Sunday, January 07, 2007

blogosphere in a bottle

As chance would have it, the Geert Lovink essay on blogging and nihilism has finally been posted in full on Equanimity) Its nice timing have just read blah-feme and posting this. Everyone who blogs or reads blogs needs to read the Lovink piece- it is dense with many subtleties and probably controversial to many bloggers.

First let's revisit blah-feme's excellent question and my widdled down observations from the post.
In short, the question might be reworked here to speak that which it really wants to speak – what are the limits, boundaries, horizons of this thing that we do when we log on to post another post?

1.... it points up the radical openness and indeterminacy of agency in the blogosphere.The questioning of agency has many authors and its radicalisation in the last 20 years or so has been quite remarkable: gaming theory, theories of fields, institutions, habitus and, even, the sinthome – all these new theorisations have pulled the rug from under the Romantic construction of agency as in some sense always traceable to a small number of sources and addressing an ideal addressee.

2.What strikes me as potentially useful, though, at least for a short while, might be precisely the blogosphere's disavowal of simple (mono-directional) agency and its broader engagement with citing, pointing, referencing and quoting. One only has to subscribe to a small number of smart blogs to get a sense of the radical potential for this kind of practice.

3. The blogosphere is, dare I say it, ontologically at odds with modes of thought that seek to reduce, simplify or moralise the social field. At its best, blogging can and continues to hold the promise of refusing that kind of hectoring modality.

4. Of course blogging encourages a rather full-on and belligerent style of writing sometimes...but this is inevitable if something is to try to maintain a contentious relationship with mainstream journalism and pubic opinion. Of course, the blogoshpere does not guarantee anything and we must in the end take responsibility for is shape and contest its colonisers and censors; and even then, of course, there is no guarantee that these kinds of engagement will of themselves make the difference we want them to.

5. Agency has a way of biting back, of digging in just when you think its all over, and it often does so when a number of ideas authored over a large time period are drawn together as a uniform resource: the blogoshpere might form a large part of that resource.

6. So does the blogosphere have an unconscious? And what might that look like? It is undoubtedly structured, undoubtedly disparate and undoubtedly marked by a radical incoherence.

Lovink begins with this bomb (you may want some aspirin to go with this headache)

"Blogs bring on decay. Each new blog is supposed to add to the fall of the media system that once dominated the twentieth century. This process is not one of a sudden explosion. The erosion of the mass media cannot easily be traced in figures of stagnant sales and the declining readership of newspapers. In many parts of the world, television is still on the rise. 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. The printed and broadcasted message has lost its aura. News is consumed as a commodity with entertainment value. Instead of lamenting the ideological color of the news, as previous generations have done, we blog as a sign of the regained power of the spirit. As a micro-heroic, Nietzschean act of the pajama people, blogging grows out of a nihilism of strength, not out of the weakness of pessimism. Instead of time and again presenting blog entries as self-promotion, we should interpret them as decadent artifacts that remotely dismantle the mighty and seductive power of the broadcast media.

Microsoft's in-house blogger Robert Scoble lists five elements that made blogs so hot. The first is the "ease of publishing", the second he calls "discoverability", the third is "cross-site conversations", the fourth is permalinking (giving the entry a unique and stable URL), and the last is syndication (replication of content elsewhere).[4] Lyndon from Flock Blog gives a few tips for blog writing, showing how ideas, feelings, and experiences can be turned into news format, and showing how dominant PowerPoint has become: "Make your opinion known, link like crazy, write less, 250 words is enough, make headlines snappy, write with passion, include bullet point lists, edit your post, make your posts easy to scan, be consistent with your style, litter the post with keywords."[5] Whereas the email-based list culture echoes a postal culture of writing letters and occasionally essays, the ideal blog post is defined by snappy public relations techniques.

Web services like blogs cannot be separated from the output they generate. The politics and aesthetics defined by first users will characterize the medium for decades to come. Blogs appeared during the late 1990s, in the shadow of dot-com mania.[6] Blog culture was not developed enough to be dominated by venture capital with its hysterical demo-or-die-now-or-never mentality. Blogs first appeared as casual conversations that could not easily be commodified. Building a laid-back parallel world made it possible for blogs to form the crystals (a term developed by Elias Canetti) from which millions of blogs grew and, around 2003, reached critical mass.

Blogging in the post-9/11 period closed the gap between Internet and society. Whereas dot-com suits dreamt of mobbing customers flooding their e-commerce portals, 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."[7] If you can't cope with high degrees of irrelevance, blogs won't be your cup of tea.

Here are some interesting reactions to Lovink's essay from earlier in the year (the the piece was presented at the Annenberg Center in April 2006)
  1. I cite
  2. Kazys Varnelis
Kazy's seems to think people are hung up on the Nihilism reference. He has this to say: observation that I made after reading it is that for those of us somewhere in the matrix between the academy, architecture, and the Internet, there is a fatal trajectory from post-structuralism to identity politics to Deleuzeanism to blogging. I'd like to suggest that this isn't merely a conflation of unlike terms but rather that there is a steady evolution here. There is a desire in each of the subsequent movements to affirm the individual (through subject position, through productive agency, and through an active DIY voice), but instead each one actually does a more thorough job of wiping out individual subjectivity than the previous iteration (please slot the blob under Deleuzeanism... a million 20-40 year old students, all being original, all making nearly identical shapes).
...but, like Geert, what I am observing is not only the massification of the Internet but a more generalized cultural move toward nothingness that expresses itself through the medium of the blog. Through the blog, we attain a complete and fatal condition, making our comments into the void, thereby affirming our existence while we also emphatically assert our distance from any situation we might act in.

Jodi Dean of I cite disagrees on these grounds:
I don't buy it. It remains trapped into thinking of blogs in terms of dominant media paradigms of mainstream news or public relations (celebrity scandal). Thus, it misses new features dependent on the generation of new content, production of new conversations, weaving of different threads (I love Angela's notion of the blog weave), and the traveling carnivals. Because he remains trapped, Geert can only view blogs negatively and thus he reiterates European nihilism from the early 20th century.
More specifically, it's of course a fantasy that there ever was Belief in the Message. Critique of propaganda was coterminous with its introduction. And, hasn't distrust of rhetoric always been a concern of philosophy? Second, I don't think anyone associated the msm with Truth--in fact, positing such a view presupposes a kind of unified audience already put to bed with milk and cookies by cultural studies. Third, if printed and broadcast messages ever had an aura, and I'll say that some have for me, then the fact of a crowded media market doesn't mean that they lose it. It's just more of a challenge.
I personally don't see Lovink as a defender of old media(though it sounds like it here) but I do sense a tinge of European snobbery or perhaps just a contrarian view - blogs as masscult deadends. Nevertheless there is ample supply of important considerations here, especially as we consider the earlier idea of taking responsibility for the shape and scope of the "blogosphere" as an action and as resistance.

To borrow from a commentor on Icite, "the far more interesting rupture brought on by blogs has nothing to do with blogs and everything to do with their interconnectivity and the indexing functions that make the pretense and knowledge of that interactivity possible (Google, Technorati, trackbacks, etc.). If we're still having a debate over whether or not "the blog" is good or bad, we should be very sad". Blogging can be viewed as a corrective, perhaps the best hope for generating some semblance of the former public sphere. I would stil like to hear more about the charge of Nihilism - a social nihilism or political nihilism? or is this simply a critique of "radical democracy?

image: HLIB


Steven LaRose said...

Damn you.
All I wanted to do was paint tonight.
Instead, you swept me up in the Downward Nobility of Blogging.

With every step forward, it seems to me that humanity is coming to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as "forward".

Nice pic for the post btw.

highlowbetween said...

you should paint by all means.
The lovink piece is long, i obviously drank way too much coffee yesterday in the studio which led to this last night. Really good stuff though.