September 12, 2003

How uncool became cool

Posted by Curt at 08:21 PM in Blogging | TrackBack

As my brother so graciously introduced me, I am his brother, Curt, also known by my Arabic nickname al-Curtizini (that should get a few hits from the Justice Department-viva Google!). This I think is important to note, lest my brother be slanderously accused of saying all the things that appear under his imprimateur. I must say, after I learned that he had started a blog, the first thing that came to my mind was the question: "Yeah, but does it have lots of cool text links?" This, to me, was the real mark of authenticity, the thing that really elevates a blog beyond a simple online diary and makes it a portal of information on the Internet. But what actually is the point of these links? I have always been struck, when I think about them consciously, by the degree to which the very different functions of pseudo-advertising, helpful reference and tacit boasting of cultural literacy have become fused in the form of links on most sites of reasonable sophistication. This is hardly a new phenomenon; in academia, where the sophisticated use of texts is one of the pre-eminent signs of achievement, scholarly citations, in greater or lesser degrees of formality, have long performed a similar mulitiplicity of tasks. Of course, the difference lies principally in magnitude and content. Scholarly prowess has always had a limited appeal, and not only among those who cannot construct a decent syllogism. An air of unworldliness enwraps the library, and a sort of hushed attitude towards knowledge is cultivated there. The Internet is another thing entirely, and its users as well; they seem somehow more engaged with the world, partly because they encounter a much more heterogenous portion of it on the Internet than readers do in a library. If researchers at the Library in Alexandria had had to sift through shelves full of porno to discover Euclid's treatises (well, maybe they did) academics might have been spared millenia of Swiftian barbs. For a truly discerning and perceptive congnoscento of the Internet, few in my experience will dismiss such as him as either pedantically abstract or intellectually shallow. He seems in fact, to have mastered the librarian's virtues, the scholarly corraling of information, while at the same time interacting deftly with a very wide swath of humanity, for practically everything in the world has its surrogate in digital media today, as pieces of information, and so the skills of the librarian are no longer just for the ghost-world of the library itself, but for the world-represented-as-a-library which is the Internet. This all makes me think of a story by one of our greatest librarian-artists, Borges, called "The Library of Babel," which depicts the entire world as, quite literally, a library, where different nations occupy different reading-rooms and the most intrepid explorers are librarians who venture to distant shelves searching for profound books with unnamable words in them. Anyway, the effect of such a fiction by Borges, who synthesizes an incredible array of various forms of media detritus and scraps of information into a dizzying and grand structure, would perhaps, though greatly different in degree, not be so different in kind from the effect produced by an urbane, widely ranging blog. And there you have my rough equivalence principle, as well as my own rather archaic form of boast/reference/advertisement, via allusion: Borges=Shonkwiler.