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The Day After

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“See! Now! Our sentence is up.”

That’s the last line of the last page of the last issue of The Invisibles, Grant Morrison’s pop magic comic book master work. That final issue came out right around Y2K, but it’s set on the December solstice of what was then the freaky-sounding future year 2012. All this year, every time I heard somebody cracking wise about the Mayan Apocalypse, I thought, “Unless you’re an ancient Mayan, you’re stealing Grant Morrison’s bit.”

I bought and read every issue of The Invisibles as it came out from 1994 to 2000. It’s the only comic I’ve ever followed so religiously. It’s brilliant and fun and a bit of a mess and it meant the world to me. It worked its way into my life and rewired the way I saw things, which is pretty much what it was intended to do. Yes, it’s dated now, but so am I. I can’t be any more objective about it than I could be objective about my twenties.  Read more

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Auld is the Lang Syne

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I started blogging ten years ago tomorrow–January 1st, 2001–with a quote from Parappa the Rapper, a welcome to my newborn niece, and the default Blogger theme. I wasn’t a very good blogger, but in 2001, who was? I’d make all these little placeholder posts, with the idea of going back and finishing them later. Heh. The big wheel of life keeps turning, and unfinished blog posts, I have since learned, do not typically finish themselves.

My god, this thing we (unfortunately?) call blogging has changed so much in ten years. It’s enjoyed its edgy youth, its boom town gold rush days, and its decadent high baroque. Now, with the rise of blogging’s vapid, staccato children, the blog as medium seems to be settling into old, weird decrepitude. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself. We always do, don’t we, when we talk about the internet?

It is time, I think, for Old is the New New, at least in its current incarnation, to come to an end.

Not necessarily today, and not necessarily with this post. No, this blog will ramp down and fold up, I expect, in the same half-assed, dilatory way it has always lived. But it is time for some kind of change.

Ten years is a long run for a blogger, even one as erratic as I. If you are reading this, oh Teeming Dozens, thank you for your time. If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, thank you. If you’ve ever commented, if you’ve ever linked, if you’ve ever gotten anything out of this at all, thank you. I am so grateful for, and flattered by, every success this little blog has had.

What exactly “come to an end” means is a little fuzzy. I am still going to be blogging about history and play at the shiny new group blog, Play The Past. I am, if a little unenthusiastically, on Facebook and Twitter. This site will absolutely stay up, maybe with a facelift of sorts. The archives aren’t going anywhere. (I’ve even been toying with the idea of vanity-publishing my best old stuff as a POD book. Would anyone buy one? Mom?) And whenever I write something new, as I expect I will from time to time, I will probably post it here. So in what sense will the blog be “done”? Why not just call this yet another hiatus? I’ve obviously had no problem letting these furrows lay fallow for months at a time before.

The reasons are mostly in my head. My life too often feels like a chain of endless open loops. (I am sure nobody reading this can relate.) As I scramble to hammer out the final revisions on my telephone book, assemble my tenure file, teach my classes, and try not to screw up my two kiddies too badly, I’d prefer to think of Old is the New New as some kind of accomplishment, rather than one more hovering obligation. And the way to do that, I think, is to draw a line and call it done.

I also want to free myself for new things. I remember talking once about “blogging voice” with Timothy Burke. For me, Tim sets the gold standard for academic generalist blogging. He’s got a brilliant, playful, wide-ranging mind and can find something interesting and original to say on any topic under the sun. But Tim has written more than once about how the “voice” he’s crafted on his blog is both “a treasured accomplishment and a frustrating confinement.” “The more you write,” he says, “the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new.”

I know what he means. Even with my own erratic output, there are a few hundred posts below this one, trailing back ten years to the start of this century. I doubt many of you have read them all, but I have, and I do feel them dragging in my wake whenever I sit down to write something new. How many posts have I started by linking to what I said on the same subject two years ago, or three, or five, or eight? I want to be able to start fresh, to sharpen and revise my voice. I don’t know if a new format or URL or blog theme will be enough for me to do that, but it’s a start.

Finally, I’m just a little down on the whole internet deal just now. I know that every generalization about the web is wrong, including this one. Emily Gould called the internet “a chimera that magically manifests in whatever guise its viewer expects it to.” My internet isn’t yours, and again, whenever we make hand-wavey generalizations about the web, we’re mostly just describing our own neurochemistries. So read this how you will, but when I look at the web today, I get tired. There’s great stuff out there, I know. But I can’t shake the sense that rhetorical closure is setting in, and it’s not all we thought it was going to be. Four years ago, Time‘s Person of the Year was “You,” which is to say, us, which is to say, that whole user-generated people power 2.0 schtick. Yes, it was hokey and about three years late in coming, but a worthwhile sentiment just the same. This year, of course, Time‘s Noble Personage is Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t tell me there’s not some kind of declension there.

There was a time when the web, and the blogosphere in particular, surprised and delighted me every damn day. It doesn’t do that lately. Am I just old? Maybe. But the thing to do, I’m thinking, is not to get all wistful about it. It is to step back, to try to rethink and hopefully rediscover my relationship to this space, and see if, somewhere down the road, I can’t surprise and delight myself (and maybe you) once more.

Until then, thanks for reading.

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Survival of the Fittest

Searching for something else, I just came upon a comment I’d clipped and saved by Timothy Burke at Scott Kaufman’s Acephalous. The post is a few years old; SEK was talking about how “Social Darwinism” never really existed, at least not in the simple, coherent form handed down to us by Richard Hofstadter. Tim says:

There are a very substantial number of tropes, terms, events and so on which are taken as historical truths which, when you take the trouble to trace them back, rest on very slender … scholarly foundations. You could spend your life as a historian just doing skeptical investigation of many commonly reproduced ideas about the past… Eugenics is an interesting example that’s closely linked to “Social Darwinism”: it differed very substantially from nation to nation, but in England and the United States, it actually had very little to say about people of color, contra the commonly received view (which I often see in humanistic writing). It certainly had a powerful racial referent, but a lot of that was implicit, and almost always directed at white people, at a notion that the hierarchical place of whites was threatened by their ebbing biological strength due to their over-civilization. In other words, it was a lot weirder than the commonsensical invocation of it often looks.

But this is also of course where a truly intricate sense of intellectual history can enter the picture: you could ask why the idea of “social darwinism” as a past construction which we imagine ourselves to have overcome (but which can be invoked in the present to criticize some opponent) became so appealing. In other words, excavating the historiography of “Social Darwinism” can turn into a backdoor intellectual history of the time at which Hofstader published his work. You could observe that perhaps the term was so appealing at the time because it was a useful mythography for New Dealers trying to sum up how their form of capitalism was a moral triumph over the capitalism of the robber barons. Or perhaps it was also a comforting term for mid-century biologists and social scientists, stressing the evolution of proper formal boundaries and precision between disciplines. … “Social Darwinism” almost invariably gets used as a way to stress the moral and intellectual distance between late 19th Century America and now, that we are both better scientifically and morally.

When a guy’s comments–not his blog posts, his comments on someone else’s blog–are this smart and useful, maybe the rest of us should just pack it in?