove more useful in death than in life.

All that said, and in the full knowledge that when the time comes I very much doubt that I could bring myself to do it, I have just as much admiration for the blogger who chooses to press ‘delete’, an act of non-compliance second only to not writing in the first place. The texts that cease to be there, too, are an integral part of this thing we call internet.

So here’s to the doubters, and to those who found better things to do, and to bold endings.



38 comments:

Culla said...

Agree totally about the admirable boldness of those who forcibly end their blogs, but there's always the zomby half-life of the cached file (something I have relied on when I have had websites hacked into and rendered unusable). And I wonder how much of a factor is this awareness that something is always recoverable from somewhere in the web's darkest recesses?

David W. Kasper said...

Most of those you cite have gone into print, and continue to appear in the interzone between personalised blogging and MSM. Or now appear more at 'events' - a word that still carries more weight than online discussion, despite much smaller immediate audiences. Power and Fisher's last posts were mainly announcing their physical appearance elsewhere, deferring to their own actual movements, more than their place within a 'sphere' or 'network' (note how bloggers link far more at the 'beginning' than they do towards 'the end').

What I'm haunted by is those who don't, and never will. The once-ubiquitous, and widely discussed, blogs and avatars that vanish overnight. How could they weigh in on online discourse with so much relish, only to suddenly stop unannounced? Where did they go? Who were they? What happened to them? And why are we unlikely to know, when it's the worst possible fate?

It's uncanny to read someone's statements from three years ago, only for it to feel like an archaic document from another society. Obsolescence and mortality are recurring themes in a surprisingly diverse range of blogs, but it's rarely confronted as personally as other subjects are. Maybe the medium itself is in denial about its own limits? Not just blogs - but the internet as a whole?

merc said...

Ah Giovanni, yes the heart of it is this thing ending, and the very real possibility of a cache risen after death, the real death of the blogger. On these things I have pondered much too much.
Inadvertently cutting all the links to LIAS images caused me great pain after the fact and I am too lazy to hook them all back up again. Though I worried about the images in this new Tumblr world, then I didn't.
"Maybe the medium itself is in denial about its own limits? Not just blogs - but the internet as a whole?"
This made me ponder all the more, something along the lines of our propensity towards animism.

Deborah said...

I read this with a sinking heart, thinking that perhaps you too were going to stop blogging, which would take a moment of joy out of my Mondays, or usually, my Tuesday mornings.

My blogging has slowed down is year, due to work, and because some of my thinking has been published elsewhere. I find myself saving my ideas for my paid and published work.

I think of blogs as being a bit like friendships, or perhaps acquaintanceships - they come and some stay, but others go, as I move on, or the other person moves on. Some blogs that I read rigorously in my early days are no longer of interest to me, but I have stayed with others. Some post very occasionally now, but thanks to my feed reader, when posts appear I have a lovely time catching up with my old friend.

Giovanni Tiso said...

I read this with a sinking heart,

Heh. Sorry. Philip did that to me last week.

Giovanni Tiso said...

@Culla

but there's always the zomby half-life of the cached file (something I have relied on when I have had websites hacked into and rendered unusable)

There is, and the whole issue of undeletion is something I plan to get into in relation to the problem of how you repress a digital memory. But it’s a lot easier to recover one’s own website, isn’t it? For everyone else, caching is very much like a book whose spine has been removed - it becomes frightfully difficult to piece the thing back together without some sort of locally saved concordance document. The material saved by Google Reader is the closest thing to a distributed copy of a blog, and in fact when merc removed Love Is a Symbol from the web I figured I should remove the feed from my readers to comply with his decision. But even that is a partial thing (no images, no text from before you subscribed), it is tricky to export, and then not everyone syndicates their whole feed (for instance I don’t).

Amanda said...

As I recall back in the day before there were blogs people had online journals or relatively static home pages. Blog is an abbreviation of weblog and at first what they were supposed to be was a new thing-a log of web findings- as you read things you logged them and provided a link which (excitingly) you could do without having to do any html. This was possibly symptomatic of the fact that portals and search engines were much more primitive and it took a lot more work to find readable content. I can remember a lot of the old school journalling people being very contemptuous of blogs and proud of continuing to "hand code" but gradually everyone moved their journal to platforms such as blogger even though they continued to journal rather than blog. I think blogging evolved into a generic platform rather than a genre. Recipe or knitting blogs are a whole other genre to blogs set up to document a particular project or trip so I think there are limits to how much one can generalise about them.

That said personally I see a historical analogy between blogging and correspondence. As you go through life your interests and acquaintances change and so do your associated writings and who you direct them to. I suppose, you could take the analogy further and say the correspondence of a life time is not really finished until it's post posthumously collected, edited and published with an introduction. For must of us our ephemeral jottings will never achieve that closure.

I have generated thousands and thousands of words on the internet over the past (15?) years. I've deleted much of it and I wish I could delete more of it such as posts I did in various internet forums under my full name. Juvenalia is embarrassing and not relevant to how I want to be seen now and I don't like to think of it still floating around and accessible.

Giovanni Tiso said...

That said personally I see a historical analogy between blogging and correspondence.

Yes. And the fact that Evan's last post was structured like a letter was a nice touch.

Ben Wilson said...

>All that said, and in the full knowledge that when the time comes I very much doubt that I could bring myself to do it, I have just as much admiration for the blogger who chooses to press ‘delete’, an act of non-compliance second only to not writing in the first place. The texts that cease to be there, too, are an integral part of this thing we call internet.

Really? I'm very much surprised to read you writing this way, at least from a point of view of philosophical consistency. I would have thought you would see deletion as the ultimate violence against thought and memory. Particularly since blogs with open comments contain the thoughts of all contributors too.

I get that the weight of all of it can get overwhelming, and sometimes people want to move on, and feel that the actual destruction of the text itself to be an important step, but it's hard not to see this like the burning of books.

Or, for a more personal story, the burning of photographs. My mother told me she has never seen my father so angry (which says something since his capacity for anger impressed my friends mightily) as when he asked his mother for the family photographs on the death of his father, only to find that she had burned them in her grief. This denied him his own grief, where he could have lingered over the representations of his father in his own youth, and could have preserved these memories for me and my siblings to inform our own origins. It was a crazy, selfish, unreversable act. Apparently he actually trembled with rage, possibly suppressing the urge to match her violence with some of his own.

I can see why one would do this, just like I can understand suicide and murder, but I don't really approve of them, unless there are very, very good reasons. Indeed one of my own reasons for taking time off commenting on blogs has been the violence against myself that self-censorship has created.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"I would have thought you would see deletion as the ultimate violence against thought and memory."

The great lie of the digital age is that you can have memory without forgetting. That is simply not possible. And what it takes sometimes - most especially in a culture that is obsessed with keeping everything - is wilful forgetting. You make a good point about burning things that don't belong to you, but that is nto always the case.

Ben Wilson said...

>The great lie of the digital age is that you can have memory without forgetting.

This strikes me as an assertion. Perhaps you can have that, and it's only a matter of engineering to attain it. Can you elaborate?

Are you saying that meaning is by definition an abstraction, that it must kill some data as it generalizes, otherwise it is nothing more than meaningless data?

Even if that is so, it doesn't require the destruction of the data. And even it if it did, it would not require the destruction of both the data, and all the meanings and intentions (very often from many people) that cohere to them in a blog, either living or dead.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Are you saying that meaning is by definition an abstraction, that it must kill some data as it generalizes, otherwise it is nothing more than meaningless data?

That, partly, so long as we don’t give in to the implication that the world is data - in fact data collection itself is an abstraction, a form of knowledge-making. An obvious example of what I’m talking about is the idea - of which Bill Gates was one of the first serious proponents, and was put into practice by Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell - that you could record your life, that is to say strap a series of recording device to your body and leave them always on. There are a number of unexamined issues with that idea – beginning from the fact that these electronic sensors don’t come close to replicating the human sensorium – but the chief one is that a live recording of your life would take a lifetime to watch. Possibly longer, if you consider the many different tracks that can be recorded, and not all of them can be apprehended simultaneously when they are replayed. At any rate, the idea is straightforwardly neurotic, but think of the degree that smartphone use, services like Facebook, flickr and Twitter, and innovations such as passive sharing implicitly promote behaviours that approximate Bell’s conduct. And what that conduct leaves is an impossibly vast mass of data (strickly in the sense of ‘dumb information’) to wade through. If I only blogged or tweeted the important bits, Ariadne-alike, I could easily find my way back through the maze. But alas, I do not.

Even if that is so, it doesn't require the destruction of the data. And even it if it did, it would not require the destruction of both the data, and all the meanings and intentions (very often from many people) that cohere to them in a blog, either living or dead.

I think the idea that we can leave the data intact, and practice strategic inattention to it, is an illusion – we’re simply not that clever, and neither are our search engines and cultural means to cut through the information. However I want to argue that the holes left by the blogs that are gone are an integral part of the internet in that they represent a visible form of not-compliance to the cultural imperative that everything should be kept. Visible, in that you can withdraw, say, a blog, but not the external pages that link to it, nor the memory of it amongst its reader, if it had any. Those acts are meaningful.

You raise a really important issue with regard to the right to deletion, therefore whom a blog belongs to, when it includes contributions by people other than its owner. To an extent I think this applies also to blogs without a comments section – such as Nina’s, or merc’s – because meanings and intentions can also be the readers’, whether they literally add to the text or not. But I think we must accept that there is a greater investment on the part of the author, and defer to their decision – which is unlikely to be taken lightly – with regards to something that is so personal and so tied to their name.

merc said...

I love the idea that a lifetime would take a lifetime to watch. This seems to me to be relevant, http://blog.millsbaker.net/
The old search for meaning, for value in the eyes of others. Blogs seem to very much fall into this need we seem to have to selectively forget our mortality, to rank ourselves on some hero list. We are told to be concerned with rankings every day, when that gets too much, we forget them.

wv, satoloph, should be a ranking word.

Ben Wilson said...

And what that conduct leaves is an impossibly vast mass of data (strickly in the sense of ‘dumb information’) to wade through.

Sure, but that is not the only purpose of keeping data, that it will be replayed in its entirety. Often you only want a piece of it, but you can't know in advance which piece. You also can't know who in the future might want to know besides yourself. Your children, perhaps? Their children?

I can't really imagine my kids really all my online posts, but they might read some tiny fraction of them and become considerably more informed about what manner of being I was. They might read what I said about them, particularly.

Also, searching engines really can troll the data very deeply if it's in textual form, if you actually want to go through all references to some particular query. They might not be perfect, might never be perfect, but they are a whole lot more than nothing at all.

I think the idea that we can leave the data intact, and practice strategic inattention to it, is an illusion

With respect to the existing mass of collected data, this is not only possible, it is what we do. I have all of the email I ever received to my hotmail account still sitting there. I don't read it because it's near totally irrelevant. But on 3 occasions, I have searched it to find things from the 90s for which there is no other source. Considering that it cost me nothing to leave it there, this was a worthwhile choice.

However I want to argue that the holes left by the blogs that are gone are an integral part of the internet in that they represent a visible form of not-compliance to the cultural imperative that everything should be kept.

It is certainly a right of anyone to delete things that belong to them. But I don't think it's a cultural imperative - almost the opposite, the demands of our culture these days seem more and more to about forgetting things, as a vital part of "getting over the past". This is why I find this line of yours jarring to my understandings of other things you have written.

I know you have always said that digital data fails to keep data safe, you said it in your thesis. But that is not the same as suggesting the good of actually deliberately destroying the data.

Those holes you are talking about leaving in the internet could get a name - Orwell might have called them unblogs.

Ben Wilson said...

@merc

Blogs seem to very much fall into this need we seem to have to selectively forget our mortality, to rank ourselves on some hero list. We are told to be concerned with rankings every day, when that gets too much, we forget them.


This really is the same for any kind of writing, and always has been, and indeed it's probably a motivation behind oral histories before there was writing. And it's not all bad, to be remembered. Sometimes you get remembered for good things too. We have a great treasure in nearly everything that people even bothered to write down from the ancient world. One day, right now will be the ancient world.

I think attempting to remove traces of oneself from the net is no less neurotic than keeping them, really. If you want to show you're not neurotic, then you would honestly not care. A violent destruction of data makes every bit as much of an immortal impression as keeping it alive. You're saying you give a shit what traces there are of you in history, and that you would prefer they are less than what they currently are. To me, that's really self-destructive. It's thought-suicide.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Sure, but that is not the only purpose of keeping data, that it will be replayed in its entirety. Often you only want a piece of it, but you can't know in advance which piece. You also can't know who in the future might want to know besides yourself. Your children, perhaps? Their children?

We know that that’s not how it works. Terminally ill parents often choose to leave recordings of themselves or write things for when their children will be adults. They don’t just leave a recorder on and say here, take all of me.

I talked about this in relation of my father, of whom I have some photos, a 30-second audio recording and a few samples of his signature and handwriting. Yet I remember him fine.

Interestingly enough, the situation you describe used to apply to aristocratic families, such as the Churchills, and many aspects of Winston’s life was minutely recorded from his infancy because he was expected to generate some sort of biography eventually. I don’t see it as a progress that we all warrant such records nowadays. I think it comes wrapped in a lot of anxiety.

With respect to the existing mass of collected data, this is not only possible, it is what we do. I have all of the email I ever received to my hotmail account still sitting there. I don't read it because it's near totally irrelevant. But on 3 occasions, I have searched it to find things from the 90s for which there is no other source. Considering that it cost me nothing to leave it there, this was a worthwhile choice.

I keep all my email too, there is no great harm in that. But you are describing a peculiarly searchable body of data. I think the issue of whether the situation you describe has a broader cultural applicability is far from clear. Shouldn’t the availability of all this data make us able to predict events like market crashes, or reach a broad consensus on much studied phenomena such as climate change, or improve our newly transparent democratic institutions? Things don’t seem to be panning out that way. And this doesn’t prove that it’s a glut of information problem, but I think a case could be made (indeed, it has) that it’s a contributing factor.

almost the opposite, the demands of our culture these days seem more and more to about forgetting things, as a vital part of "getting over the past". This is why I find this line of yours jarring to my understandings of other things you have written.

There is no contradiction: it is precisely storing the past in its entirety that ensures that it will become critically inaccessible, hence forgotten. That is what was so striking about hearing Gordon Bell speak: here was a man obsessed with autobiography who appeared to be nonetheless incapable of the most basic introspection. We shouldn’t mistake the massive and indiscriminate collection of data with a commitment to saving the past. Intelligence is predicated on selection. So is memory.

I know you have always said that digital data fails to keep data safe, you said it in your thesis. But that is not the same as suggesting the good of actually deliberately destroying the data.

I am not saying that the deleted blogs in my example are necessarily irrelevant, or that it is good that they were destroyed. Nina Power’s blog is obviously an important political document, and its deletion is a loss. However the gesture of its withdrawal from the public domain is also meaningful.

Ben Wilson said...

They don’t just leave a recorder on and say here, take all of me.

Sure, but that's a straw man. A blog is not "all of me" either. But it could have been a very important part of me, indeed in terms of things I said and thought it could be one of the most important parts.

I don’t see it as a progress that we all warrant such records nowadays. I think it comes wrapped in a lot of anxiety.

I think it's progress. I will never be as important as Churchill to the world, but I could be considerably more important than Churchill to some people. Perhaps it causes some people anxiety. But I don't think killing the data will solve that for them, indeed I expect they will regret it at some point.

Shouldn’t the availability of all this data make us able to predict events like market crashes

Not necessarily. Those might remain structurally unpredictable, rather like dice rolls. We know the physics of the dice, but each roll is still unpredictable.

or reach a broad consensus on much studied phenomena such as climate change

Blogs can and have contributed to that.

or improve our newly transparent democratic institutions?

And that. More that, I think. Blogs are a force in modern political engagement, and to make holes where they were makes it harder to understand those forces.

Things don’t seem to be panning out that way. And this doesn’t prove that it’s a glut of information problem, but I think a case could be made (indeed, it has) that it’s a contributing factor.

No, blogs haven't solved all the world's ills, but was that ever a real expectation? Some things do really take a long time, and a lot of effort to change. Sometimes things get worse for reasons outside of our control.

I understand that it can sometimes feel like the effort is not worth it, and has even been counterproductive. But that is a personal evaluation of the worth of it, rather than an objective one.

I do understand why you would sometimes applaud people doing this, but I can't help but feel that it's like applauding a seppuku done ritually to fuck with some Daimyo's agenda. You're still dead at the end, and the Daimyo isn't. He'll read your death Haiku, say "how interesting" and then do whatever he was going to do anyway.

Robyn said...

I've been blogging for over 15 years, but I haven't blogged since last Friday. To paraphrase that old showbiz saying - you're only as good as your last blog.

Twitter changed the way I blog. Twitter sucks up all my short thoughts, and is sometimes where the idea behind a blog post starts.

I'm also a big fan of Tumblr. I don't think Tumblr is taken very seriously at the moment because it's mainly populated by teenage girls, but those teenage girls are doing amazing things that are going to become mainstream soon enough. For me, Tumblr is more a place for playing around with ideas, and it's as much about visual ideas than written ideas. It's kind of a scrapbook.

As for the end of blogging, there is always going to writing on the internet, whether it's called "blogging" or not.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Sure, but that's a straw man. A blog is not "all of me" either. But it could have been a very important part of me, indeed in terms of things I said and thought it could be one of the most important parts.

I think we may be at cross purposes: I was referring to whole life recordings a-la Gordon Bell, which is a fitting analogy to my mind to a tendency in social media to be rather indiscriminate with what one shares and - passively - archives, and more generally to a cultural propensity for never letting go of information. Blogs are sometimes implicated in that but not in a major way.

Giovanni Tiso said...

As for the end of blogging, there is always going to writing on the internet, whether it's called "blogging" or not.

Quite true. And the word blog, as Amanda also suggested, may well have an excessively large field of application at this time.

I'm also a big fan of Tumblr. I don't think Tumblr is taken very seriously at the moment because it's mainly populated by teenage girls, but those teenage girls are doing amazing things that are going to become mainstream soon enough.

I have similar feelings about Twitter: perhaps because of its minimalist modularity, people are doing all sorts of experimental things with it. Blogging on the other hand has settled into a fairly narrow range of forms, which Evan has described quite aptly I think as feeling inherited. (I probably don't need to point this out, but I'm a very conservative user of the form - there are certainly issues about wanting to feel in control of it there.)

David W. Kasper said...

I don't think you're particularly 'conservative' with the form. I don't think Evan was either. It may relate to much older forms of (non-academic) essay-writing, but it still falls outside the main uses (IMO) for blogging:
Semi-academic essays.
Amateur opinion columns.
MSM news linking.
Life diaries (be it political activities, travel or pets).
Reviewing.
Pop culture archiving.
Promoting media/arts career.
Arguing with other blogs.

I've got very mixed feelings about twitter - it's wonderful for conversation and information exchange, but it doesn't encourage much reflective thought or concentration. It's arguably more addictive than Myspace and facebook too - it can really chew up attention.

As for Tumblr - it's worryingly 'post-literate' isn't it? It's great looking at nice images or enigmatic one-liners etc, but it lacks context - or 'space'. The 'like/unlike' thing is very claustrophobic. All 'masks' without any will to perform, a more static process. Which may be apt for our current economic climate, with its relatively inflexible format - it doesn't 'go' anywhere.

Turkle said...

Just a quick musing on your idea that blogs have no duraton:

I've long wondered about the ontological status of online/electronic communications in general. Quite a bit less res extensa, quite a bit more res cogitans, don't you think? If the blog as such has zero duration, it certainly can't be the former.

What, then, is res blogitans, if you'll forgive the atrocious portmanteau?

It's a different question than asking "what is music" (res musica?), or "what is politics" (res publica); music being a particular social engagement with the physical occurrence of sound, and the political more of the appearance of a social problem.

Res blogitans occurs at that peculiar nexus of electrons, data, learning, human attention/inattention, and a vast and almost unknowable physical infrastructure that is the interwebs.

Anyway, it's a question for someone smarter than me. Cheers, thanks for the great blog which has me thinking all the time.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Res blogitans occurs at that peculiar nexus of electrons, data, learning, human attention/inattention, and a vast and almost unknowable physical infrastructure that is the interwebs.

I think you've pretty much answered the question there. It exists in that nexus, as do most other forms of electronic writing, but is also temporally organised (in spite of the lack of duration) by the expectation of future updates. Which in some cases is vague and hopeful (Robyn, who's a very smart observer of these things, turned it into a little satire); in others, such as this blog – is neurotically predetermined according to a work-like schedule, or a daily plan. Which often features a classic of the form, namely the apology for having missed a post, therefore of having betrayed that expectation (without which, I think you’d hesitate to call a blog a blog.)

Ben Wilson said...

I think we may be at cross purposes

Probably. I wasn't sure why you raised Gordon Bell in this context, presumed it was as an exemplar of just how pointless it would be to collect ALL data flowing into the senses of person, and how that displays some kind of bizarre fear of mortality that we are trending towards.

But we were discussing blogs, which are not like that. Since a blog is mostly writings, which are already an abstraction of the thoughts and sensations of the writer(s). They're picking out the bits they think are the most worthy of laying down in written form. Which is no guarantee that they will be interesting, but also no guarantee that they will be impossibly dull either. They've been put into a highly convenient form for searching and indexing, too.

Yes, there is an element of immortalization in writing. Always has been. In fact, there's an element of immortalization in digitization, and I mean that in the strict sense, which is not restricted to electronics. Digitizing things began when we were able to make any kinds of records whose meaning was very strongly fixed for a context. Memorization and speech would have been the start, but requiring a lot of processes to make sure that the recordings were strong (probably multiple redundancy - many people learning the same thing, and very strong memories), and writing made an enormous stride. So we have recordings on ancient Egyptian artifacts up to 5000 years old, whose meaning is reasonably clearly understood now.

Stories about immortals are also present in most ancient myths - it's an old human obsession. It may be ultimately in vain, that never-ending life is something we may never have, but what we have managed to successfully immortalize is our communications, and in doing so we have done something that I think is incredibly valuable.

I take your point that sometimes all that past knowledge can hold you back or down. Anyone who has said things that they're ashamed of would have good motivation to delete that. Or if they felt that the words could be used against them in some way, perhaps to prove that they had beliefs incompatible with something they were applying to do. I had exactly that come up yesterday, considering a job for the government, I'm pretty sure what I've said online would count me out.

But those kinds of reasons aren't what you're talking about here, are they? It's more some kind of statement that connections to the past can be severed sometimes and doing it is a mighty act of self-determination? I guess so, it's a powerful act, for sure, but I'd hope the reasoning would be good, rather than fickle, to destroy work.

merc said...

Reblogging is the purest form of blogging. Johannes Rand
I found this here, http://thisisnthappiness.com/page/2
These sort of blogs kind of fascinate me, there are many of them, they seem to reblog as a personal statement. Some is NSFW, http://ffffound.com - Tumblr is part of this phenomenon. At first i didn't know what to think, then I was affronted, now I just multi-task (term we use at work for skiving).
LIAS is all my own stuff, with no comments. People do comment to me by PM, and they do follow. I watch the stats but that is pretty odd because it can affect the next thing I work on. Up until now I would produce and blog sequentially, one take stuff.
I was gifted a life drawing class, starting February, it is already affecting me.
I closed LIAS down because it was setup as a memento mori, I felt it had come to pass at a certain date. All the links broke because i deleted a Picassa album.
This version is really LIAS 2, though I notice it is very connected to LIAS 1 ;-)
I don't know where it is going but I have met some great people from round the world. I write this explanation for why I blog to add to Gio's fabulous post and I would also like to say that some comments about blogging go way over my head, but there you are.
Oh, and poetry, I prefer on acid proof paper in books well bound, paintings on canvas, I have sold and am published, LIAS provides no sales for me, but huge amounts of support.
I agree with Rank,
The key to the creative type is that he is separated out of the common pool of shared meanings. There is something in his life experience that makes him take the world as a problem; as a result he has to make personal sense out of it. This holds true for all creative people to a greater or lesser extent, but it is especially obvious with the artist. Existence becomes a problem that needs an ideal answer; but when you no longer accept the collective solution to the problem of existence, then you must fashion your own. The work of art is, then, the ideal answer of the creative type to the problem of existence as he takes it in —not only the existence of the external world, but especially his own: who he is as a painfully separate person with nothing shared to lean on. He has to answer to the burden of his extreme individuation, his so painful isolation… His creative work is at the same time the expression of his heroism and the justification of it. It is his “private religion,” as [Otto] Rank put it.
LIAS allows me to be connected to society, as does my job, and yet pursue my solitary religion. My first book was created and published in isolation, I had another published and then wanted to pursue another medium. LIAS has allowed me to pursue a very singular objective with a daily timeline.
Sorry for the long comment.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Friend, if you start apologising for the long comments I'll have to start apologising for the long post, which is just not going to happen.

There is something in his life experience that makes him take the world as a problem;

I wonder if this is true of writing in general.

merc said...

Haha, your posts are not one word too many.
"On a macrocosmic level, the consciousness of living—the dim awareness that we are alive for a moment on this planet as it spins, meaninglessly, around the cold and infinite galaxy—gives human beings "the status of a small god in nature," according to Ernest Becker: "Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still has the gill marks to prove it ... Man is literally split in two: he has awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with" (Becker, 1973, p. 26)."
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Rank
All of us maybe. My own themes are very narrow, but my experience is wide. The internet for me is a quickener of the collective unconscious. How one interprets the information, processes the information, this to me is creativity and I am with the humanist shrinks when they say when are blocked we are uncreative.
I study that block, the internet is a tool that allows me to put my ideas out there, to interact.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Probably. I wasn't sure why you raised Gordon Bell in this context, presumed it was as an exemplar of just how pointless it would be to collect ALL data flowing into the senses of person, and how that displays some kind of bizarre fear of mortality that we are trending towards.

But we were discussing blogs, which are not like that. Since a blog is mostly writings, which are already an abstraction of the thoughts and sensations of the writer(s). They're picking out the bits they think are the most worthy of laying down in written form. Which is no guarantee that they will be interesting, but also no guarantee that they will be impossibly dull either. They've been put into a highly convenient form for searching and indexing, too.


My point about raising Bell was to argue through a limit case for the fact that selection and deletions have a function in relation to both intelligence/reflection and memory. And while it’s true that blogging is a more intelligent form of abstraction than just leaving recording devices on (both are in fact abstractions), within the context of other writerly biographical tools (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and so forth) it can be part of the same overall project of total recall.

In any case, I think the question of why a blog should be archived is pertinent, even if the answer should be found to be yes in the vast majority of cases. I take your point about the value of immortalising communication (although I disagree with it) but one of the most perverse mechanisms of the internet is that it archives nearly all the communication that happens on it by default, and a default behaviour is nearly always dumb. (Besides, the convenience of searching and indexing doesn’t equate to usefulness or indeed desirability. This is related to the argument I made about Timeline last year when Facebook reorganised the personal information of its entire user base – that had never been intended for archiving – into an archive.)

I think merc has made a pretty eloquent case as to why he (briefly) decided to let go of LIAS, but even if he hadn’t I think that the deliberate deletion of such a blog – given its subject matter – ought to legitimise itself. It’s not the same as totalitarian book burning when you’re burning your own book. There is something to be respected and admired there. And like I say, it helps us to think more critically of everybody else’s sensible, default behaviour, including my own.

Giovanni Tiso said...

(And I just as I write that, Twitter throws up One Tweet Pete. Glorious.)

merc said...

I also feel that over-painting sits well in this blog deletion context, and indeed editing poems.
I was a one-take guy. One take poems (still do), drawings (taking a class now) and paintings (fraught). I thought of it like surfing a wave, one wave, draw my lines upon it, go get another one.
Then I discovered over painting. When the canvas painted is painted over. I did this once and it produced totally different results.
Gio's point about archiving by default is a good one. Just because blogger wants to hold your stuff doesn't mean to say that I want them to.

merc said...

One tweet Pete is now a hero of mine.

thoone, not the only one.

Cliff said...

Commas, there are so many.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Are you irritated by the Oxford comma? It's because you haven't come across the Milan comma yet, friend.

Ben Wilson said...

Ultimately, I think it's certainly a powerful statement to unblog. But I can't say it makes me feel really happy when it happens. Lots of people opting to do it speaks to me of large scale disillusionment with themselves and what they have done.

I know a few artists and poets. If I had found out that old Vivian Ballantyne (as one whose art I saw a lot, being friends with her grandson and spending some time in her house) had decided in her late life to walk around her house collecting all the paintings she had done, and then made a bonfire in her backyard with them, it wouldn't fill me with any kind of joy at her powerful statement. It would seem like a shocking, tragic waste.

Similarly if you did the same with this blog. I'm sorry, Gio, but that's just how I feel about it, that liking your work is not obsessive or neurotic, but an appreciation of something good, and I can't get behind the idea that destroying it is fulfilling it's ultimate destiny.

Giovanni Tiso said...

and then made a bonfire in her backyard with them, it wouldn't fill me with any kind of joy at her powerful statement. It would seem like a shocking, tragic waste.

I don't need to speak hypothetically on this one. When merc deleted LIAS it did make sad. I also thought it was an incredibly poignant gesture. That is the extent of what I'm trying to say - that there is meaning in withdrawing your art or your writing or your slice of personal history or whatever it is that you blog about.

We could bring Messrs Brod and Kafka into this, could we not? Maybe I need to organise my thought on this subject a little better.

Ben Wilson said...

Perhaps, or maybe it's not on you to come up with all the answers, and the dialectic found in your comments threads does a big part of that job. To unblog kills that dialectic too.

I don't think it's wrong of you to raise this topic, it's very much worth discussing. Some of it is as much psychological as philosophical (and how can the two ever really be separated, since a philosophy is "core values"). What is it about this kind of destruction that's striking a chord with you?

To be clear, I have no problem with the idea of "ceasing to blog". I'm doing it myself in some contexts. But that's a whole different matter to removing the work itself.

Curious what Kafka references you could bring to bear on this. And how you could reconcile them with the fact that you couldn't even make Kafka references if he had destroyed his work. Certainly from what I've read of him, he's full of the counsel of despair. Brilliantly so. But read "The Great Wall of China", in which he described (I don't know if his description is total fantasy) how something as seemingly endless as the building of that wall could be managed so that the architects would NOT lose hope.

Giovanni Tiso said...

What is it about this kind of destruction that's striking a chord with you?

I tried to say it in a few different ways, I think I'm not quite getting the point across - which is why I think I'll try to tackle this in a post. It's a line I've pursued before and that I'll continue to pursue over time.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Blogs are just electronic thoughts, created and dissipated in an instant. Maybe Blogs are about the Blogger not the Blog-reader. Maybe Blogs are to be ignored, aspired to or surpassed with freedom of choice. Thank you for an interesting Blog :)

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