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    I'm kinda desperately offline these days. So many emails to send, and no internet at home. I keep winding up at the local wirelessly enabled cafe.

    Anyway, linkage:

    Michael Bérubé talks about the new Harry Potter. Just kidding. He talks about Harry Potter in general, and how it helps kids (specifically, his own child - who has Down syndrome) understand narrative, and become better readers. He hasn't read the new one.

    Acephalous has a review of Sicko, the new Michael Moore film, here, to which Michael Moore himself might actually have responded (check the comments for the username "Kaye"), saying, among other things, that he wants people to pirate the film and show it to as many people as possible. A video of the first hour of Sicko is here. I'm trying to download the rest off eMule, but it's impolite to download big things on an unsecured wireless unless it's your own. So I don't do that much, here, at the Café Sans Wîré. But soon, soon.

    Sicko, for the first hour, at least, seems to be an excellent piece of propaganda, as usual. (And I mean propaganda in the nicest possible way.) Near the end he gets into an attack on the irrational fear of socialised government programs, which is a big problem even in socialist-democrat countries like Norway. Unfortunately, that's where the video cuts off. I'd like to have seen the continuation.

    I like what Moore is doing, and suspect that he may do more to advance the cause of socialism

    (cue Russian marching band music, Red Army Choir singing in background, huge armies walking in lockstep across parade grounds, grain, tractors, happy farmers, ICBMs, social "realist" murals, etc.)

    across the US and Europe. Nudging a whole lot of people closer to accepting some socialist programs. Like, y'know, welfare, universal healthcare, etc. And once we get there, it's only a matter of time before we start talking about the avantgardistic elite taking over the management of the state, temporarily of course guaranteed minimum income and education reform.


    German scientists have succeeded in cutting the HIV virus out of human cells. Unsurprisingly, the new treatment depends on development of stem-cell research.


    "John, we've forgotten to take our food pills."

    I demand a better future

    I just found William Gibson's old short story "The Gernsback Continuum" online. There's some trouble with the formatting in my browser, and it runs straight into the next story without linebreaks (the last line is "my little bundle of
    condensed catastrophe" and then it goes straight into the next one) but the text is all there. Here's another version, which is better-looking, but has an introduction which is not in the original and which loads very slowly on my computer.

    Reading it now, Gibson's early style is way, way over the top. Part of what I always liked best about the Sprawl trilogy was his baroque, lyrical descriptions of his dirty future (his later novels are much more conversational in tone). In his early short stories, though, the style mostly doesn't work. But this one, the Gernsback Continuum, must be one of the most intriguing works of sci-fi from the last century. It tells the story of a photographer who is given an assignment to photograph futuristic architecture from the fifties and earlier. As he starts the assignment, he goes crazy (or perhaps actually comes in contact with alternate presents), and starts seeing the imagined futures of the past in his daily life. Hilarity and postmodern, existential emptiness ensues.

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    Tue Andersen Nexø har et godt svar til Bendik Wolds artikkel her. Og ellers så er det her man går for siste nytt i denne utrolig spennende debatten.


    Lovink replies

    Geert Lovink replied to my runaway post on "Cultural Pessimism and Pragmatic Optimism", which was a reply to his article "Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse".

    hi, as an activist i really do not get your obsession with 'cultural pessimism'. to me it just shows that you are unfamiliar with my work and position and confuse ruthless (self) analysis with some projected melancholic mood. to me blogs are first and foremost software, or to be more precise, a specific software culture that needs to be compared with email, usenet, web forums and so on. we activists and artists and other irregulars are not married to one specific format or platform. the other idea is, of course, that blogging emerges from a certain tendency in society, it is NOT a non-historical tool that is out there, somewhere and that can be used for optimistic or pessimistic causes.

    Best, Geert

    PS. if you would have used a search engine you would have found that I do indeed have a blog, was involved an early collaborative blogging and webforum experiment called Discordia and that I more than once called myself a radical pragmatist.
    First: thank you for commenting, Geert! I was hoping you would stop by.

    I did (and do!) indeed use search engines, but Google shows a part of your blog (net critique) which made me think it was somebody else's blog commenting on your article. So it goes. And if my post showed you that I was unfamiliar with your work, it's unsurprising, because I am. But then, familiarity with your work and position should not be a requirement for commenting on a single article by you.

    But I think you might have misread my disagreement with you. I certainly never said and obviously do not think (if you are familiar with my work & positions, wink wink) that the blog is an ahistorical phenomenon. We do not disagree about the need to historicise. Our disagreement is more on what shape the historification should take, and to what pragmatic ends. I'm glad that you're still inclined after your critique to use the internet for activism, I just think that maybe your essay might make such activism more, rather than less, difficult.

    Let me pull some specific critiques out of my response, which I would like to hear your response to:

    1. You wrote: "I see blogs as part of an unfolding process of 'massification' of this still new medium. What the Internet lost after 2000 was the 'illusion of change'." Am I reading this right in thinking that you are saying the internet is not a massive shift in what our culture is and what it does?

    2. You also react to the irrelevance of blogging. Isn't this irrelevance, as someone who seems [says Google] to sympathise with anarchist ideals, precisely the point? Isn't the fact that we can say things which are outside the capitalist machines - the printing presses, the demand for marketability, etc. - precisely the point?

    3. I claim that: "[Lovink] does not allow blogs to enact the difference he claims that they eradicate, because he describes in homogenic terms a heterogeneous phenomenon." In the introduction to your article, you seem to agree that blogs are heterogenous & hard to describe under single terms, but you still try to put blogs in general under the expansive, nihilist position you describe later in the essay. How do you reconcile this difference in the phenomenon with homogenic terms like for instance "nihilist"? Isn't the proliferation of modes of blogging a counter-argument in itself?

    4. You say that "It would be interesting to investigate why criticism has not become popular, and aligned itself with such new-media practices as blogging". I disagree that this is the case, and in fact find a new culture of criticism - literary, cultural, political, philosophical, theoretical - to be one of the most marked elements of what I think are the interesting bits of the blogging culture.

    But the major faultline in our disagreement is still that between pessimism and optimism. I write in my original post that: "There is a claim [in Baudrillard, and your article] of celebrating a difference and subjectivity now lost, but at the same time there is an attack on the material conditions necessary to allow real difference to be actualised and flourish, coupled with what amounts to an attack on actual difference in the world today, because it is not 'real', not 'genuine' enough." In short: I think that you are attacking a tool which can allow us to actualise cultural and political difference.

    Back to historicising: I suspect that your line of thought will participate in the (historical) shaping of the tool. By attacking something with a lot of possibility, you end up with an attempt at taking apart something which we (you and me and other blogger-activists) could use to do something with. Why not have an optimistic, utopian redescription, instead of what I would call a pessimistic reductive argument which falls against the tool? I think that when you try to read blogging as emerging and expressing these tendencies in culture, you are being reductive. It's too much a huge and complex and emergent phenomenon to describe like this. I suspect our energies would be better spent criticising those aspects of the culture which gave birth to what you see as the negative side of blogs than the blogs themselves. They are articulating and articulated, right? I would rather focus on their articulating capacity than one aspect of their articulation.

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    Og i øvrig så anbefaler jeg alle å lese Mikkels fine tekst om Obiora og strukturell rasisme her. Og i øvrig forrige avsnitt i historien her.

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    Rorty & radikalismen

    Endre Begby skriver en helt streit og grei nekrolog over Rorty i Morgenbladet idag (krever abonnement). Jeg har bare en enkelt bemerkning. Begby skriver:

    Der hans til­nær­ming til den teo­re­tis­ke fi­lo­so­fi­en er ra­di­kal er hans til­nær­ming til den po­li­tis­ke fi­lo­so­fi­en ut­pre­get mo­de­rat.

    Sær­lig det­te var en skuf­fel­se for hans nye le­ser­ska­re. Mot dem som øns­ket å bru­ke hans filosofikritikk til å ut­vin­ne en mer dypt­gå­en­de si­vi­li­sa­sjons­kri­tikk, valg­te Ror­ty å frem­stil­le seg selv som en traust, nes­ten kje­de­lig venstreliberaler. Rory ut­tryk­te stor skep­sis mot de på venst­re­si­den som men­te å kun­ne spo­re da­gens po­li­tis­ke pro­ble­mer til­ba­ke til det de så som den vest­li­ge si­vi­li­sa­sjo­nens un­der­lig­gen­de kor­rup­te ver­di­sett.

    Ror­ty frem­he­vet i ste­det de re­el­le men­nes­ke­li­ge frem­skrit­te­ne som de vest­li­ge po­li­tis­ke in­sti­tu­sjo­ne­ne har brakt med seg. Det­te er ikke å si at det ikke fin­nes dypt­gå­en­de pro­ble­mer i da­gens sam­funn. Det er å si at dis­se pro­ble­me­ne ikke er av fi­lo­so­fisk art. Vi li­der av en mang­len­de so­li­da­ri­tet med våre med­men­nes­ker, ikke en dår­lig po­li­tisk fi­lo­so­fi. Når det gjel­der å øke vår vil­je til å ta del i and­re men­nes­kers li­del­se er det ikke gitt at det er fi­lo­so­fi­en som er best eg­net. Ror­ty an­ty­der at han ser mer håp i «genres such as ethnography, the jour­na­list’s re­port, the comic book, the docudrama, and, especially, the novel».
    Min innvending er bare at selv om Rorty selv er en ganske traust og grei politisk venstreliberal, så tror jeg det er en stor feil å tro at hans filosofi ikke kan brukes til å utvinne en sterk, venstreradikal politisk kritikk. Ikke minst fordi høyreliberalismen hviler på de størrelsene Rorty er på sitt sterkeste når han river ned.

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    Klassekampen (5. klasse vs. administrasjonen)

    Vår nye leilighet ligger rett ved en skole. Hver morgen og hver ettermiddag går en flokk unger forbi rett utenfor vinduene våre.

    Igår hadde to ca. 10-åringer den følgende samtalen idet de gikk forbi:

    - Og så sa jeg til ham at jeg trakk mine konklusjoner ut fra hans handlemåte, og at jeg ikke forsto hvorfor han sa ting han ikke mente.

    - Men kommer administrasjonen til å trekke frem den episoden senere?


    I'm back in Oslo now, where I'm going to spend the next couple of weeks working on our new apartment. Yesterday, I ripped up carpeting and tore down a huge old closet in the bedroom. Today, I'm using a steam gun to remove wallpaper. While slightly less manly, this too must be done. Everything is a mess and we sleep on mattresses in the kitchen, but the new place is fantastic.

    Anyway, the point is, we don't have internet access. So updates are probably going to be fairly sporadic for a while. I'm also going to be difficult to reach by email. I do occasionally check martin.gruner.larsen alfalfa-curlythingy gmail.com on my mobile phone, so that's your best bet. Otherwise you can just call me, I guess. Or ring my doorbell.

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    As he Pleased

    Frank Kermode has written a lovely article on George Orwell's columns for The Tribune. It's in the latest New York Review of Books. It's not available online, I'm afraid.

    I think I might have said this before, but whenever I have a look at Orwell's As I Please-columns, I'm struck by the similarity in approach to bloggers I read. These texts might be the closest I've come to finding blog-like texts in pre-digital literature. Casual observations, notes, sketches and ideas from the margins of his novels. He started writing them during WWII and it feels occasionally like reading a Riverbend-style "witness"-blog written by a British belle-lettristic intellectual during the 1940's. Lots of literary references and sketches of everyday life, but with the constant threat of blitz bombs, firestorms and V2 rockets.

    ...But the blog-thing really isn't the most interesting thing about these texts. The most interesting thing about them is that they're excellent. They're well-written, well-argued and you should read them. There's about 80 of them.


    Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot. Bruce Schneier is, as always, a pillar of sense.
    Terrorism is a real threat, and one that needs to be addressed by appropriate means. But allowing ourselves to be terrorized by wannabe terrorists and unrealistic plots -- and worse, allowing our essential freedoms to be lost by using them as an excuse -- is wrong.


    jack of all trades, master of arts*

    Well, I'm officially unemployed after having my final exam in the world ever today.

    I'm supposed to do this thing where I'm all coy and pretend like grades don't matter, it's showing up that counts etc. but I got top marks, and if I told you I was anything less than euphorically proud about it, I'd be lying.

    So... Anyone looking to hire a liberal arts major or a professional dishwasher? I cook, I clean, I interpret complex texts.

    * Sorry, Gaute.

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    Too Much Heidegger

    I received the news in an email almost exactly a year ago. As so often in recent years, Rorty voiced his resignation at the "war president" Bush, whose policies deeply aggrieved him, the patriot who had always sought to "achieve" his country. After three or four paragraphs of sarcastic analysis came the unexpected sentence: " Alas, I have come down with the same disease that killed Derrida." As if to attenuate the reader's shock, he added in jest that his daughter felt this kind of cancer must come from "reading too much Heidegger."
    -- Jürgen Habermas in an obituary of Rorty
    Well, amen to that. I know I'd die of something if I sat down to read Heidegger. It's a very nice obit. Habermas and Rorty were friends and each others best critics for most of their lives.

    More things one can read and listen to by Rorty:

    Here's a series of lectures and radio shows with Rorty. And here's a conversation between him, Hilary Putnam and James Conant. In both of these, just search the page for Rorty to find the right link.

    Here's an essay by him called "Trotsky and Wild Orchids", a very funny personal essay which tracks his own development as a thinker through his Freudian obsession with orchids as a child.

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    Here's an essay by Richard Rorty which is online in its entirety. It's called "Naturalism and Quietism", and I haven't read it yet, so I have no idea what it's about.

    This photo I took in Vigelandsparken, which I called "Punishment", has been viewed 11.640 times. That's - in technical terms - absolutely insane. That's ten times more than any other photo I've taken, despite nobody having favorited it (and why not? It's a perfectly cromulent shot). I'm having a little trouble understanding why, though. It's a member of two very large pools, which shouldn't make much of a difference, and I've only linked to it from my blog once. So why has it become so popular? Is it being used by some other page, perhaps?


    Her og her diskuterer og saboterer man Wolds artikkel om samtidspoesien.

    Og dessuten nye nummer av nypoesi.

    warm globally, cool locally

    Day before yesterday, the temperature fell from 29C to 14C in an hour and a half, a drop of nearly 50%. Today, the temperature is 9C. A temperature which could easily be accepted as an ordinary day in December. That's 6 months ago, for those of you who are counting.

    I'm liking this global climate change thing less by the minute.

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    And here's a good obituary of Richard Rorty in the NY Times.


    Here's a nice photograph of Richard Rorty looking grumpy. Holy eyebrows, Batman.

    Krutt & kanoner

    Det diskuteres kanon chez Ellefsen. Her er en kjapp opprissing av mine synspunkter:

    kanon er ikke kun en estetisk størrelse, men også en politisk. Det vi snakker om her er egentlig to forskjellige ting. Det ene er det som vi i andre sammenhenger kaller sjangerforventninger, dvs. det diskursive feltet som presenterer teksten til lesning. Det andre er en politisk rangering som legitimerer en nasjonal og kulturell identitet. Personlig finner jeg tanken om at noen kan sette seg ned og bestemme hvilke bøker som er viktige for meg svært utiltalende. Hvem valgte dem? Snakker de på vegne av alle?

    Kort sagt: Jeg finner en del motstand mot kanons normative egenskaper. Argumentative kanoner, som prøver å argumentere for sine valg uten universaliserende terrorisme a la Bloom har jeg dog sansen for. Men det kaller vi jo med dagligtalen litteraturkritikk og er noe helt annet.


    Joda, f, det er noen kritikere som er kanoniserende normative. Men den typen kritikk er kjedelig. [Whoops. Der var jeg visst normativ.] Jeg foretrekker de kritikerne som har en kjerne av feilbarlighet. Dem som sier at dette er _min_ mening om hvilke bøker som bør leses og at jeg ville foretrukket om du likte noen av disse, du også.

    Og om jeg får lov til å tenke nykritisk et øyeblikk, så er jeg ikke så interessert i hva det var Lillehammerkanonene siktet på når de skrev kanon (mange bra folk på den listen, altså). Et langt mer interessant spørsmål er: hva er konsekvensene av kanon? Er det ikke å skape en ide om hva den norske kulturen er? Er den ideen ikke normativ, regulerende? Jo.

    Blooms estetiske kanon er kulturell og derfor også terroriserende. Den inneholder en ide om hva kulturen bør være. Bloom er ikke åpen for at hans kanon er netopp *hans* kanon. Nei, det er Den Vestlige Kanon, store bokstaver. Hvorfor tror du at de konservative i USA (de normalt konservative, altså, ikke nykonservative) har trykket Bloom til brystet?

    Jeg spør meg selv hva vi skal vinne med å diskutere kanon. Kan vi virkelig komme frem til en bedre kultur på den måten? Eller inneholder alle bedre kulturer denne regelen i sin grunnstruktur: At normativitet ikke kan være et trekk ved dens deskriptive tekster?

    Og dessuten så er estetikk og politikk to sider av samme sak. Du kan aldri skille de to. Både i forstanden at alle estetiske dommer deltar i et politisk felt (det betyr noe, politisk, om man liker f.eks. Dag Solstad eller Hanne Ørstavik) og politikken er i bunn og grunn et sett med verdidommer som oversettes til praktiske regler. Et annet ord for verdidommer er estetiske dommer.
    Jeg burde i øvrig legge til at jeg liker Blooms kanon. Jeg syns den er god, og mange av verkene er også på min kanon-liste. Men han er bare så satans skråsikker og liksom-objektiv.

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    Richard Rorty (1931-2007)

    Richard Rorty died yesterday from pancreatic cancer.

    I don't really know what to say. Rorty is probably the thinker who has influenced me the most. I first read him in Ralph Jewell's amazing seminars on the poetics of science when I took a grunnfag in philosophy. When I was re-reading him for my MA thesis, I became acutely aware of how much his thinking had seeped into the foundations of my world-view.

    For more about Rorty, you can actually just check out the last couple of paragraphs of the previous post.


    Some places to start with Rorty.

    First, try reading this introduction to Consequences of Pragmatism from 1981. Here, Rorty gives a brief outline of how pragmatists think, and what the consequences of that position is. It's a good place to begin, and it's a way of determining if you like Rorty's whole approach to philosophy. I think one should not completely assimilate Rorty, and take all things which he say to heart. He is fuzzy on a lot of practical issues, and simplifies a lot of problems (possibly for rhetorical reasons - he is an eminently rhetorical philosopher). The most important thing one should take from him is the basic approach, I think. The way he makes things contingent and takes the consequences of a godless world to their last stop, and tries to create a practical philosophy in that position. He refuses throughout his bibliography to say that he is right, that he speaks the truth, and that this does not mean that he cannot make ethical judgements:

    Pragmatists think that the history of attempts to isolate the True or the Good, or to define the word "true" or "good," supports their suspicion that there is no interesting work to be done in this area. It might, of course, have turned out otherwise. People have, oddly enough, found something interesting to say about the essence of Force and the definition of "number." They might have found something interesting to say about the essence of Truth. But in fact they haven't. The history of attempts to do so, and of criticisms of such attempts, is roughly coextensive with the history of that literary genre we call "philosophy"-a genre founded by Plato. So pragmatists see the Platonic tradition as having outlived its usefulness. This does not mean that they have a new, non-Platonic set of answers to Platonic questions to offer, but rather that they do not think we should ask those questions any more. When they suggest that we not ask questions about the nature of Truth and Goodness, they do not invoke a theory about the nature of reality or knowledge or man which says that "there is no such thing" as Truth or Goodness. Nor do they have a "relativistic" or "subjectivist" theory of Truth or Goodness. They would simply like to change the subject. They are in a position analogous to that of secularists who urge that research concerning the Nature, or the Will, of God does not get us anywhere. Such secularists are not saying that God does not exist, exactly; they feel unclear about what it would mean to affirm His existence, and thus about the point of denying it. Nor do they have some special, funny, heretical view about God. They just doubt that the vocabulary of theology is one we ought to be using. Similarly, pragmatists keep trying to find ways of making anti-philosophical points in non-philosophical language. For they face a dilemma if their language is too unphilosophical, too "literary," they will be accused of changing the subject; if it is too philosophical it will embody Platonic assumptions which will make it impossible for the pragmatist to state the conclusion he wants to reach.
    And also the following, oft-quoted passage:

    Suppose that Socrates was wrong, that we have not once seen the Truth, and so will not, intuitively, recognise it when we see it again. This means that when the secret police come, when the torturers violate the innocent, there is nothing to be said to them of the form "There is something within you which you are betraying. Though you embody the practices of a totalitarian society which will endure forever, there is something beyond those practices which condemns you." This thought is hard to live with, as is Sartre's remark:

    Tomorrow, after my death, certain people may decide to establish fascism, and the others may be cowardly or miserable enough to let them get away with it. At that moment, fascism will be the truth of man, and so much the worse for us. In reality, things will be as much as man has decided they are.

    This hard saying brings out what ties Dewey and Foucault, James and Nietzsche, together- the sense that there is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves, no criterion that we have not created in the course of creating a practice, no standard of rationality that is not an appeal to such a criterion, no rigorous argumentation that is not obedience to our own conventions.

    If you want to read a book-length work, Contingency Irony and Solidarity is probably the best introduction to his thinking. It's a very easily read, deceptively simple book. The argument of the book is basically an attack on foundationalist conceptions of language, self and community (a negative project); followed by an attempt to construct political and personal possibilities after taking those conceptions apart (a positive project).

    First, he attempts to think of the language we use not as a device becoming better and better suited to the world around us, but as a tool for interaction with other human beings. Second, the idea of the self becomes an attempt at redescription of culture in a historical setting. Third, the idea of community becomes a rhetorical element. A set of arguments and descriptions of how certain institutions and ideas of community arose.

    In chapter 4, he lays out the political possibilities for the ironist mindset which arises from these contingencies. The ironist is the personality Rorty has the most respect for. A humanist who is never quite able to take himself entirely serious, and is therefore never sure of his own rightness. These people are easily convinced of the right of other people to express their own ways of life, and hard to convince that certain rules should be made to be unbreakable and non-negotiable.

    Next follows some readings of cranky old continental philosophers and Derrida, and readings of authors Proust, Nabokov and Orwell of which particularly the Orwell chapter is interesting. There, he basically argues that one of the lessons to take from Orwell is that characters like O'Brien in 1984 are possible. That we might at one point step off the wheel of history at the wrong place, and that one should never give up the diurnal struggle. All it takes is one bad generation before the torturers come knocking. And this is the vision which Rorty attempt to create an apparatus to prevent, O'Brien's vision of history. As an intellectual of the party, he can say the words with a straight face, as something to be desired: "If you want a
    picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever."

    And as Winston pleads with him to convince him that such a society is impossible, he appeals to the Spirit of Man, and O'Brien tells him that if Winston is a man, he is the last one. That he is about to become extinct.

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    Cultural pessimism and pragmatic optimism

    I’m sorry for the long-windedness, but what follows is an incredibly long post which I’ve been sort of writing by accumulation, a line here, a paragraph there, since at least February. Now it’s just been sitting on my hard drive for three weeks and Baudrillard shuffled off this unreal mortal coil and Lovink just got quoted about his view of blogs in Morgenbladet, so it has some topical urgency, so I might as well just post it. But it is a bit of a patchwork creature.

    Ok, so let’s talk a bit about cultural pessimism. As I mentioned in a previous post, the thing I found most useless about the thinking of Jean Baudrillard was his constant pessimism. Surely, one would think, the first task of any branch of theory or philosophy is to create working conditions and conceptual frameworks for praxis. If a theory doesn’t help you live your life in some way, or doesn’t lead on into something which is helpful to you in some way, then it is by definition not worth spending time on. (Though it might be interesting pursuing it, if one thinks it might eventually lead to something useful, or even if one thinks it’s merely interesting, one should pursue it. Often, something which one thought was unimportant or mostly irrelevant turns out to be important and practically useful 80 years down the line, like for instance matrix mathematics. This is the short version of the defence of basic research in the natural sciences, without which we wouldn’t have the theory of relativity or the atomic bomb.) Obviously, there should be as wide a range of possible values of “helpful” or “your life”, but in the end, if a philosophical system makes you want to lie down and die, or sit in your office and smoke cigarillos all day, while writing incomprehensible essays on how things used to be so much realer, then that would seem to me to be the definition of bad theory.

    I always wonder, with people who claim in their writings that everything is useless, that nothing can be done, etc.: why do they write at all? More to the point: why do they publish? If everything is useless, why spread the word? Isn’t that spreading of the word actually an act of violence and malice? Wouldn’t the thing to do be to shut up about it? Keep people in a state of ignorant pseudo-bliss? No, if you publish philosophy, theory or whatever at all, there must be a rhetorical imperative. What are you trying to do to the reader? What political action are you trying to provoke? What change in mindset?

    So I consider the imperatives of theory and philosophy are to find private methods of dealing with the existential situation that comes after the death of God and the birth of modernity and finding public political strategies for creating new and better (“better”) ethical regimes in that situation. Also, if they can help us have a little fun along the way, that would be great.


    Which is just a preamble for talking about this article: “Blogging, the nihilist impulse” by Geert Lovink. Ever since Audun L mailed me the link, I’ve wanted to respond to this take on blogging. Lovink is following in the footsteps of Baudrillard not least by exhibiting a strange pessimism of new media, and manufacturing negative attributes in them. The article has a view of blogs which I can't identify with, but seems to me to be an excellent example of cultural pessimism in action.

    “It is of strategic importance to develop critical categories of a theory of blogging that takes the specific mixture of technology, interface design, software architecture, and social networking into account”, Lovink begins, and I wholeheartedly agree (although I’m not entirely sure what "critical categories of a theory of blogging" really means), until I read the follow-up:

    Instead of merely looking into the emancipatory potential of blogs, or emphasizing their counter-cultural folklore, I see blogs as part of an unfolding process of "massification" of this still new medium. What the Internet lost after 2000 was the "illusion of change". This void made way for large-scale, interlinked conversations through freely available automated software.

    You're just skipping along through the paragraph and... wait, what? The illusion of change? As if to say that now, of course, we are no longer blinded by this illusion. The internet has not changed our lives. All that change was just an illusion. Of course the sudden proximity of all text, the ability to sift through vast seas of information in seconds, the ability to textually communicate meaningfully over vast distances in seconds, all this is just an illusion of change, not actual change. Our cultures are exactly the same. When actual change comes along, I presume, we’ll really feel it. But, then, actual change won’t come, because here comes Baudrillard to harsh our mellow:

    blogs were the actual catalysts that realized worldwide democratization of the Net. As much as "democratization" means "engaged citizens", it also implies normalization (as in setting of norms) and banalization. We can't separate these elements and only enjoy the interesting bits. According to Jean Baudrillard, we're living in the "Universe of Integral Reality". "If there was in the past an upward transcendence, there is today a downward one. This is, in a sense, the second Fall of Man Heidegger speaks of: the fall into banality, but this time without any possible redemption." If you can't cope with high degrees of irrelevance, blogs won't be your cup of tea.

    Here, I think, we see the beginnings of a nihilist anti-democratic school of thought which I think is the last stop of the Baudrillard train. There is a claim of celebrating a difference and subjectivity now lost, but at the same time there is an attack on the material conditions necessary to allow real difference to be actualised and flourish, coupled with what amounts to an attack on actual difference in the world today, because it is not “real”, not “genuine” enough. Down this road lies an aristocratic, and possibly even protofascist way of thinking, where somebody gets to decide real modes of living vs. unreal.

    But here the contradictions begin. Further down, Lovink laments that “a dominant culture, such as the Californian techno-hippies, failed to emerge and if it exists, it is tricky to label” and that “Blogging comes close to what Adilkno once described as "vague media". The lack of direction is not a failure but the core asset.” So what exactly is it: does one want normalization or a non-vague media? Fact is that people are vague, when taken all together. Individually, they are engines of difference, producing the plurality of cultures. Any media which is democratic is also vague, when seen as a totality. When seen individually, in its production, however, it is something else entirely. The acknowledgement that all value shades into vagueness when a large enough sample is taken is lacking here. (This part-whole dialectic, btw, is something which runs through the entire study of blogging, in my experience.)

    So there is a bait-and-switch here: on the one hand Lovink is saying that blogging means irrelevance, banality and the eradication of difference, on the other hand, he himself overlooks and smoothes over the difference which is actually found in blogs by using these massive generalisations which pervade the article (claiming that there is a cynicism folded into the media, for instance, or statements on the general form of blogs are this, blogs are that which he sprinkles liberally throughout). He does not allow blogs to enact the difference he claims that they eradicate, because he describes in homogenic terms a heterogeneous phenomenon.

    Furthermore, the claim of banality and nihilism is more of a problem than the phenomenon itself. Blogs are a media, not a genre (as Lovink acknowledges, but fails to incorporate into her argument). When they are used properly, they are tools that help you generate meaning. Used properly, they can be the opposite of banality: the establishing of meaning and relevance in everyday life, in one’s textual universe, one’s experiences, etc. So when Lovink says that a high degree of irrelevance is the scourge of blogging, what I see is the ugly head of instrumental reason rearing itself. It demands the question: irrelevant in relation to what? To what end? We’re all doomed to banality anyway, right? No: life is irrelevant. Books are full of the irrelevant. Art is completely irrelevant. Desiring relevance and meaning in everything is precisely the force which renders life in modernity meaningless and instrumentalised. To paraphrase Tom Stoppard, if things being rational were a criterion for their being allowed to exist, the whole world would be a soy-bean field. This is the very force which one should be opposing, and which blogs can be a weapon against when used right.

    What I think the real problem here is, is that Lovink simply hasn’t read enough blogs. His sample size seems too small, when I think of the enormous difference of blogs I have come across in the course of writing my thesis. I think he has read a couple of “representative” ones, and called it a day, ignoring the wild proliferation of modes of blogging which exist in the shade of the A-list bloggers. When he talks about the “almost self-evident equation between blogs and the news industry”, I think to myself: this person has never read any of the blogs I read regularly. Or this little chestnut: “To "blog" a news report doesn't mean that the blogger sits down and thoroughly analyzes the discourse and circumstances, let alone checks the facts on the ground. To blog merely means to quickly point to news fact through a link and a few sentences that explain why the blogger found this or that factoid interesting or remarkable, or is disagrees with it.” This is nonsense, and all the best bloggers know it (even most of the bad ones know it, they just lack the ability to do it). While some bloggers are into the link + commentary school (Jason Kottke is one of the most interesting ones), good blogging is pretty much the same as good analysis, good content. Further down, Lovink says “Bloggers rarely add new facts to a news story. They find bugs in products and news reports but rarely "unmask" spin, let alone come up with well-researched reports.” And if this has not been proven thoroughly wrong by the political history of blogging, already (I think it has), surely it will be.
    The London Times noted that Houellebecq "writes from inside alienation. His bruised male heroes, neglected by their parents, cope by depriving themselves of loving interactions; they project their coldness and loneliness on to the world." Blogs are perfect projection fields for such an undertaking.
    Yes, but the point is that it’s perfect for almost any communicative action that happens over a certain amount of time. It’s perfect medium for creating loving, meaningful, collective interactions as well.
    So far it has not proven useful to interpret blogs as a new form of literary criticism. Such an undertaking is bound to fail. The "crisis of criticism" has been announced time and again and blog culture has simply ignored this dead-end street.
    Actually, I disagree extensively in my MA thesis, for certain values of literary criticism, anyway.

    Criticism has become a conservative and affirmative activity, in which the critic alternates between losses of value while celebrating the spectacle of the marketplace. It would be interesting to investigate why criticism has not become popular, and aligned itself with such new-media practices as blogging, as cultural studies popularized everything except theory. Let's not blame the Blogging Other for the moral bankruptcy of the postmodern critic.
    Yes. Criticism celebrates the marketplace. I can hear them shouting now. “All hail the marketplace!” Judith Butler sings, with Hardt and Negri on backing vocals. “Glory to the almighty dollar”, Jacques Derrida calls out from beyond the grave, in his silver-lined coffin. But beyond this incredibly weird statement, the empirical problem returns once again, because criticism has aligned itself with blogging. Extensively, actually, all across the world. For one example, one could point to the cluster of popular blogs around the Valve, containing people like Michael Bérubé, Scott Eric Kaufman, Bitch Ph.D, etc. and so on and so forth (there are hundreds of them, thousands).

    “One thing is sure: blogs do not shut down thought.” Well, thank the Free Market Forces! But what is thought, to cultural pessimism? There is a sense here, I think, in which thought can be had in a vacuum. Lovink concludes her article: “Isn't the document that stands out the one that is not embedded in existing contexts? Doesn't the truthness lie in the unlinkable?” And I wonder to myself how we would find a document that was not embedded in existing contexts. How we would read it. The answer is that we can’t. All rhetoric, all language, depends on having a set of contexts, which are known, and a set of unknown or new elements, either in the combination of old elements or the adding of new ones. The truthiness, or whatever he calls it, lies in communities, in contexts and settings which relate frames of meaning that we can work from. But Lovink is arguing precisely that bloggers have lost faith in their communities’ transcendental meaning. Truth is not to be found, and that's the point. Especially not in places where it can't be found. Text is culture talking to itself. And the truthiness is just not to be found:

    A cynic, so Sloterdijk says, is someone who is part of an institution or group whose existence and values he himself can no longer see as absolute, necessary, and unconditional, and who is miserable due to this enlightenment, because he or she sticks to principles he or she does not believe in.
    But this is precisely where my brand of postmodernism parts way with Baudrillard and Lovink (and is why, I suspect, that Baudrillard is the opposite of a postmodern thinker. Is in fact a conservative pre-modernist trapped in a postmodern time). I think that the act of blogging could be or is a confirmation of community. Or rather that it is an action which is partially constitutive of a community. By throwing communication out there, with trust, one creates conversations which do not orientate, as Michael Bérubé has argued in his book Rhetorical Occasions, towards consensus, but which create meaning and political will.

    No, I’m more in the camp of the pragmatists on this one. The philosopher Richard Rorty calls such a person as the one Sloterdijk describes above an ironist, not a cynic, and constructs a positive position out of the ironist self-description. He shows, in my opinion quite well, how the act of constructive redescription is the generating force in postmodern, “nihilist” society (Simon Critchley has described Rorty as a “passive”, accepting nihilist, but I think on the contrary that Rorty has demonstrated precisely an active will towards the pragmatic, political constructivism which I hold to be a goal of philosophy, and hold his project, on a whole, to be a constructive, political one).

    In conclusion, though, I see this article as a very precise statement of the principles of cultural pessimism. Lovink writes,
    What's declining is the Belief in the Message. That is the nihilist moment, and blogs facilitate this culture as no platform has ever done before. Sold by the positivists as citizen media commentary, blogs assist users in their crossing from Truth to Nothingness.
    Cultural pessimism’s mode of operation is to attack tools of great possibility on a weak basis. The focus is on the destruction of tools, rather than inventing positive ways of using them to create meaningful cultural constructs. Why doesn’t Geert Lovink just get a blog and try to change the subject instead of spouting negative commentary from the sidelines? It doesn’t make sense. Instead, this brand of pessimism undermines a nuanced, rigorous critique of media (or, I suspect, whatever it happens to be attacking: globalisation, humanism, etc.), by eliminating all positive positions from which a new vision of its object of attack can be created. Instead of constructive, pragmatic redescription of faulty or flawed concepts, we get pessimist destruction of options. It simply does no one any good. If the blogosphere has problems (and it does, it's a product of a flawed culture), then the critique needs to be more rigorously constructive than Lovink.

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