Is blogging together being like Iceland?

[… before I get to the topic, … a note for this blog’s Annals of Outrageous Hypocrisy. It’s the usual suspect, I’m afraid, Guardian News and Media (GNM). Any number of us who have commented on blogs on The Guardian’s website in recent years have seen our posts deleted when they support — or simply mention — bloggers disagreeing with the paper’s moderation decisions or policies. I last saw this happen only weeks ago. . . But hark! comrades, here is The Guardian – as quoted by Noam Cohen in The New York Timesonce again posing as the great liberator and friend of free speech:

… Last month, a British judge ruled that material obtained by Guardian journalists about a multinational corporation had to be kept secret. […] That is, The Guardian was forbidden to report that it had been gagged.

… When, thanks to his Twitter-ing, The Guardian’s editor got the gag order untied, he exulted:

But last week’s events show that a variety of Internet projects, including Twitter, are making it harder for the traditional gatekeepers to control of the flow of information.
Certainly, The Guardian was in full celebratory mode last week. “Twitter’s detractors are used to sneering that nothing of value can be said in 140 characters,” Mr. Rusbridger wrote about his initial tweet. “My 104 characters did just fine.”

Hmm …and now that you know what, er…. heavy-handed moderation …. feels like yourself, Alan Rusbridger, how about telling us that you understand how we feel about your minions’ restraints on our free speech? How about apologising for routinely dishing out through your moderators the kind of censorship and silencing you apparently can’t take yourself?]

de•lin•quent (dĭ-lĭng’kwənt, -lĭn’-)

adj. 1. Failing to do what law or duty requires.
2. Overdue in payment: a delinquent account.

[Latin dēlinquēns, dēlinquent-, present participle of dēlinquere, to offend : dē-, de- + linquere, to leave, abandon; see leikw- in Indo-European roots.]

… Yes, I know. . . I know. The long gap between posts – if nothing else – proves that nearly all shades of that word apply to the writer of this blog. But whereas most people wander from their accustomed haunts when the days are long and the weather balmy, some of us put off going away until the wind picks up, the thermostat plummets, and we can maximise our chances of surreal experiences. I’ve been busy haggling over steamer trunks, mules and camels, and calculating how many tents I’ll need.

I’ve been recalled to duty at this site by @ISA, also known as Philip Hall, who has just launched an experiment in collaborative blogging. If Phil had consulted me beforehand about timing – never mind that there’s no reason why he should have done — I’d have explained that I couldn’t accept either his invitation or his ‘all hands on deck’ summons over at Ars Notoria, or certainly not in the immediate future.

I wish the new site every success. Its launch has dovetailed tidily with reflections over the last few days on what I’ve learnt from running acciaccature — one year old next month, when I might not have access to a computer or even a net-capable mobile telephone. Moments before I had Phil’s birth announcement, and looking for attractive trunk-lining, I came across this paragraph in an excellent travelogue by Rebecca Solnit in last October’s issue of Harper’s Magazine:

Iceland is the only part of Europe that never begat monarchs or a hereditary aristocracy […] Iceland’s national parliament, or Althing—the word for “assembly” being, in Icelandic, thing—was formed in 930 a.d., about sixty years after the first settlers came over from Norway. They met at a site whose name, Thingvellir, “the plain of the thing,” still commemorates this ancient annual gathering, which was a combined parliamentary session, court review, and country fair.

Aha, I thought, re-reading that – a nation founded in the spirit of collaborative blogging, which Phil’s charter demonstrates to perfection. I dearly hope that Ars Notoria can avoid the obvious pitfalls of all such idealistic enterprises, never depicted more splendidly than by Orwell’s hypocritical, self-righteous oinks ‘more equal’ than the other beasts in Animal Farm.

About Icelandic government, though, what Solnit mentions as its most glaring flaw puzzled me at first. That, it seems, is cowardice – lily-livered citizen-governors – on which she quotes Svanur Kristjánsson, an Icelandic professor of political science:

“You can run into your prime minister at the store,” he said. “You know the minister, the president—you can make an appointment with the president.” But at the same time, there is “an incredible lack of civic courage” within the governing class, “a lack of people standing up and telling the truth,”

The idea seemed less surprising after I remembered the striking ratio in this very spot between the swarms of clicks, indicating reader interest, and the low comment count, for posts critical of The Guardian — taking it to task not just for silencing dissenting voices but far, far worse.

Whether or not Icelandic cowardice has any application at Ars Notoria – I’d guess none, if it turns out to be just a friendly chat forum, or one where bloggers with strange hobbies embrace fellow-hobbyists — countries could supply the best fast metaphors for what collaborative blogs should and shouldn’t aim at being.

Since most of the bloggers I know and love best are almost militantly independent, I suspect that we’re most like nations made up of hardy and idiosyncratic mountain peoples when we attempt to blog together. Think of Switzerland, a country of only seven and a half million inhabitants splintered into twenty-six cantons speaking either wholly different languages or different dialects of the same language, and operating something like fractal micro-Switzerlands with their own laws.

Well, … perhaps not Switzerland, as after the 19th century its tribes, acting collectively, seem to have acquired a mysterious gift for attracting peace to themselves – or certainly for keeping out of international disputes.

Afghanistan would be its opposite, since that’s a mountainous nation that you might suppose to have a magical knack for magnetising conflict.

Collaborative blogging – in my experiences to date, starting with Desmond Swords’ heroic blogger-nation, Lit-Lovers’ Forum, in 2007 – is rather more like Afghanistan.

When I can help with Ars Notoria (and if Phil’s invitation still stands) I almost certainly will – though that won’t be for several weeks. Why the note of hesitation? Since Phil has some connection never quite spelt out with administrators at The Guardian, I confess that I’ve been wondering whether we aren’t being invited to act, unpaid, as laboratory mice for an experiment in moderation-free blogging whose most constructive and productive features will simply be copied by that newspaper.

I have trouble completely believing my suggestion myself – since Phil, unlike GNM, is as far as possible from a hypocrite or, as the subject has been mentioned, coward. I’m more deeply in his debt than anyone else’s for posting notices of this site’s existence in other places, and he has been unstinting with every form of encouragement. But for family-related reasons he has openly explained, he feels bound by respect and affection to certain editors at that newspaper.

I don’t envy him his complicated tight rope act, supporting both us and them. If I’m right in my guess … and I could be wholly mistaken … and if the policy-makers and online publishing strategists at The Guardian make the apology they owe a few of us for outrageous mistreatment; if they can be modest enough to ask for our help in trying out new kinds of blogging platforms; if they compensate us in some way for our effort, I’ll sign on. Who would doubt that that’s the right way forward for any newspaper serious about thriving in the ethersphere?


Filed under Censorship, The blogosphere, The Guardian

12 responses to “Is blogging together being like Iceland?

  1. ISA

    I suppose I should be the first to respond, Wordy. Susan mentioned your post and so I dropped by. Welcome back from whatever corner of the wild you are in.

    My connection with the Guardian is quite slim. Linda Grant was a friend of my parents. Linda Grant got in touch with me because she learned of my mother’s illness and she admired my mother as a young woman. The fact that she should make contact through the medium seemed quite magical and though she never actually talked to mom, mom was aware, and pleased, that Linda remembered her. So Linda fired off a couple of blogs about this quality of community that the medium that she had not trusted seemed to possess. I wrote a reply and now occasionally make blog proposals about 70% of which they do not accept. The poetry site was full of like minded people. Carol’s thread was the best place to hang out on the whole web. It was argumentative – explosive sometimes, but non-judgmental at another level. The strict moderation must have started after we went over the top a couple of times with invited poets. Tearing them to shreds. We weren’t very nice to Booker Prize judges either. But it was fun.

    I had an Irish friend called Jerry McGowan and he influenced me a lot. He was a political exile. He insisted that one should never censor oneself and so this has been my philosophy on the Guardian.

    Don’t censor yourself. Because it is through self censorship that power entrenches itself. Just as Wordy has suggested on this blog.

    Although i have been tempted to stop blogging and posting I do not because “I seed my doody and I dood it.”

    I believe in the power of language, well articulated, to make a difference. In a way this is a war of ideas.

    I don’t believe we are necessarily all that amateurish. In the blogging medium we are less amateurish than many writers, including many Guardian journalists posing as bloggers or bloggers trying to pose as print journalists.

    I believe in levelling the playing field as much as possible. What happens when you strip archbishops and philosophers and politicians of their protective mantels and question them? Usually, they are exposed as one trick ponies.

    Basically, I despise anyone posing as a blogger who doesn’t engage with people who post. They deserve to be treated like coconuts in a shy. The point is to engage.

    As for Ars Notoria, I chose the simplest possible format: Plain white and big letters.

    The name, as of course you are all aware, has three meanings:

    1. You are free to say something noteworthy and interesting.

    2. You are free to make a notorious arse of yourself.

    3. Or you may aspire to engaging in a “magical – angelic” conversation.

    I think it is something that can evolve and when and if it does, then we can migrate it to a more impressive platform.

    Someone suggested that it form a sort of hub radiating to all our blogs.

    I must admit that I have asked, for example, famous international lawyers to join in, and they have begged me. “Phil, please make me to join, I am so busy.”

    That made me laugh.

    But we have some interesting people:

    A climate change expert.
    TV Producers
    Travel writers
    Liberation movement people
    A cartoonist
    Shit stirrers
    and so on.

    Now some of these people I know, but most are from blogging.

    What I would love is to build up to a non-commercial collective.

    I believe in the Quality of the people who have offered to contribute and so I will promote Ars Notoria ruthlessly. I need mailing lists. Perhaps you could do it too.

    Of course there are limits to what can be said on Ars Notoria. The obvious. No racism, sexism, homophobia or discriminatory hate speak of any kind. After that it’s up to you. You moderate your own comments.

    I am doing this because someone had to. We have to explore the real potential of this medium together.

    Phil – ISA

    BTW we do also have a top rank editor. Not a Guardian editor. So if you would like your articles to be subbed, “topped and tailed” as they say, the Editor has agreed.

    When Wordy has time then s/he will have admin privileges.

    If the Guardian can be convinced to put a link to Ars Notoria on their blogroll then I think we should call a truce.

    We’ll see who pulls the plug on anyone first Wordy.

    I bet it won’t be me.

    (Des, have you signed on as a contributor yet?)

  2. Susan, … Susan … why does that name seem so familiar? Someone we’ve all been blogging with, @ISA? … Hmm, I saw a name something like that beside a green outline of a pretty face on one of those sites I skate over now and then. Anyway, whoever she is, I’m grateful to her for sending you over to write that wonderful post.

    … I’m not going to reply yet but will give readers a chance to digest all your angles … a bit like letting a roast ‘rest’ for twenty minutes after you take it out of the oven. Hope that’s okay.

  3. Suzan Abrams

    Hi Wordy,

    The reasons I haven’t posted earlier were for a lack of time and I think personally, I’m just waiting for a subject I would enjoy writing on that doesn’t involve the Guardian and censorship. Can we talk about Christmas for a change? 🙂

    I mentioned your post to Phil in the way of passing since Des appears to have lost his mail and hasn’t yet been able to confirm his link for Phil’s blog. Des needs another invite. But if I wait for Des to write to Phil, he’ll also be in the middle of one lengthy post or the other and he’ll say, later, later…, it will just not happen. That’s why I wrote to Phil last night.

    I was also concerned about the connections you mentioned between Phil & the Gulag but probably in a far more amusing & milder fashion.


  4. Suzan Abrams

    @Phil: Basically, I despise anyone posing as a blogger who doesn’t engage with people who post. They deserve to be treated like coconuts in a shy. The point is to engage.

    Phil, I can’t help thinking that your lines sound a little mean-spirited & judgemental. It feels like you’ve got a philosopy of thought and everyone must adhere to the same route that you follow as to what makes blogging successful and the blogger, respected, admired, held as credible, or welcomed.

    But you do disregard here, an individual’s life which could take a 360 degree turn to yours. Some may have just time to blog and to do nothing else…a person can get that busy, I have experienced the same. And it’s a busyness that commands physical movement where when one finally gets a chance to sit down, all an individual may find time to do is to write other things down by way of priority, rather than to engage in chat. That’s because time is tough and short for some.

    Years ago, when I had more time on my hands, I could visit scores of commentors and scores of commentors would return to engage with me. That sort of thing is always easy to maintain. You visit and someone visits back.

    But sometimes things happen and out of guilt at not being able to reply to comments, a blogger will say goodbye and suddenly shut down a blog. At the moment, I wonder how I can still write a post and am grateful to anyone who still reads me when it’s obvious that my thoughts are just a record of personal happenings. Does that mean that I shouldn’t blog or have no right to blog?

    Isn’t this some kind of self-righteous censorship as well?
    When you define what a blogger should do and shouldn’t…which incidentally falls down to the notion of what a blogger can write and should not.

    After all, if a blogger uses a blog as a diary approach for introspection…happy to be read but not as free to be held in voluble discussions, does that mean you would despise the person?

    That’s censorship formed by a less than broadened mind. And I in reality, fall in that category you despise, Phil…not by choice but by default from a lifetyle that demands engagement in other purposes, rather than always an online banter or friendly argument etc…

  5. So Susan is our @Suzan! ……………will wonders ever cease??? : )

    Sorry, @ISA, @Susan, … cannot answer posts at present. Camels have been kicking each other … also spitting like the llamas they were watching on the telly last week … no use my saying, ‘But I bought camels, not copycats’ … and a steamer trunk containing a whole year of those printed blogs entertaining the Jenkins ghost-of-Gutenberg has burst. … No rest for the wicked, as my granny used to say …

  6. ISA


    When are you going to post a travelogue on Ars?

    Excuse my belligerence. My objective is to get people to post below the line and engage, though my methods may be questionable.

  7. @Suzan, if I had more time, I’d have posted to say that I’m sure @ISA is complaining not about you not replying to commenters on your blog when you’re busy, but Cif contributors who accept commissions to start debates and then don’t join the conversation themselves … They could quite easily contribute to other parts of the newspaper instead — places where readers don’t expect replies.

    When that newspaper asked readers to suggest improvements of Cif, haughty and mute contributors were nearly at the top of the complaints list.

    … Asking me to discuss Christmas when I am talking about something else won’t work — : ) … sorry … you must simply post a delightful Christmas entry on your own blog. That — for me — is the greatest joy of this medium. We write about what most moves and excites _us_, and take our chances on finding an audience and kindred spirits.

    If I do nothing else with this blog in the future it will be to continue to criticise the place where we met — when necessary. . .That’s not least because the criticism — and certainly not just by me — has been changing things in the right direction, over there. Ye olde books blog has radically altered its tone from the days of promoting what a friend of mine calls writer-whores, as in ‘Selling Yourself As a Writer‘. . . This is a part of one post I am most pleased to have been able to make in my brief life as a blogger — and probably the most important point made here, amid a lot of larking about:

    … I came across this sentence in a riveting collection of essays, My Unwritten Books, by our most brilliant living literary scholar, George Steiner:

    ‘The censorship which profit imposes on the media is as destructive, perhaps more so than that of political despotism.’

    That’s near the end of a passage that reads in part,

    ‘The coercion which the police state exercises on thought and art is indeed appalling. Yet the damage done may, in the final analysis, be no greater than that caused by the absolutism of the mass market.’

    Apparently replying indirectly to bloggers’ criticisms, the Guardian published two additional articles referring to Margaret Drabble’s complaint.

    But each of these trivialised it to the point of insult. For instance, Aida Edemariam’s asked readers to compete in a silly contest to redesign the covers of well-known novels

    … but there’s been progress since then …

  8. ISA

    Your blog is up now wordy, but the formatting is off.

  9. The formatting is mostly fine, @ISA … but wordnerd7 has no haut-bourgeois upper-case letters …; ) …

    Anyone interested in this Iceland post will want to go over to Ars Notoria … … where I’ve added some mildly provocative new paragraphs.

  10. ISA

    I’ve sorted it out there, wordy. Thanks.

  11. Suzan Abrams

    Hi Wordy,

    Was thinking of you a lot in Africa. Where are you?

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