Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, May 17, 2007

When I consider how my light is spent...

It seems the occassional and necessary fit that comes over me and prompts a truly navel-gazing post along the lines of "What am I doin' hangin' round?" It's a zeitgeist thing; I've seen it in the air lately, as news events slow down and politics turns in favor (slowly, but surely) of left blogistan. Jerry Falwell's death has prompted a new round of interest, mostly of people trying to assess the famous (or infamous) pastor without quite speaking ill of the dead. Pastor Dan has taken two stabs at it (here, with a convenient roundup of still other opinions, and here), and even NPR ran both an excellent story on "Whither the conservative Christian voter now?" as well as an excellent assessment of Falwell as a Christian pastor. It's been interesting to see how the public person is regarded while assidously avoiding personal remarks. But that will wear out soon, and it will be back to business as usual: politics and the outrage du jour, or even of the hour.

Pastor Dan states the issue fairly clearly over at Street Prophets; but it isn't an issue limited to that blog, or to this one. Still, it's an issue that has been claiming more and more of my attention lately:

What are blogs for?

There is, as I said, something in the air. There have been more than a few "meta-blogging" posts and comments going around lately, such as this one, this one, this one, and this one, all revolving around this newspaper column (irony!). The best ones use "navel-gazing" ironically, so as to distance themselves from the very thing they are doing ("Look, Ma, no hands!"), but navel gazing is all it amounts to. This, in itself, is not surprising. It isn't only the consequence of slow news days, or the weariness of working up new outrage at new revelations. Time has simply passed. Like the monks who enter the life of the monastery driven by a vision, an experience, a feeling they want to both share and prolong, the time of acedie inevitably sets in. And the question becomes: how does one go on? What is interesting is that the zeitgeist seems to have brought them all out nearly simultaneously, with only a few prompted by the simple defensive reflex which seems to have gotten blogs started in the first place. But Pastor Dan's post is not defensive at all, and isn't really navel-gazing (though he tags it as such). He raises the question blogs need to be raising as the level of white noise (the sheer number of blogs) rises, and blogging as a "phenomenon" (I'm not sure that word shouldn't apply only to acts of nature) begins to settle into...well, non-phenomenal status.

What are blogs for?

I don't have an answer; but I have come to think blogs are not for this. They are not for ceaseless whining and endless re-assessment of news stories and opinion columns (even as I continue to do it, like a reflex or a bad habit; three in one day alone! But I can quit whenever I want to....) and when all else fails the constant defense of bloggers' rights to do it any way bloggers damn well please to do it. Well, they can be for that, but who really cares when they are? I've come to realize blogs are just like books, the only difference being they are free to everyone. They cost nothing to produce, nothing to sustain, and if you're really, really lucky, they'll even earn you some money. Not many of them, of course, do that; just like books. I've seen too many people in the bookstore spending their days hawking books no one really wants to read, or hawking vanity press publications they are sure will get great word of mouth and notice from Oprah, and they don't hang around the bookstores long enough (who does, besides the employees?) to notice how many books published by major houses end up remaindered (that's why Barnes & Noble always has shelves of "discount books" in their stores, and discount booksellers line tables with stacks of volumes). People publish stories and opinions and information every day, and other people expend a great deal of money to get those stories and opinions and information out to a waiting public who, it turns out, weren't waiting for that at all.

Blogs are no different, except for the money part.

So what are blogs for? And how much longer can they keep it up? And why bother, anyway?

Monks enter a community which has known acedie for millenia; literally, millenia. They know how to cope with it. The story is told of Mother Teresa going to Calcutta because of a mystical vision of Jesus directing her to serve the poor. Decades later a seeker came to her hoping for insight into achieving a mystical vision himself, and she told him she had not had another vision since the one that led her to Calcutta. Never again, in all her long life of devotion, would she have another vision. Acedie. It can last a lifetime.

And what do you do then?

"Eventually," I said once before, "it's not about what you feel, but what you do." But that's the question: what do blogs do? More importantly, what should blogs do? Lately, the conviction has been growing on me that Wittgenstein would have made a fine blogger. And what would he say about this?

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
And what would silence on a blog look like? And what might it produce?

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