Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Look on my blog, ye mighty, and despair!": Slow-blogging and the (slow) death of irony

Image found here.

There have been times of late when I've wondered what my, um, tens of thousands of readers must be thinking when they visit these pages and click the Refresh button every, oh, 30 seconds or so, in hopes of seeing new content, only to have their souls crushed. Do they bitterly bewail their disappointment in not having been sustained by some new arranging, deepening, enchanting of the blogosphere? Well, truth be told, probably not. These past few weeks, when I've visited good old Blog Meridian, I have thought one thing and noticed another. The thing thought: Aside from posting that I have nothing to post, I have nothing to post. The thing noticed: Over the past month or so, close observation of the Feedburner chiclet has revealed to me that the number of subscribers to this blog's feed actually increases after I've not posted for a couple of days, and decreases the day after I post something. Case in point: yesterday--before posting--13 subscribers; today--after having posted yesterday--12.

I get it. I can take a hint.

Yet: here I go, risking driving yet a few more subscribers away.

How to rationalize all this in a way that will break my relative silence so as to explain it. Well, via my bloggy friend Belle Lettre of Law and Letters, here come two articles which she unironically(?--well, really: who knows?) posted one after the other, that help to show me the way. To begin, here we have a New York Times piece on something called Slow Blogging:

A Slow Blog Manifesto, written in 2006 by Todd Sieling, a technology consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia, laid out the movement’s tenets. “Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy,” he wrote. “It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.” (Nor, because of a lack of traffic, is Mr. Sieling writing this blog at all these days.) [Barbara] Ganley, who recently left her job as a writing instructor at Middlebury College, compares slow blogging to meditation. It’s “being quiet for a moment before you write,” she said, “and not having what you write be the first thing that comes out of your head.”
Once again, Thoreau is way ahead of this particular curve. From chapter 2 of Walden:
Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime.
Preach it, Hank! This is precisely why I've never understood the appeal of Twitter: even I'm not all that interested in the quotidiana of my life; how presumptuous to assume anyone else would be.

Keeping a blog going for almost four years is presumption enough, I figure.

One's own ironic moments are for other people to point out. It will most likely not be a Republican who points out to his Senate colleagues that it is, um, ironic to continue to be enamored with the filibuster when they recently expressed considerably less affection for it when, before 2006, they were the majority party. If the hip thing these days is to be self-aware, always cognizant of how one's professed beliefs (whether natural or super-) don't quite match up with the realities of one's lived life, the hip will inevitably notice a dearth (if not the complete absence) of irony among their kind. But even self-awareness has its blind spots--witness the CEOs of the Big Three automakers each flying in one of his several corporate jets to Washington to plead that his company is on its last financial legs; and there are plenty of un-hip folks out there, too. So, just because you despair for the health of irony in your own particular discourse community doesn't mean that it's not alive and well and just waiting for you to find examples of to snark about. this New York Times article in which its writer and his interviewees listen for the death-rattle of Irony:
[A]re ironic sensibilities like [Joan] Didion’s — the detachment of mind, the appreciation of the folly of taking things at face value — really disappearing?

Not according to the conservative humorist P. J. O’Rourke, who reported from his New Hampshire office on Wednesday that he was finishing a piece for The Weekly Standard with the working title, “Is It Too Soon to Start Talking About the Failed Obama Presidency Just Because He Isn’t President Yet?”

Not according to the thin black novelist Colson Whitehead, who wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times under the headline, “Finally, a Thin President.”

“Something bad happens, like 9/11, it’s the death of irony,” Mr. Whitehead said in an e-mail message on Thursday. “Something good happens, like Obama’s win, it’s the death of irony. When will someone proclaim the death of iceberg lettuce? I’m sick of it making my salads boring.”
This, Mr. Whitehead, is precisely why we elected Mr. Obama: Increased subsidies for farmers willing to grow arugula instead of iceberg lettuce. Change we can believe in, indeed.

But, curiously,
Ms. Didion might be on to something. A Nexis search found that the incidence of the words “irony,” “ironic” and “ironically” in major American newspapers during the two-week period beginning Nov. 6 slipped 19 percent from the same period last year.

In New York, Ms. Didion’s home city, irony has been steadily disappearing from daily newspapers for a decade, the analysis found. In those same two-week November periods from 2000 to 2008, appearances of “irony” and its cognates tumbled 56 percent. Some of the drop seems to be because of the shrinking of newspapers, but a similar Nexis search with a control word, “went,” showed a drop of only 32 percent, leaving an irony gap of 24 percentage points.

The analysis may have its flaws. For one thing, the search algorithm also, ironically, picked up phrases like “end of irony.” More significantly, no self-respecting ironist actually uses the word “ironic,” except, perhaps, ironically.
So. There's no irony in the fact that when I post something new here the number of subscribers to this blog drops. None. There is none because I perceive this trend. There's humor in it, perhaps, for the perverse among you, and even, among my myriad enemies in the blogosphere, more than a little schadenfreude. "Just you keep on posting," I fancy them muttering in blogospheric hugger-mugger. But I am no Ozymandias, no siree. I may be losing readers every time I post something new, but I'm aware that I am.

The solution is obvious, then: keep on posting less and less frequently, thus enhancing the importance of the posts when I do. "John B. deigns to post!" you will cry aloud when you see a new post from here appear in your RSS readers after a span of days (or longer) without seeing one. At some point, the fact of my posting, say, that I'll be getting a haircut (as, it happens, I'll be doing today) will acquire an importance roughly akin to that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra for my merely having decided to inform the blogosphere of this.

You lucky people. What distilled drips and drams of wisdom are in your future! The fewer the drips, the more distilled--and, thus, precious--they are. How could it be otherwise?

So, like, be ready and stuff. Who knows when the next post will appear? Keep those lamps filled.

1 comment:

aaron said...

I'm one of the twelve. And rest assured, I will not forsake you; my lamp's trimmed and ready.

As for the slow-blogging thing, it's an interesting idea. I definitely notice that when I'm ready to post something, it almost invariably gets substantially better if I wait a day and post it after one more once-over, even if it's quite quick. And while I don't much care for Sieling's "rejection of immediacy" -- that immediacy and unfinished-ness is vital and unique -- I'll concede that the immediacy of the medium brings with it its own pitfalls. So I have two rules I try to observe: delay posting at least a day, and make the revised version shorter not longer.

Well, I'm off. Your disciples are getting together later to analyze your haircut typologically, and I've got to prepare.