Dead Magazines, Undead Language

At the airport after the CLMP blogging panel, as I wait for my flight to my sister’s for the holidays, in the magazine stands, I see newly dead magazines: Men’s Vogue and Radar.

I pay quietly for my Us Weekly and Dwell, and head for the gate. It feels weird to buy a dead magazine, even though I did like both of them. As I turn to leave, a woman moves and reaches for a Dennis Miller book, turning it in her hand. Oh, she says. It’s hardcover.

This is of course part of what we were talking about.

* * *

I’ve been trying to think about how to describe what we were talking about. This is difficult because the conversation seemed to center on an enormous ambivalence, a kind of shadow country of ambivalence that perfectly reflects the country we actually live in even as it refuses to be seen entirely. The best summary I can reasonably offer is to describe the points I’m taking from the panel discussion.

  • Avoid internet house style.

I feel like this began with a question Marie Mockett posed to Emily Gould, or that she used a quote from Emily’s Times piece to illustrate. But this is to say, there’s a way in which we are doing something that we think belongs on the internet, with either biting sarcasm or way-too-earnest sincerity, and as Emily Gould put it well, going back and forth between one and the other with a kind of false idea that each corrects for the other. I have students who write what they think a story should be and who don’t write the story they feel or see, which would be too threatening emotionally. I find the stories like masks for the real story they haven’t written. I guess what I’m saying is, freed from your ideas of what a blog should be, what would your blog be?

  • Ed Park said this really well another way: Don’t get your ideas from the internet.

He told a story of someone asking him about how he should go about getting ideas for his blog—should he read around, he asked, for ideas? And Ed told him this advice. Don’t, in other words, try to be the next “Stuff White People Like”, because, the one is the only one and will always be the only one. The best blogs move off of new possibilities between accessibility, content, commentary and interaction that the internet makes possible.

  • The internet is like a forest of op-eds and personal columns—literary forms that are very familiar.

Luc Sante made the excellent point that much of the content he saw wasn’t so new—that it was like the reappearance (and flourishing, really) of the missing personal column that used to be more of a staple of newspapers. Both his and Ed’s comments, and Emily’s and Marie’s description of their experiences blogging about pop culture, seemed to point that there was this as-yet-unexplored territory for blogs. Because despite Michael Kinsley’s warning that there’s some kind of blog apocalypse coming, the truth is as a form it’s very new. It reminds me more of when Greek culture went from an oral culture to a written one, of the ambivalence then that they expressed about written language. Oral and written content is differently unstable—oral content requires a precise memory and a performer who won’t editorialize. Written content doesn’t easily allow the author the room to feel differently later in a way that’s meaningful to the reader at the time they’re reading. Internet content takes the core instability of each tradition—the thing that makes it problematic, as it were, or troubling, and fuses them. In the process it creates something that is neither and it makes it public and it increases the pace at which these ideas move.

As it does this, it fuses to the image, the static one and the moving one that speaks. It’s neither the dead language the Greeks feared nor is it the living one they loved. Inside these terms, like life but not alive, immediate but not alive, fast but not alive, it makes a language that is undead. This is the new thing we’re all figuring out—plastic, immediate, and permanent narrative communication.

I think of Dr. Frankenstein, pasting and linking and cutting, running electricity through his creature and suddenly his monster is something everyone can read.

This is not what I said, though. And in the next part of this summary, I’ll get to that.

Thank you, meanwhile, to Marie, Emily, Ed and Luc, to the New School, and to the CLMP and Baron Jay Nicorvo. Also, Marie’s excellent ponder of her panel experience is here.


  1. I think, for what it’s worth, that the “blog apocalypse” has already happens. It feels that way to me, anyway. In a way, this act checking up on things is an awful lot like keeping up with the obits.

    Signed, an old, but still a, follower.

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