4 March 2002

Not fade away

Heartfelt thanks to wood s lot for bringing us a daily serving of mind food. I was especially nourished by the Manuel DeLanda and the Olympic beer riot essays–but you bring us more good thinking than I can begin to digest.

( 10:11 AM )
Reading and Faith

On Saturday, David Weinberger asked two shabbos-themed questions: “Where can we read what you think about the possibility of reading the Bible without a faithful commitment (of some sort), i.e., the Bible as literature? Can it be done?”

Well, I suppose “here” is the only answer to the first question, although the topic already figures obliquely in most of what I write. I say “obliquely” because biblical scholars have fought such fierce battles over the legitimacy of interpretations grounded in (secular) historical reasoning that one can hardly take up the subject directly without seeming to advocate an already-established party line. The problems that arise from simply accepting these given pictures of interpretation-from-faith and interpretation-from-secularity provoke much of my absorption in postmodern theory. If you read my various essays as attempts to dismantle the siegeworks that separate “secular” from “theological” interpretations, with each side boosting its own legitimate practices and assailing the other’s biased or corrupted practices, you will get a rough picture of how I’d answer the question.

But David followed up with the second query, so I’ll try to give a brief account of an explicit answer here.

Unhelpful response: Sure; people do it all the time, from casual skimming by disengaged browsers to exquisitely nuanced close readings. To take one example, Robert Alter (though firmly Judaic) offers literary interpretations of the Bible that one need not share his faith in order to appreciate. And as I suggested Saturday, the whole academic discipline of “biblical studies” operates on the principle that anyone who’s read enough, thought enough, and paid close enough attention to the text and its historical context ought to be able to participate in the discussion of the Bible. The Journal of Biblical Literature and Novum Testamentum are not addressed to believers, but to interested scholars.

I suspect, though, that that doesn’t get to the dimension of the question that motivated David to ask. David’s question echoes a theme sounded very forcefully by critics like Matthew Arnold (who argued that we ought to read the Bible as we would any other book) and C. S. Lewis (who argued that one can’t really read the Bible as any other book, that a reader’s denial of the Bible’s foregrounded tenets amounts to a resistance to the book itself) and Erich Auerbach (who in celebrated chapters of his book Mimesis suggested that the biblical narratives distinguish themselves from other contemporary literature in the very texture of their literary composition. (Dave Rogers, the “Connect & Empower” Dave Rogers, suggests as good reads the anthology Incarnation edited by Alfred Corn, and Larry Woiwode’s interpretation of the Book of Acts [out of print]; I add, for symmetry’s sake, the book Congregation edited by David Rosenberg [also out of print], which was the Old-Testament precedent that sired Incarnation as its New-Testament offspring.) Can one, as it were, really read the Bible apart from some sort of “faithful commitment”? I mean, really read it?

That question I dare not answer. It presumes that I could somehow escape my own experiences (which embrace both apart-from-faith and faith-full readings) to evaluate the authenticity (!) of another soul’s reading of the Bible. At the same time, I will say that there’s something about the interplay of living faith with attentive reading that fecundates provocative, stimulating interpretations. These are possible apart from faith, and heaven knows that faith in itself doesn’t engender interesting biblical interpretation, but when a deep reverence combines with literacy and sensitivity, then something special, something different and precious is liable to happen.

Can one read the Bible apart from a faithful commitment? Yes, indeed.

Does being a committed Jew, or Christian, or something-else make one ipso facto a better, more reliable, privileged reader? No, not a bit.

May someone who deeply loves the material and subject of the Bible read the Bible with a sympathy and sensitivity that someone less committed might not be able to muster? That seems plausible to me.

Does that mean everyone has to listen to what I say? I hope that no one is so foolish as to think so.

Unceasing wonders

While I’ve been trying to keep the theological content of this blog a seasoning—rather than a main course—a number of correspondents have acknowledged my voice among you all exactly as a theological presence. Your gift of patient attention and appreciation touches and, in a way, surprises me. I’m listening, and I’ll try to honor the complexity of speaking to your hearts from my own, with all our differences and shared interests. Thank you and, if I may say so, God bless you.

The Dog Ate My Blog

How rude of me! A few days ago, Tom Shugart answered a non-congratulatory blog of mine relative to his account of true Web-selfhood. At the end of his ruminations, he politely asked, “So, instead of ‘true self,’ perhaps I should have said ‘more vibrant self.’ Would that get me off the hook?”

I ought first to acknowledge that Tom said complimentary things about me, thus compromising my painstakingly-cultivated objectivity. (But I’ve given up Proof-of-Objectivity exercises — RageBoy wore me out.) In short, though, I think this probably does fine. It would be fun, though, to split more hairs on this later.

1 March 2002


RageBoy, not one to permit a bluff lightly, has put his postmodern theological cards on the table and even challenged me to show what I’m holding.

I had been playing these close to the chest because (a) experience teaches that very few people in the world actually want to talk about theology and (b) those who do often want to explain how they figured out what life, the universe, and everything were all about and (c) they’re usually painfully shallow and (d) when they’re not shallow I’m embarrassed that I figured they would be and (e) it’s a topic about which I get even more excited than I do about things like voice, authenticity, community, and so on — and you’ve seen what disastrous consequences come from my getting excited about those topics.

But having been dared to reveal what I wear under my cassock, I will acknowledge that I’ve read some (not all) Mark C. Taylor (and what many readers won’t know is that there are more “Mark Taylor”s in the theological world than you can shake a blackboard pointer at: Mark C. Taylor, Mark Lloyd Taylor, and my former colleague Mark Lewis Taylor, to start with). Though the umbrella labelled “postmodern theology” probably looks pretty small when you’re not underneath it, for those whom it covers the umbrella provides more than enough space for some pretty significant divergences.

For instance, Mark Taylor (the “C.” one) talks about theology and a/theology, but most of his time he plays in the sandbox identified within the discipline as “religious studies.” “Religious studies” tends to treat “religion” as a general category (Christianity, Buddhism, cargo cults, Islam, fundamentalism as a cross-religious category, things like that). Religious Studies gives people a place to study and talk about religion and theological topics without the potentially awkward obligation to believe anything in particular. Within this group, Taylor is a brilliant and subtle scholar — but this is not the sandbox I play in, nor do I particularly care to work with the religious-studies ideology on its own terms. That’s okay; they do their thing, and I do mine.

One of the other possible sandboxes is (and here I continue oversimplifying to an extreme) the “theology” sandbox, within which one plays when one says “I’m a Christian (or, less often but quite interestingly, “a Jew,” “a Muslim,” “a Buddhist”) and here’s how I puzzle out all the confusing and complicated stuff that my tradition and I claim to be true.” This is probably the sandbox within which I’m most comfortable, but for odd reasons it’s not my home.

Another sandbox is the “biblical studies” sandbox, which is where my training and job description locate me. “Biblical studies” differs from “theology” inasmuch as “biblical studies” (which I will not abbreviate to initials, for obvious reasons) is another sandbox where one may play without owning up to believing any one thing rather than another. Many people, I dare say most people, who play in biblical studies are adherents of a variety of Christianity or Judaism; but non-adherents are welcome to the discussion, and that’s part of the self-definition of the sandbox.

I eschew the temptation to talk about the peculiarities of these divisions, or the strengths or weaknesses of particular versions of the sandboxes.

What matters relative to Rageboy’s instigation to talk this talk is that I entered the “postmodern” discourses by way of biblical interpretation, in deed by way of literary interpretation. I was flummoxed by how staggeringly boring most books about the Bible were, and I sought an understanding of interpretation that might help me both figure out why biblical interpreters wrote boring books and articles, and avoid tedium myself. The explanations that clarified matters for me came from courses I took on literary theory and postmodernism.

Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard, Fish and Rorty, and eventually people like de Certeau and Irigaray put ideas into my head that interbred and mutated (with the maieutic intervention of beloved friends), and brought me to the theological position from which I teach and preach today. That position is probably closest to the kinds of writings associated Radical Orthodoxy, a sort of politically progressive, theologically traditional, philosophically postmodern guacamole: spicy, tasty, rich, and great with tortilla chips. I got acquainted with John Milbank in grad school, where some of us sat around reading the early drafts that became Theology and Social Theory. Neighbors of mine have written Divine Economy, These Three Are One, Torture and Eucharist, Engaging Scripture, and Beyond Sectarianism.

My own works have dealt mostly with the ways that biblical interpretation as a collective enterprise has assimilated assumptions from modern culture, treating those assumptions as necessary axioms of rational interpretive practice. That got me onto a number of lists as a spokesperson on postmodern biblical interpretation, so I write a lot of definitions and overviews. If I could build my own sandbox, it would lie at an intersection of theology and biblical interpretation and postmodern theory. (Anyone who wants to buy my stuff can reach it from here.)

Thanks for asking.

Proof of Objectivity

Make that, “Thanks for asking, RageBoy, you pustulent excrescence on the stinking corpse of cultural literacy.”

From There to Here

After all this time, to believe in Jesus….
( 9:49 AM )

Oh, for heaven’s sake

Bad enough to indulge in cutesy-wootsy circumlocution (which I was about to delete this morning, having had an acute attack of good taste)–but then David Weinberger has to notice and, worse still, blog it.

One of the useful functions of writing in public lies in its propensity to increase one’s humility.

Speaking of DW, if John Dvorak has to ascribe Cluetrainista-style writing to drug use, what would he think of the JOHOblog segment on the recent music award ceremonies? My hunch is that he would not identify it as an outpouring of the Spirit of prophecy: “In those days, your old men will see visions, and your young men will speak in anagrams….”

Jargonman, to the rescue!

Dave, an “ideologeme” is “a fundamental element of a complex ideology”; so one might say that some of the ideologemes of specifically modern culture are the axioms that newer is better, that “expertise” is more important than judgment, that objectivity is more important than engagement, and so on. So the ideologeme that “you shouldn’t prefer to hang around with people you like” (which I am not ascribing to our insightful email interlocutor Cinnamon) might constitute an element of a sort of kinky populist ideology that tries to eliminate conflict and discomfort by suppressing difference. (Or it might just be an obviously true statement about the world that an ideologically-blinkered elitist just doesn’t get.)

Actually, this gets back to the parrhesia, blogthread from a few weeks ago and the Web-personae blogthread as well. Let’s recognize in the radically anarchic domain of Hyperlinxia a situation where folks can speak as they want and then live with the consequences, without trying to police the conversations bloggers fall into.

28 February 2002

Is brevity the soul of blogging?

David Weinberger (whoops, I mean, “David Weinberger, that cretin”) said in three words what I was trying to say in three thousand: “flames anodize cliques.” Yup. Of course, over at Wealth Bondage, we may observe how a slow, steady heat can sometimes melt away folly, and likewise how rapid immersion in boiling invective can occasionally purge ideological opacity.

Which brings me to another point (when will he stop?): some of the criticism in the aftermath of l’affaire Dvorak fingered Rageboy for his floridly profane instructions to JD. Both RB and My Happy Tutor draw from a semantic domain that those of us in the theology biz typically avoid (in public), for a variety of reasons. But even one so cautious of speech as I realizes that there’s a difference between RageBoy deliberately advising Mr. Dvorak to put tab A into slot B (not his words) and (let us take for example) Jody Slufnak saying to a high-school classmate, “Exhale heartily in my direction, practitioner of intergenerational incest!” (once again, not in quite those terms). There are flying mallets and flying mallets, and some are subtle, and others are just, well, flying mallets. May we feel free to criticize RB’s tactics and diction without implying that he and my hypothetical Jody operate at the same pitch of sophistication?

Help me with this ( 8:00 AM )

Cinnamon’s correspondence with Dave Rogers perpetuates the ideologeme that won’t go away — that somehow it’s wrong for people to talk with, write with, hang out with people with whom they like to spend time. She deploys the hot-word clique and worries that non-bloggers might become “quickly disenchanted by the other offerings targeted to the ‘in-crowd.’ ”

Somewhere someone got the odd idea that it’s wrong for people with similar interests to hang out together — “Oooh, it’s a clique.” This, from the same culture that has made Seinfeld and Friends two of the longest-running, highest-rated sitcoms in TV history.

I mean no offense to Cinnamon, with whom I have no complaint. But I’ve been on the outside of almost anything that could be counted as a clique all my life, except perhaps for a circle of intensely brilliant theologian friends, among whom I’m certifiably (as the Apostle said) the least of many brethren. So I understand the feeling of being left out. But, what else should be the case? If the Baltimore Orioles never included me on their roster to play second base, do I have a grievance? If no pick-up band ever recruited my thundering baritone and my fumbling bass guitar, should they have been obligated to, lest I call them a clique? If I have to listen to everyone who makes any claim on my notice, all that’ll happen is that I’ll retire from the unbounded domain of mandatory attention (hence, boredom leavened with occasional interest), to someplace I may listen to and talk with those whose discourse pleases and edifies me. If that’s a small group of people, I can live with that.

27 February 2002

Turn and face the strange changes….

Don’t want to be a richer man
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me, but I can’t trace time….
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

Dotting “i”s….

Okay, the smarter-than-me gang have thrown some exquisitely heavy-duty ideas out, and now I’ll play kickball with them for a few minutes. I’m speaking here of Mike, Tom, Steve, new-to-me acquaintance Jonathan Delacour (here and here) and probably several other people whom I’ll hyperidentify en route. I should appreciatively acknowledge that some of the energy behind this engine of inquiry and exposition derives from the kindness of John Dvorak, intellectual hero of all who know anything about PCs, blogging, critical thought, making oatmeal, rhetoric, brain surgery, and how to alleviate third world debt. John gently instigated a renewed round of metablogging, from which he stands to learn nothing, but which demonstrates his generosity to us who are less universally insightful, who will enjoy ourselves romping in the fields his vast mind has opened up for us. (My thanks to the Happy Tutor for reminding me of how very much we should be thankful to John.)

But back to the subject. The “i”s I want to dot (digression: has anyone figured out a good solution for punctuating the possessives of letters-used-as-letters? I’d look it up, but I’m already one digression away from my main theme and I can’t risk a double digression, lest I never finish this blog and get back to work) involve online personae, communities, why one blogs, and whether one ought to be critical of other bloggers.

First, we should enter the discussion with some sensitivity to the problem of criticism in the contemporary culture that many of us inhabit. “Criticism” as a phenomenon is not widely practiced, only slightly more widely understood, appreciated slightly more than that, and attempted less often than one would think. Instead of criticism, which requires some sort of analysis, engagement, evaluation, humility, and intellectual energy, we more typically encounter feel-good mutual support (on one hand) or flame wars (on the other). Both of these are vastly easier than the more demanding practice of criticism, so everyone can play. Both of these express regular human impulses (sticking up for one’s friends, or kicking one’s adversaries, about which I know since I’ve impulsively engaged in it recently). Neither of these advances anyone’s understanding of anything–they just reinforce boundaries and gratify impulses that may derive some of their irresistible power from hormonal secretions.

So if “criticism” in general is unusual in our real-world and hyperlinked lives, we ought not to expect it magically to grow up abundantly at any specific juncture of personae, especially not as profoundly underdetermined a juncture as, for instance, blogging.

We likewise ought not be surprised if people can’t recognize criticism if they see it. For someone who inhabits a world driven by the evil twin impulses of sycophancy and capricious misanthropy, any praise or blame will necessarily fall into the categories of servility or the automatic gainsaying of of any statement the other person makes. If I compliment Marek, it can only be because I am a bootlicker; if I call something David Weinberger says into question, it can only be because I (like all other Cluetrain skeptics) am a right guy and DW is an ass.

Now the matter of how to conduct criticism, especially deprecatory criticism, is not my strong suit. I know someone who will happily teach you.

I do care, though, about reasoning with regard to how communities communicate, how they write one another into existence, and what kind of community grows from what kinds of mutual production of selves. Here Mike Sanders’ use of the “neighborhood” metaphor, resonant with not only geographical but also ethical overtones, works particularly well. I don’t care to be part of a war on Dvorak. John irritated me when I first read the column, but reflection on just what he wrote helped relax me into a soberer frame of mind. I am very interested, however, in reflecting on the ways that we, projecting and composing our own identities while we shape, deflect, attract, fine-tune our friends and neighbors’ identities, form non-exclusive constellations of sympathies and interests. And here, by “non-exclusive,” we should observe that the constellations aren’t exclusive of new participants (practically every day I read at least one new blog, and practically every day one of the blogs I read daily cites a new acquaintance) and that they aren’t mutually exclusive (if I hang around with the ImPRoPritieS gang, that doesn’t prevent me from spending time at Tom Tomorrow’s place, or at Sacra Doctrina. And if blogrolls tend to overlap and reinforce one another, they also diverge markedly, giving us the opportunity to meet others whose interests strongly overlap with ours (I’m going to go meet Shelley Powers this afternoon, on the strength of Mike Sanders’ introduction), or diverge markedly (by picking an interesting-looking name out of a blogroll of unfamiliar sites at a blog one doesn’t usually frequent). Permalink -Main Page-
( 10:33 AM )

. . . and Connecting the Dots

Which leads me to a connection that Tom Matrullo may have made explicit somewhere, but which lurks in the interstices of a whole buncha stuff he and Dave Rogers have been posting lately. It occurs to me that there’s a connection between the once-upon-a time when we used to stand around the piano and sing (in four-part harmony) for ourselves, and the copyright blogthread, and the “why we blog” topos which I had hitherto successfully side-stepped, and the Dvorak brouhaha.

Bear with me on this: think of the transition from singing along with friends and relations, to the time when we think, “Why should I listen to myself sing? Why not just put Workers’ Playtime on and listen to Billy Bragg?” We gave up on the uneven pleasure of our own voices in favor of the predictable excellence (and otherwise) of recorded musicians. Likewise we have tended to write less and less, less and less well, in favor of letting the really good writers, the published writers, occupy center stage. (But recall the deeply moving letters sent home from past wars; how many comparable letters have been sent from Iraq and Afghanistan?) With blogging, we are learning to reclaim our own voices in a public arena; our PowerBooks are our instruments, and we’re sitting around some virtual parlor learning to make harmony (our drown one another out).

And this is profoundly unsettling to those who benefit from restricting public performance of writing (or singing) to the few authorized voices that Someone Else has decided to anoint as the Voices Who Count. If, for instance, we had no prior notion of selling recorded performances (as the principal means by which musicians earned their livings), we would see in a split second that by making recordings freely available on the Web, musicians could meet their audience and popularize the appearances for which they could ask to be paid. (See what John Perry Barlow observes about the Dead, viral marketing, and making money.) That would, of course, eliminate a lot of high-paying jobs in the music industry (although what the RIAA types don’t see is that it would create a whole new cadre of jobs in different sectors; capitalism is that labile).

Now, apply this line of thinking to print media. If one can read more interesting, more sophisticated, friendlier and more respectful prose for free around the virtual coffee table at David Weinberger’s, or Mike Golby’s, or Jeneane Sessum’s place, why would you shell out whatever it is these days ($6 or so?) to read an Authorize Voice pontificate?

So it’s understandable that shrill voices might be heard when some people, perhaps associated with the Cluetrain Manifesto, question the necessity of the sorts of interaction that put bread on the table for the intellectual rustbelt. And with Shelley and Tom and Dave and all, the rest of us can keeping writing one another into copyright-free harmony, and we can criticize one another, and encourage one another, and printa donna journalists can find criticism and encouragement at the level of insight that’s comfortable for them.

26 February 2002

Who would have thought?

I have to admit that this weekend is my worst fears come back to haunt me. After recently escaping the nightmarish toils of academic debt myself, I now have to begin filling out my son’s Financial Aid Forms. The whole experience tends to jaundice my view of the U.S. commitment to higher education; can you think of a much more effective disincentive to college and graduate degrees than, “You will be in debt for the rest of your natural life…”?


Now we see both where John Dvorak draws his base of support and what’s irksome about the Cluetrain conspiracy.

25 February 2002

Psychic Blog

Okay, so here’s the answer to Mike Golby’s puzzlement (1, 2) over what I was on about last week (1, 2, 3), when I was wondering whether “community” and “friendship” and blogging don’t run afoul of problems relative to ingrown, exclusive self-congratulation club: I could tell that someone was about to launch a loud public outcry over whether blogs amount to little more than online mutual-appreciation societies. The author writes, “In fact the brown-nosing that goes on between bloggers singing each others’ praises makes the worst office kiss-ups look tame by comparison”; he intimates that (as I suggested in referring to Wallace Stegner) that we only like those who like us, we cozy up to people who flatter us.

I’ve already reflected more than enough about this, but I’ll add a flat-out contradiction to the author’s flaming rhetoric. In the neighborhoods I frequent, bloggers are constantly criticizing each other and arguing with one another. Unfortunately, they do so politely and appreciatively — perhaps to please the dubious wider public we ought to insult one another, offer superficial and uncharitable readings of others’ blogs, and try to gin up publicity for ourselves by casually attacking our interlocutors on inarticulate grounds. If we were all more like that, then perhaps John Dvorak would like blogging.

24 February 2002

The Return of Authenticity

You thought the blogthread was dead, but when you went to the basement alone and opened that cobwebby closet door — egad! it lives!

Friday, the Rev. Lane Hensley (a Seabury alumnus who survived at least one class with me) leaned over to me at chapel and whispered, “I’ve been reading your blog, and I can explain what people mean by ‘authenticity.’ ” Lane points out that people typically apply “authentic” to a particular experience to indicate its visceral impact, its vividness; subsequently they use the term to mean, “something that revives memories of what that prior experience was like,” even though the context of the experience, perhaps even the character of the experience itself, is quite different.

I’m not quite convinced by this, but it catalyzed a different explanation in my speculative imagination. Perhaps the problem derives from an ellipsis, by which people mean to say something like “her voice is authentically human” or “his website reflects his authentic personality” — then gradually the specific referent of “authenticity” drops out and leaves only “authentic” behind.

I’d probably have forgotten to blog Lane and just left the topic behind, but Tom Shugart poked the blogthread’s carcase and it twitched convulsively. (Yes, Tom, we do need a new word.) I like Tom’s treatment of self in its temporal extension; that’s something the rest of us hadn’t brought out well enough. The suggestion that the “true self, in my view, is created as a conscious act of existential will,” sounds a lot less convincing. My true self includes a mountain of stuff that I didn’t choose, and some of what I did choose (much of it in the 70s — say no more) I would like to think doesn’t express the truest dimensions of my self. Not to say that I repudiate those choices, but to say that the truth about myself emerges from the complex interplay of conscious will and unconscious impulse and unchosen circumstance, all of them. Tom’s version begins to sound a little Promethean, a little Ayn-Rand-ish, a little of the dangerous part of Heideggerian (what Adorno scathed him for in The Jargon of Authenticity). Some of what is truest about us is more or less bred in the bone, and some of who we are depends on the material conditions under which we live. However much we may wish that we were altogether our own creation, a big, powerful, inexorable world of contingencies exerts its claims on us every time.

One thing that makes the Web so interesting is the extent to which the hyperlinked world operates with different environmental conditions than the material world. It’s as though gravity no longer held us to the earth, and we could fly from place to place without benefit of United Airlines, we could change our appearance at will, we could appear and disappear on a whim (or ISP failure). When the conditions that make “authenticity” possible themselves change, then everything else changes willy-nilly, authenticity included (if one must say “authenticity”).

Si’s Birthday

Son Josiah turned 15 today, but by the time we had breathing space to notice it his day was over. Since he’s precisely 12 hours opposite us in Sri Lanka, his version of his birthday arrived yesterday at noon (midnight Sri Lanka); the overlap of his day with ours expired at noon today. And we were busy all morning, and he’s in the mountains reminiscing about indoor plumbing–about any kind of plumbing–and avoiding elephants. Happy birthday, Si! UPDATE: an hour or so after I typed those words, Si made it to a hotel in Anuradhapura and arranged 90 seconds of telephone time to assure us that he was having a great time.

Duke 97, St. John’s 55

Glad Doc got to see a good one.

23 February 2002

Mike Golby cites Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths” in a bloggaddendum to his response to my response to his response to my musings on blogging and ethics. And the cool thing is that he doesn’t mention my favorite line from the story, one that has been a guiding principle for my writing and preaching ever since I read it:

In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the only prohibited word?

But the whole Borges corpus teaches so much, so deeply, about worlds, writing, belief, knowledge, and how seriously to take it all that I can’t applaud loudly enough for Mike’s bringing him explicitly into the conversation. Thank you, friend!

Mike Sanders submits 8 numbered points on “blogrolling theory and practice.” (The eighth provoked me to lengthy deliberation, being such an intolerably serious person myself.) At the end of the day, I suppose that eight points really aren’t adequate to inform the nuanced judgments one must develop in reaching so weighty a policy decision. I suggest that Mike go back and develop four or five subpoints for each of his points, ideally with several case studies to serve as examples.
I have not developed a policy. I couldn’t begin to imagine anyone who would care if I did.

More on Copyright

The anti-copyright readers don’t need more convincing, and the copyright advocates may not accept our arguments, but there may be some fence-sitters to whom Dan Kohn’s series of articles from TidBits would help clarify what’s up.
Perhaps it’ll help if some of the postcopyright promoters emphasize up front that they’re copyright holders themselves. I’ll still sell my books to anyone who wants one; they’re handy, attractively packaged, and bursting with good ideas about biblical interpretation — but I’m ready to step forward and say that I’m more interested in modulating into the postcopyright era than in extracting the last few cents of royalties out of consumers who might prefer to have online access to stuff I write.

Of course, this is the general direction toward which Lawrence Lessig is trying to point us all, though I’m probably more anarchistic than he.

Voice and Authority

I want to blog about voice and authority, but since David Weinberger just talked to Jakob Nielsen about it, I’m going to wait to hear more about what they said before I open my yap.

22 February 2002

I Second the Motion

Tom, Helen Razer, and Dave (1, 2, 3) have recently directed our attention to deep problems in the imagination and exercise of copyright. Count me in, emphatically. The notion of copyright that we’re laboring under derives its cogency from entirely different circumstances, and has been warped to serve the interests of industrialist more than the authors, writers, performers, et al. in whose behalf the industries piously protest.

Artists, musicians, writers and others deserve recompense for their efforts, probably more than they get under the current mechanism for assessing and distributing rewards. But a dysfunctional and obsolescent model won’t be the means by which they get their deserts.

Tear it down. Clear the ground. Let’s start something new.

Writing For Whom?

Mike Golby mulls over my ruminations on blogs and audiences, my metablog on for whom we write, for whom we should be writing, and why. He runs a nice inversion on what I was thinking — where I was thinking, “Anyone who wants to read this stuff may, and anyone who thinks it’s self-indulgent or ingratiating doesn’t have to read it” — thus regarding the Web as perfectly inclusive, since the choice to read or not is free, and the company of “people who read AKMA’s blog” is entirely open. Mike runs it the opposite way, though — my expression of my interests and commitments make the blog less open, in that as they take patterned shape, they form and select their audience.

I have to think through Mike’s version of the idea; mine involved an imagined conversation with someone who felt that blogging functioned by active exclusion, by keeping some visitors at bay and by trying to glue others to one’s own blog, a sort of glory-by-proximity (“Oh wow, Chris Pirillo mentioned me! Maybe he’ll blogroll me!”). I’m still chewing on that notion; certainly anyone in my vocation gets acquainted with people’s lack of connection to their own motives, and with the unnervingly base impulses that many apparently-well-socialized people sometimes reveal. So it could be that blogging amounts to little more than a mutual admiration society for weak egos.

I should add, though, that I haven’t discerned that in other folks whose blogs I’ve read. What I’ve observed looks much more like a bunch of friends having a great, loosely-joined time weaving in and out of one another’s conversations. Sometimes people you like are talking about a topic that excites you; sometimes they’re not. Sometimes one of them drags you into the conversation and offers you a drink; other times no one notices you if you don’t call attention to yourself. Is it their obligation to notice you and fawn over you if they’re deeply engaged with some other fascinating topic? Is blogging “exclusive” in that sense? I’m inclined to doubt it, because (as I said earlier) the big, loosely-organized party is so vastly expansive (yet so intensely, accessibly intimate) that anyone has access to jillions of other conversations any time.

Mike says

Somewhere in this idea lies my answer to AKMA’s further question. “I’ve wondered why we oughtn’t like people who like us; is there some hidden transgression in mutual respect and affection?” I fear and eschew “oughts” and “shoulds”. They muddy any issue. The word “transgression” also frightens me because it introduces a host of unknowns demanding definition.
Before I try to answer the question, I’d first ask AKMA whether or not this might be a better way of phrasing it: “In what way do we not like people who like us. What is it that sets us apart as soon as we start coming together?”

Well, that’s not where I’d have gone. First, “oughts” and “shoulds” generally play a powerful role in any interaction, so I like keeping ’em out in the open, where I can see ’em. Second, and I wrote this badly (curses!), my point was, “Is there anything wrong with liking people who like you, and not worrying about people who don’t?”

Here’s an example (I’ll get personal). Mike and a lot of other cool people of whom I’m fond (in a hyperlinked way) think an awful lot of Marek. So I’ve gone over to his site and read, and I’ve thought, “Sure, okay,” but without quite the ardor that other visitors seem to have felt. And for all I know, Marek has come over here and asked himself, “Why’s Golby cross-blogging with this mongrel dog who teaches? Give us a break, you pedantic geezer.” And that’s fine. (Really it is. You can’t hurt me. I wasn’t just waiting around for Marek’s approval. I have things to do. Who cares what he thinks anyway?) Marek hasn’t expired, pushing the “reload” button on his browser every five minutes to see whether I posted something complimentary about him, and I’m not all broke up that he hasn’t erupted with fascinated anthusiasm about me. We do different things, that some of the same people like. He’s not excluding me, and I’m not excluding him, even though the personae we’re composing online (and I’m still dubious about the online world/real world distinction relative to personae) may be so constituted that neither of us feels a particular attraction to the other. He’s got more important things to do than exclude me, and excluding him would be inhospitable of me.

And if one of us ever does feel like coming over, or going over, for a visit, I suppose that’ll be fine too.

Is that clearer, Mike?

21 February 2002


The irritation that some express relative to blogging-about-blogging strikes me as utterly flummoxing. This is the Web; if you don’t want to read a blog about blogging, go to another site.

Yes, in the online world the gravitational attraction to suddenly-hot topics (Googlewhack, Blogger’s Manifesto, and so on) engenders intense attention to matters that many people will find dull. But in a hyperlinked world, one or two clicks can get you to discussions of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations or differing ways of formatting multi-column web pages, or the US government’s staggeringly misguided foreign policy, to comics or sports or film or dancing hamsters. Don’t kvetch; blog something more interesting, or go to another interesting site.

I suppose it’s flattering, in an odd way, that anyone would care what a blogger writes about. It seems to imply, “Your readers care so desperately about what you say that we decline to go elsewhere; but we don’t like this topic, so write about what we want to hear about.” We can show evidence that a large number of bloggers want to write and read about blogging. Probably even more don’t want to.

“This Web is big enough fer both of us, podner.”

20 February 2002

Communication, Exclusivity, Blogs, and Ethics

What then shall we say about blogging and cross-blogging, about encouraging others and criticizing others? Bearing in mind my vow of aphorism, perhaps a couple of things.
I’m not aware that anyone has stopped talking with or socializing with RW friends because they blog. Something different is happening here.

The difference involves the extent to which a blogger speaks to anyone who wants to listen, supporter or detractor, cordial or hostile. If one blogs primarily to communicate with sympathetic souls, one does so in the full awareness that irritated, bored, or otherwise ill-disposed readers are welcome, too. No way to exclude anyone (except by typing in a different language, I guess, or password-protecting the blog, which might not be blogging in the fullest sense, not that it matters much).

People will justifiably tend to read blogs that invoke shared interests, or cite topics they finds interesting, and they may well decide to offer encouragement to the bloggers they appreciate. By the same token, bloggers may hope to catch the attention of interested and appreciative readers.

Is there something wrong with that? Perhaps, if the desire for appreciation or encouragement, or the desire to cultivate an online relationship, induces someone to flatter, toady, curry favor. Sometimes, however, we are delighted to find someone who enjoys talking about subjects that please us, too.

“Exclusivity” is the last of my worries when writing for the Web; indeed, I am much more fastidious about the things I don’t say, so as not to trouble a reader who may stumble on my blog and think to discover her- or himself in these entries. Blogs are antithetical to exclusivity, except in the sense that there are so many people around with whom one might have invigorating conversations, there’s little motivation to devote much time to people who feel vexed that one hasn’t touched on their favorite topic, or who wish they were part of the colloquy.

Sometimes ideas seem much more commendable when one doesn’t examine possible alternatives. Should we avoid talking with people we like, to demonstrate our even-handed respect for people we find tiresome and disagreeable? Should we not express appreciation for others’ writing, in order not to fall prey to the possible trap of ingratiating ourselves with them? Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety offers an extended meditation on the question of whether we like others simply because they like us, because there’s something in it for us. I’ve wondered why we oughtn’t like people who like us; is there some hidden transgression in mutual respect and affection? (I say all this despite a recurrent pattern of numbering among my good friends some people whom others, for good reason, regard as quite disagreeable.)

I take up ideas that offer a provocative angle on topics that interest me. Sometimes those ideas provoke me to argue; sometimes those ideas provoke me to applaud and say, “What’s more….”

Voice, Presence and Friendship

Margaret points out that sometimes online correspondence gives us the opportunity to get well enough acquainted with someone to realize that they just aren’t as intriguing as we might have guessed from limited time spent together in the carnal world.
These observations fall short of aphorism, but they don’t ramble quite as much as previous entries.