A lazy Reykjavik


Tue, 25 Feb 2003

Death of the Blogger.

Dorothea and Liz have made a couple of posts on the pros and cons of the academic system. Both are, for the most part, right.

But they don’t spot what I consider to be one of the biggest problems with academia and the academic culture, and which happens to be one of the biggest problems with weblogs as well.

The curse of the meme.

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.
Roland Barthes“The Death of the Author.”

Thought-viruses infect your mind, spawn their clones and infect their garbage into the writing of otherwise clever people. The virus’ shallow, self-referential and simplistic concepts riddles otherwise sensible stuctures with faddish holes, repetitive statements and blatantly false and unsubstantiated truisms.

Academia is prime, un-vaccinated territory for garbage thought-viruses such as the relativistic mumbo-jumbo of Stanley Fish, Propp’s narrow and simplistic theories later popularised by Joseph Campbell, hypertext theory spew which blatantly and categorically claim that “this is the way the human mind works” without a single solitary reference to psychology, psychiatry or medical papers to back up that obnoxious and almost mythological statement. At least Vannevar Bush had the decency to include “may” in the title of his essay “As We May Think.”

These ideas, the thought-viruses of current theory praxis, are self-propogating memes.

Thought-viruses, which have undermined the craft of academia (referencing, research, analysis and debate) and doomed most of academic practice into irrelevance.

Memes are bad things (to put it bluntly). They propogate truisms, undermining the practice of referencing, research and proper attribution. They homogenise the discussion as everybody’s talking about the same thing. They provide no scope for analysis as the meme itself usually consists of a set of very simple concepts.

Memes are persistent as well, witness the longevity of Joseph Campbell’s garbage. “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”, a fiction claiming to authoritively describe the narrative structure of all of mankind’s myths, based on Vladimir Aioakovlevich Propp’s narrow research on a small subset of Russian folk-tales and then generalised into insane statments.

The fact that the only stories which fit Campbell’s structure are those written afterwards with his book as a guideline does not stop people from mindlessly propogating his ideas.

The Viral Genre.

Weblogs are prime territory for this kind of simplistic mental ooze. Memes—thought infections—which crawl, burrow, drill and scratch their way from weblog to weblog, the prime infection vectors being the so-called “A-list” webloggers.

Topics are covered and then dismissed with a short paragraph and a link.

Debate consists of short volleys of 80 word meme brain-boils where the thought-virus biomass simmers under the thin skin of comments and trackbacks. Everything can be categorised.

The meme-plague is the only thing which can destroy the weblogging revolution, murder it in its tracks.

Everybody speaks the same, in the same way, about the same thing, with little to no variation. We could easily turn into the lightspeed version of the same unsubstantiated bullshit of postmodern academia, shedding even the pretense of giving ideas space and scope for discussion.

What killed the author and poisoned academia is trying to return through the violated corpses of a horde of ’blogger-zombies spouting inane commentary on the links of the day.

We aren’t there yet. There is still a critical mass of well-structured debate and good writing within the “blogosphere”.

But as the popularity of weblogging increases, the number of meme-victims will rise and the blogdex top fifty will not only describe the fifty most popular subjects amongst webloggers…

It will describe the only subjects.

Concentrated Viral Refuse.

And the weblogging meme will eat its own.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.