Saturday, December 21, 2002

In the December issue of First Things, Father Neuhaus offers his thoughts on blogging, on why his Public Square column is not, in fact, the print equivalent of a blog, and an amusing aside on the New York Times:
It was not until 1975 that the Times Literary Supplement adopted the policy of running signed reviews. Reviewing a book on the centenary of the TLS, David Lodge writes: "T. S. Eliot believed that anonymity was a beneficial discipline, especially for the young critic, when practiced under the eye of a scrupulous editor like Bruce Richmond. In a tribute to the latter on his ninetieth birthday, Eliot said: ‘I learned to moderate my dislikes and crotchets, to write in a temperate and impartial way; I learned that some things are permissible when they appear over one’s name, which become tasteless eccentricity or unseemly violence when unsigned.’" One may take liberties when writing in one’s own name. It’s not as though the august editorial board of a publication had resolved that John Doe’s argument is really dumb. It’s simply Whatshisname’s opinion of John Doe’s argument.

At least I feel free to take such liberties in this space, although never, I hope, descending to the tasteless, eccentric, unseemly, or violent. Lodge refers to "the increasingly personalized, media–dominated cultural climate," and I’ve been thinking about that in connection with the "blogger" phenomenon. Many readers are no doubt familiar with the rapidly multiplying number of personalized weblogs (hence "bloggers") on the Internet. Andrew Sullivan is one of the phenomenon’s notable perpetrators and celebrants and he has remarked, half jokingly I assume, that this space is the original instance of blogging. This space is, I admit, largely composed of running and mostly random reflections and reactions occasioned by events, arguments, and sundry curiosities loosely related to the mix of religion, culture, and public life. And it is unabashedly personal.

Yet I would prefer not to be classed with the bloggers. Not out of snobbery, mind you. There are some important differences. For one thing, there are other editors involved, and it is by no means rare that they persuade me that I really don’t want to say something that I said. Most important, there is a very big difference between the bloggers’ daily or five–times–per–day postings and a journal that appears ten times a year. We have a lead time of weeks between going to press and the journal’s hitting the mails, which makes the "use by" date an important consideration. Especially in commenting on unfolding developments, one must ask, "How will this read a month from now?" And, given our readers’ propensity for saving issues, copying items for classroom use, and citing them in articles and books, one asks, "How will this read a year or two from now?" That is somewhat short of the wisdom induced by writing sub specie aeternitatis, but it does provide a measure of perspective. It lends itself to more considered reflection than, for instance, blogger Mark Shea’s clever riposte to Kathryn Jean Lopez’s point posted fifteen minutes ago.

Don’t get me wrong; I rather like the blogger insurgency. I quickly learned it can be addictive; going from link to link, you discover that you’ve wasted an hour or more on mildly entertaining ephemera. So I have a rule of giving the bloggers no more than fifteen minutes per day, which has the happy effect of cutting about the same amount of time from reading the Times, which in recent months, under the drearily leftist editorship of Howell Raines, has become less and less interesting, not to mention less and less reliable. Well, as you may have surmised, this little item rather perfectly illustrates the point, doesn’t it? Whether it will be of interest by the time you read this, I have no idea. But it is provoked by the estimable T. S. Eliot’s observation about personalized writing, and may therefore stand the test, if not of the ages, at least of a few weeks.


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