Friday, March 18, 2005


The problem with getting away from the blogosphere for any protracted length of time is that you become viscerally aware of how petty and meaningless a place it is, an ever-expanding realm of voices that requires an increasing share of one's precious free time just to keep up with. The overall effect is for each blog to seem more and more like an infinitesimal part of the larger whole, little fragments of thought and speech that only seem to make sense in the aggregate when a particularly noteworthy idea (I loathe the word "meme") is linked out of obscurity and rises briefly to the blogosphere's surface for all to see, admire, and comment upon before it inevitably sinks back into the cacophonous mire.

In this way individual blogs aren't really all that interesting in and of themselves. There has been much virtual ink spilled over the blogosphere's ability to fact-check the mainstream media - the most infamous recent example being Dan Rather's ass being handed to him by a legion of bloggers who debunked the authenticity of the so-called Killian memo - but again if there's any joy in such an enterprise it manifests itself as the sum total of blogging and not in the tedious line-by-line "fisking" (another term I deplore) and a level of nitpicking that would make even a Byzantine philologist blush. Sure, it's a fascinating process, but one that is also somewhat nauseating as well - like a flies swarming on a nugget of dogshit or maggots eating their way through a corpse...

Okay that was gross, but you get the idea. The fact-checking capabilities of the internet only really work in the aggregate, and even then it's not the most fun to participate in or even watch after a little bit. Again to haul out the philological analogy, it's similar to the painstaking work done by a German Hellenist in the 18th or 19th Century who spent his entire life documenting the various permutations of a single word or particle throughout the corpus of Ancient Greek literature. While on the one hand you're eternally grateful for the man's contribution to your field, on the other the mind revolts at the thought that someone could dedicate himself to something so seemingly trivial.

I guess this is why I always ended up gravitating towards "big picture" studies in my academic career, as having sidled right up to the brink of the abyss that is graduate study in the Classics I saw a lifetime of hairsplitting for hairsplitting's sake and withdrew to something that had its own meaning even when detached from the whole. While I don't mind appearing here and as part of the commentariat of a select few blogs to vent my spleen every now and then, the idea of dedicating myself to fisking the thoughts and ideas of others (or worse, "pod-fisking" [i.e., responding to an audio clip point by point in an audio broadcast of your own, an idea that sounds cutting edge until one remembers that Andy Rooney has been doing exactly that on 60 Minutes for the past three decades or so] a la Jeff Jarvis, who is also the brainchild of such terms as "citizens' media" and the uber-creepy "volksmedia" in an effort to try and rename the blogosphere) leaves me with the same empty feeling that made me reject a career as a classicist.

But I don't want to give the impression that this is some kind of "Dear John" post. I like my blog just fine, and will continue to write here as the spirit moves me. As time goes on, however, I'm finding myself less and less interested in the minutiae that drives other bloggers - even the ones I still enjoy reading. I don't want to be just another fly on the turd, but something different altogether. Call me a humanist in this regard, a fool who believes that despite the millions of separate iterations of the exact same sentiments in the previous sentence by other bloggers my voice is nevertheless somehow unique and has its own existential heft.

I don't want this blog to have meaning only when integrated over the slope of the blogosphere's curve but first and foremost qua itself; I don't want to be an infinitesimal component of Jeff Jarvis' volksmedia but something finite and tangible on its own; I don't want to be just another fact or opinion-checking cog in the World Wide Web of fisking but an oasis of my own thoughts, an outpost of individuality in a universe more concerned with linkability than originality. Mind you, I do not begrudge the blogosphere its capacities to do the things it does, as it does them well - much better than traditional media insofar as it is self-correcting to the nth degree, whereas the former is perhaps checked once these days if at all. That's just not why I'm here.

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