Daily Archives: January 10, 2007

Centenaries for the long 18th century

It recently struck me that 2007 is a pretty good year for anniversaries for anyone interested in the long 18th century. The big one must surely be the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s easy to become jaded at all those overblown anniversary celebrations we see every year, mostly (it seems) simply opportunities for commercial exploitation, but I hope that this one might be a genuine opportunity to reflect and learn?

Meanwhile, we British are already using the tercentenary of Acts of Union between Scotland and England as an excuse to have (even more than usual) arguments about how much longer “Great Britain” is likely to last. (Expect plenty of opinion polls about how many Scots want to go it alone and how many English people would say good riddance.) It’s going to be entertaining, and it might even be educational for the many people out there who still don’t know the difference between ‘England’ and ‘Britain’.

According to Wikipedia, 1657 and 1757 were also interesting (lots of Seven Years’ War and similar action in the latter), though no really outstanding landmarks. (But if you fancy a really looong 18th century, don’t forget the creation of Jamestown in 1607 and the Indian Rebellion of 1857…)

Upate: another good one I missed: it’s also the 300th anniversary of the birth of Linnaeus. Although, having stopped to look at that page, I notice that they can’t seem to decide whether to spell the adjective ‘Linnean’ or ‘Linnaean’!

A slightly belated happy new year to all!


Berube retires from blogging, while a nation mourns

Yes, it’s true: Michael Berube’s blog is done, and now the rest of us will have to find other ways to spend those 10 minutes a day, waiting for our coffee to cool down.

In the meantime, to get a sense of what we’ll be missing, sample a fine interview (courtesy of Jeffrey Williams) in the Minnesota Review with the man himself (h/t to SEK @ the Valve).
Q: Do you think the blog represents a revolution in print? There’s a belief, for instance in the book The Rise of the Creative Class, that in twenty years we’ll all sit at Starbucks doing our work on our screens.

Bérubé: I’ve become so sick of that triumphalism. The very funny site Fafblog once had this line about how fast blogs move, that we go from Blog Bastille Day to the Blog Reign of Terror to a bunch of old, fat guys sitting around reminiscing about Blog Bastille Day in about six hours. Anyway, there’s an explanation that blogs perform some of the functions of traditional print media, from the beginnings of print culture in the 18th century. I think that’s right. The only thing I would add to that is to emphasize the phenomenon of hyperlinks; this is the one think about which I’m really enthusiastic about new media—just footnoting something, you actually provide the link to the entire source. Now, I have had some fun doing hyperlinks that are jokes. For example, a sort of blog cliché is to summarize an argument and say, “Read the whole thing here,” and I set up a dummy blog through Blogger and posted about 40 pages of the Grundrisse on it. If you’re of a mind, you could embed in a blog extraordinary kinds of information that you couldn’t do with a periodical. I think that’s the one qualitative difference, and it’s a critical difference.

This seems really important to me, the fact that the number and quantity of contexts that writers can provide with their arguments is now unlimited. We’re no longer relying on paraphrase, but can drag huge amounts of stuff into our arguments, if we so wish. This really does change the form of debates, doesn’t it?

I also liked his anti-modernist justification of the “plain style,” which in his case is closer to Swift than it is to Addison:

But the modernist faith in the avant-garde comes up in any number of places. It comes up in Shklovsky’s belief in defamiliarization, it comes through in Hans-Robert Jauss’s argument about how there’s a direct correlation between a work’s stylistic violation of the “horizon of expectations” and its literary value. I got more and more suspicious of that argument, partly because of my own former belief in it, and I thought, as sympathetic as I am to the modernist tradition, I don’t think that the difficulty of poetry or fiction or theory is necessarily tied to its effectivity. You can have interventions in the plain style that actually work to progressive or revolutionary ends, and I think you can have work that rips the fabric of the known that leads you places you don’t want to go. The danger in making the anti-avant-garde argument, as Habermas once noted, is that you get applause from the wrong quarter.


Best wishes,