Sunday, May 07, 2006
All My Communities Are Hermitages
(The bulk of an earlier version of this entry began as a private email message, and it should have stayed that way. Posting it was the worst mistake I can remember making in my years of offline and online publishing, and my having made such a mistake here may serve as proem to the portion that remains.)
... But you see the irony, right? Both parties caught in a more-unseeable-than-thou standoff; both trying to play God with Clifton Webb's voice and James Joyce's nailfile?
And then there's me.
What am I doing here if not expressing "the genuinely political ambition... to resolve confused debates... to offer oneself as referee or judge, to negate oneself as subject involved in the field, but only to resurface 'far from the madding crowd', with the irreproachable appearance of an objective, transcendant subject"?
A closer reader than I deserve might have noticed that I tend to use "In fact" to begin a statement which is, in fact, wholly hypothetical. As in, "In fact, I intend to give you a book on this very subject — and a pony!" Earning the stakes to put on the table takes too much time. We can be so much more productive if we refuse to wait that long — if we just react, or attack, or counterattack. This pattern — I'll call it the O'Reilly Factor — has been a tragicomic characteristic of blog punditry since Dave Winer. No one can combine weighty dignity with sprezzatura. You either make a choice or take a lot of pratfalls.
So I'll make a choice. I'll be here for the remainder of the week to help with maintenance chores and so forth, but this is my last post as a member of the Valve's contributor list. Too many of my "contributions" have taken the form of a comment like "That wasn't very helpful." To which the only sensible reply is "Well, that wasn't very helpful either!" I still support all the goals I discussed with John Holbo before the site started. But for more than a year my "support" has consisted of good intentions, and good intentions aren't enough to effect such ambitions.
Maybe some day I'll have better to offer. In the meantime, I'll still drop in as a visitor, and I hope you'll occasionally drop in at my place.
Ray is my favorite valve contributor. I’m sorry to see him go though I’ll continue to read him at his own site.
I’m terribly sorry you’re leaving too, Ray. It’s a bad loss for the Valve.
The trouble with trying to make peace in pointless online fights is that the people engaging in them are, by and large, enjoying it. (I was going to go on and say “By ‘pointless’ I mean...”—but fuck it, seriously; next sentence.) Such fights are only a problem for people—whether participants or onlookers—who don’t enjoy it. In the same way, when skaters discover that the community park is a great place for skating, no one wants to be the asshole who agitates to ban skating in the park but many of them still privately wish there were not quite so many skaters everywhere, constantly. With this sort of opt-in community the loud overpower the quiet, the aggressive and mobile muscle out the timid and sedentary, and you can’t really change those dynamics without either handing out pills or imposing huge, impersonal constraints.
The fantasy of anonymity and depersonalization makes a good set of blinders: some people simply like to fight with words, some don’t; there’s no leveling factor derived from shared technology. Nor from a shared affection for open spaces. But you can’t predict that divergence from the start: it’s an emergent community property. And yeah, this seemed like an unhappy marriage for you, but I don’t know how happy polygamy on this scale ever is. I am tempted to say that I’d rather read your snark than most people’s earnestness—but only so you can reply that that isn’t very helpful. Alas, enjoyment often isn’t.
The best thing about your posts is the sophistication of their language, wrought to reveal meaning rather than brandishing it: one can find plenty of ineffective peacemakers anywhere, but none of them write as well as you do. You’ll be missed.
When one is engaged in pushing the boundaries of what a blog can be (not what a blog can do or address or talk about, but be), a group blog—filled, as they too often tend to be, with bloggers—is bound to be an awkward fit.
Thank you all. I have mixed feelings under the circumstances, but gratitude’s up front.
For those who aren’t familiar with Jonathan Mayhew’s site, I recommend a headfirst dive. He and his peers are responsible not just for some of the most interesting weblogs around but for a velvet revolution in the sociology of poetry. It’s like what Andrew Schelling and Benjamin Friedlander were trying to do with Jimmy & Lucy’s House of “K" except unstoppable.
As pica anticipated, I do feel compelled to add to her comment. (I don’t think I’m arguing, just adding.) The would-be compromiser isn’t more naturally saintly than the would-be revolutionary or the would-be defender of right. My preference for informal essay and earnestly fanciful conversation over reviews and debates is a personal ethic, not a community ethic. (It doesn’t scale.) And, speaking for myself, I hold full (more or less, pprrpffrrppffff) as much conflict, ego, resentment, and desire for control as any little green rage-quivering football. Despite that, I do want to write stuff that certain types of people find entertaining, and pica’s compliment is manna to my soul.
(Pica probably recognizes my illustration, but to give the joke away to everyone else: In a series of long spell-binding speeches to Coconino County, Panchita Paloma explains that the brick must be discarded, the JAIL must be dismantled, and, above all, the central source of discord and violence, Krazy Kat, must be eradicated. In the last panel, we see Paloma boarding a train, Ignatz in JAIL, Offisa Pupp reflecting “That little ‘peace dove’ sure spoke his piece pretty, didn’t he?”, and Krazy answering “He sure did—all except wot he said about ‘bricks’”. My religion forbids approval of Paloma.)
Adam—jesus, man. And I don’t use those words lightly.
I don’t really participate here but I too am sorry to see you go.