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Culture & Religion

Gawker V. Wieseltier

While it’s not quite Norman Mailer on Liston v. Patterson, Gawker’s analysis of New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier’s recent exchange with Andrew Sullivan makes for brilliant reading, a smart companion to the conversation started between Susan Orlean and George Packer in their recent New Yorker podcast. Everyone of a certain age, and with a certain level of  . . . education (so many ways to end that ellipsis), is terrified of what the web has wrought for writers. And yet, more and more of them are working online in an effort to understand this new medium. Gawker takes sides, of course. Their framing of the debate might make you want to take sides, too.

Here is an excerpt of the Gawker post:

“Wieseltier’s attack on Sullivan earlier this month was couched in scolding moral terms as a rebuke against what he regards (unreasonably and stupidly) as Sullivan’s sloppy descent into anti-Semitic tropes. But the subtext was clear: What bothers Wieseltier so much about Sullivan’s views on Israel isn’t so much what he says as the way he says it:

He is the master, and the prisoner, of the technology of sickly obsession: blogging–-and the divine right of bloggers to exempt themselves from the interrogations of editors–-is also a method of hounding.

Sullivan doesn’t “dive deep into the substance of anything,” Wieseltier says, because he’s too busy “cursing and linking.” His rapid-fire posts and prodigious output—”ejaculations,” as Wieseltier puts it—are not so much arguments as “bar-room retorts; moody explosions of verbal violence; more invective from another American crank.” In other words, he writes a blog. When Sullivan countered that, to the extent that whatever excesses he’s guilty of were in part a function of the fact that he produces a continuous recording his unmediated reactions and thoughts and frames of mind, Wieseltier scoffed:

Compose yourself, man, and think. For a deeply felt opinion may be false, and even pernicious. In intellectual life, volatility has no authority, and spontaneity is not a virtue, and neither is sincerity…. And when Sullivan boasts about his Proteanism—one of the reasons I dislike blogging is that it is often the perfect vindication of the postmodern glorification of the self as discontinuous and promiscuous—why should his blog be read as anything more than a psychological document, as a record of his shifts and his seasons? 

These aren’t accusations of anti-Semitism, or arguments against a view of the propriety of Israeli actions over the past decade. They’re complaints about the volatility and moodiness and spontaneity that comes with writing things down quickly, all day, for consumption over the internet.”

End quote.

The Packer/Orlean conversation is an excellent corollary to this; it takes the dissection away from the emotional, and the personal, and simply reinforces the fact of the omnipresence of new technology, and the challenge it poses to people who think of themselves as thinkers. 

Let us now all agree: any unedited medium is slightly suspect. Blogs are silly. Amen. But this level of simplicity misses the point of the practice. The internet, and writing on the internet, is not about Deep v. Shallow (thinking) anymore than the text message was competition with the novel, or Jenna Jamison is in competition with Judi Dench. These are only what economists would consider diverse channels, all equally necessary in the promotion of a product, and the product is, increasingly, ideas.

No blogger confuses herself with Simone de Beauvoir. Were she to do so, let the critics come and condemn her en masse. 


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