On blogging pre-history

11 10 2010

I just had to repost this:

Montaigne’s essays can be meandering, yes, and often only tangentially related to their supposed themes. He filled them with anecdotes and examples collected from classical literature but also stories he got from friends and the peasants on his estate. In this and other qualities, he probably had more influence on the free-form English essay than on the lofty, abstraction-prone style of Académie française-sanctioned French. And even back in the day, people complained that he shared too much trivial detail, such as his preference for white wine over red; “Who the hell wants to know what he liked?” one crabby scholar retorted. In the 19th century, Montaigne’s candid discussion of carnal matters led concerned editors to produce a bowdlerized version of his works, more suitable for the tender minds of young ladies.

In short, Montaigne was accused of every sin attributed to today’s memoirists and bloggers, whose literary great-grandfather he is. Nevertheless, you will find “Essays” in every one of those collections of great books you used to be able to buy by the set, bound in “full genuine leather,” with gold lettering. This suggests that the line between trash and literature may be less firmly drawn than some would have us believe, a notion that would probably please Montaigne himself. Or perhaps the real lesson here is that it doesn’t really matter what you write about, provided that you do it well.

I suppose I have lately tried to be too “high-brow” to the point of being pretentious. Maybe I should start posting pictures of my cats, reflections on my favorite T.V. shows, and AG’s recipes for gumbo and red beans and rice. Or maybe not. But perhaps I will be more understanding of people who do that style of blogging.


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13 responses

18 10 2010
Charles Curtis

I quatrieme it. Montaigne, Lacan, folk religion, ballet and gumbo. What could be better, or make more synergistic sense?

13 10 2010
KarlH

Leah:

That’s true. I guess a big issue of the archival process and subsequent building-of-current-history by later generations is the sound-noise ratio.

13 10 2010
The Singular Observer

I third it….

13 10 2010
Leah

KarlH:

This is only helpful is Google is still around in 100+ years. Given the quick rise and fall of Internet-based companies there’s no reason to think that it will be. Many of the early sites that used to be hosted on geocities and other similar services are gone because Yahoo, et. al pulled the plug on them. Besides, Google is not in the business of archiving our Internet history. The Library of Congress is archiving the contents of Twitter, which is a good start, but that’s still not much compared to what’s already been lost.

13 10 2010
KarlH

Google caches almost everything.

12 10 2010
Leah

It will be harder. Digital communication is inherently ephemeral. Although there has been a lot of handwringing about the idea that stuff that gets posted online never disappears, that’s not entirely true. The problem in this instance is that digital information is easily replicated in a way that is not possible for traditional media. However, a site, blog, or video that is up one hour can disappear in the next. For example, there is only one copy of the Reditus blog. If Arturo gets bored with blogging tomorrow and decides to take it down, there’s no way for it to ever be replicated, unless someone out that there is archiving the blog on a day to day basis. So if a future researcher wants to learn about the early 21st century Catholic blogosphere, there probably won’t be any actual specimens to examine. Think how many blogs have come and gone just in the last two or three years. In comparison, physically instantiated objects persist over time until some outside force (e.g., fire, flood, insects, human error) destroys them. Thus, it’s possible to still find caches of ancient manuscripts, statues, and codexes from antiquity and use them, whereas a pile of 5.5 floppy disks from twenty years ago are probably going to remain unreadable unless you happen to have the exact hardware and software needed to read it.

12 10 2010
Christopher

Is it too off-topic to wonder if digitized communication will make it easier or harder, in the long run, to track written culture?

12 10 2010
Robert Hiyane

Post the Gumbo recipe

12 10 2010
KarlH

As a starving college student who’s sick of second-rate cafeteria food at a Jesuit school, I second this.

12 10 2010
Leah

From an archival perspective, blogs are an excellent source of information about life in the early 21st century precisely because they go into so much detail. Unfortunately, because people tend to take down their blogs the minute they get bored with them, they have short life spans. Even web sites of important historical events (e.g., Olympics, presidential elections, World Cup) disappear pretty quickly. So the next time one of you complains about liturgical dancing or whatever on your blog, remember that some researcher from the 25th century might be looking at it one day too.

11 10 2010
walt

Maybe some more of your thoughts on TV shows like Mad Men which you posted on a number of weeks ago.

11 10 2010
jacobus

“AG’s recipes for gumbo and red beans and rice”

Yes.

11 10 2010
Norton

I suppose what I don’t understand, Arturo, is why you (or anyone else) would bother to be bothered by or criticize anyone who blogs in any kind of style whatsoever. The internet and blogging is a medium of communication and human beings communicate all kinds of information. A newspaper has editorials, essays, news, crime notices, comics, obituaries and wedding notices. And gumbo recipes. Why should the “blogosphere” be any different and why should anyone care?

There are people who blog car reviews. There are cooking blogs. Blogs about homeschooling. About cats. About pictures of cats. Blogs about politics, purses and blogs on holy cards and life in convents and medieval history. And chocolate and Dancing with the Stars.

WHO CARES? People communicate. They talk about various topics, they write about them in various fora. What’s to “understand?” It’s just human communication.

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