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• Small Pieces From 2002-05-09 •

Kevin--I too cheer every time our Hero's name is evoked on the topic--but it's frustrating when one gets the sense that the columnist involved hasn't gotten the clues. It begins to reduce David to a mere pasteboard prop for a generic "pro-Web" point of view--sort of the friendly theoretical counterpart of Andrew Sullivan (no insult intended, except to the columnists involved).

I'd begin my quibbling with SPLJ now that David's back and over his jet lag, except my blogging son has borrowed my copy of the book (which I loaned him with solemn adjurations that he not just take it up to his room and lose it among in the primeval forest of debris that makes his room a hazmat zone). He's a quick reader, so I should get it back soon, and he may even ask to join the gang.

Loosely joined by AKMA13:36 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-05-08 •

AKMA, perhaps I was just happy to see SPLJ's name in print. Journalists experience of weblogs will match their preconceptions, becuase of the Caliban's mirror effect - they will go looking for things they are familiar and comfortable with, as we all do. John C Mahler did sample 200 blogs, by reading Blogger's most recently updated list, so he probably got a better random sample then we have (though what he did with it was trite).

I just reread Stephen Fry's 'The Stars Tennis Balls' (retitled 'Revenge' for the American market through more cultural cringing), and in it two characters say:

'We are merely the stars' tennis balls, Ned, struck and banded which way please them.'
'You don't believe that. You believe in will. You told me so.'
'Like anyone with a sliver of humanity in them I believe what I find I believe when I wake up each morning. Sometimes I can only think we are determined by the writing in our genes, sometimes it seems to me that we are made or unmade by our upbringings. On better days, it is true that I hope with some conviction that we and we alone make ourselves everything that we are.'
'Nature, Nurture or Nietzsche in fact.'


Thermodynamics combines with information theory. Life pushes against the thermodynamic arrow of decay to disorder. The repetitive state that Nietzsche posited is the ultimate end of the universe, and Baxter pointed out that if one could encode consciousness in a computing machine, a finite state machine that repeated eternally without creating new information would be able to do so indefinitely, and that ultimately this would be the only consciousness possible.

Nietzsche did argue against the possibility of such a disembodied consciousness, as Dave and Heidegger do too, and I would argue that consciousness without learning is nothing. The only Nietzsche I read in full was 'Ecce Homo', and that was at least 15 years ago, so I may be misremembering. I remember it having a similar fascination to Chris Locke's recent EGR's, and about as easy to summarize.

Loosely joined by Kevin Marks09:35 UTC

I See Dead Print Media

I have to say I think AKMA nails it when he notes that Shulevitz's "close reading" derives from the same narcissistic focus of attention that was operative with the other print commentators. It was amusing to see how, by framing the matter as blogosphere vs. blowdried media content, she attracted some street cred from the blogging community, without managing to shed any light on how that community actually works. (One notes that the bit of her piece that gets cited over and over is the stuff about "the increasing unreality of journalistic culture" - a theme that bloggers have been flogging for what seems decades already, yet when a print journo says it, it suddenly acquires Mosaic authority.)


Meanwhile one of the more interesting phenomena of blogging - the sort of kaleidoscopic formation of nano-groups, of momentary crystallizations of interest and fascination, the curious rise and deflation of one or another style or rhetorical mode - all this and more, suggestively outlined in Small Pieces, has yet to receive the first iota of attention from the print journos. Reminds me of about 1995 when large newspapers first began to look at the Web; all they could see was a potential competitor to the limited supply of eyeballs which they must attract in order to have any cash flow whatsoever. The entire phenomenon of the Net was reduced to "passing fad" "porno run rampant" and "invasion of privacy." There was nothing else to it. So now blogging is all about being a critique of Dan Rather. What does this say about the ability of the journosphere to "closely read" anything?

Loosely joined by tom01:26 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-05-07 •

Same Old

I wasn't so impressed with Shulevitz's article, Kevin. When are we going to see a print journalist, a print essayist spend enough time dealing with a variety of bloggers, not just Andrew Sullivan, please, to display some insight into what's going on? Blogs may not be the symptom of an electronic tipping point (as it were), but they're certainly noteworthy as more than just a response to monophonic BigCo media--which is what blogs look like only if you're inhabiting BigCo media world.

By the way, my understanding of eternal recurrence had less to do with dubious math or quantum physics, but more to do with Nietzsche proposing a way to think about everyday life (the unbearable lightness of being) that lends gravity to the ephemeral gestures of any given day. (One way to talk about this might entail drawing on Christian theological premises, but Nietzsche had pretty much burned that bridge; Schopenhauer beat him to the punch with karma; so he devised eternal recurrence as a way of regarding one's life that amplified the stature of the pedestrian.)

Loosely joined by AKMA23:07 UTC

At Large in the Blogosphere

A fairly smart piecea bout blogs, that cites SPLJ incisively. (Did we just do that to Nietzsche?)
No matter what a blog may actually say, its more visceral effect is to prove, again and again, the irreducible individuality of the blogger. Blogs provide a counterweight to the increasing unreality of mass journalistic culture -- its quality of having been processed beyond the realm of the recognizable, its frequent tone of unearned authority. They're the antidote to the blow-dried anchor, the unsigned editorial, the pronunciamento of the token credentialed expert. David Weinberger, in a smart new book about the Web called ''Small Pieces Loosely Joined,'' notes that human fallibility -- mistakes in movies, books and articles; the faux pas of public figures -- is one of the most popular topics of online discussion. In nitpicking, he says, we seek evidence of the man or woman behind the mystique: ''We get to kick in the teeth the idealized -- and constricted -- set of behaviors known as professionalism.''

Loosely joined by Kevin Marks07:33 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-05-06 •

Love your castle reference, Kevin.

Nietzsche's use of the Eternal Return of the Same always struck me as really bad science in service of a not very interesting myth. I'm no stinking mathematician, but I suspect that there's really nothing to the idea that any sufficiently long random sequence inevitably must repeat itself. Nietzsche seized on this because he was looking for a way to impart some seriousness to life that his more serious anti-metaphysics stripped away. Eternal Recurrence means that we have to live our lives as if there was some consequence to them. Maybe. I haven't actually read anything by N in a long time.

What would our history be like if more philosophers hadn't died virgins? (The myth about N that I recall is that he had sex once and died of syphillis from the event.)

Loosely joined by David14:14 UTC

I wrote a brief comment on Nietzsche's eternal return and its refutation on New Years day this year.
The idea that all history will be repeated, unchanging, eternally is a throwback to the pre-memetic world - where we cannot learn from each other.

The movie Groundhog Day makes the opposite case most eloquently - that repeating over and over again, we can learn from our own mistakes, and from others' and redeem ourselves as more fully human.

The novel Manifold Time takes an opposite tack - it implies the telos of history and an ultimate goal for mankind is seeding new quantum universes, as otherwise, once the universe succumbs to heat death and no new information can be created, all that will be possible is an eternally repeating set of states, and any remaining consciousness would need to be encoded in this way - repetitive, self-contained, eternal but lifeless.

Nietzsche is in some ways the philosophical equivalent of Ludwig of Bavarias castles - dramatic, initially impressive, rococo, influenced by Wagner, but ultimately empty of human society.

Loosely joined by Kevin Marks06:57 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-05-05 •

David--I know you're dissatisfied with the "metaphysics" page, but there's some beautiful stuff there. The lapidary statement, "Because Web space is hyperlinked, it’s fundamentally moral," points so vividly to your sense of what's important about our situation. This, too, connects to some extent with Kevin's point about the persistence of what we doonline; it's as though Nietzsche's imp hadn't imposed on us eternal but eternal occurrence. Can we live with the flamebait we threw at our online neighbors--forever? That's one reason I try to treat flopnozzles with respect; I hate to see myself look an ass in retrospect.

I'd tie this in directly with Small Pieces itself, but my copy is at the office and I'm writing from home.

Loosely joined by AKMA23:44 UTC

Antonio, I agree with #1, but #2 seems to me to give the old Nazi too much credit. I somehow think that the "rescue" he had in mind wasn't itself technological. As you know, he lived in a ski chalet in a medieval town in the Black Forest and seems to have considered technology as alienating. He was also not enamored of the "wisdom of the common man" and thought that the great turnings in how the world shows itself to us occur on the pivot point of poetry, not the rantings of the rabble. It's for just that type of thinking that the deconstructionists have critiqued him. POMO is closer to the Web than Heidegger could get, I believe. On the other hand, his refusal to provide any specifics about "the rescue" may mean he would have been open to being surprised.

For my most explicitly Heideggerian, metaphysical approach to the topic of the Hope chapter, see http://www.hyperorg.com/misc/metaphysics/index.html, although I should warn you that I don't like this very much any more.

Loosely joined by David20:59 UTC