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January 1, 2008

To Whom It May Concern

The year starts with a bit of poison penmanship coming my way over the digital transom:

I really have never seen on AJ Blogs such a self-centered blog. Your hair, your schedule, your tastes...I hope that the new year brings a bit more interests in things beyond yourself.

Well, sure! Good point! The pile of stuff on my desk at the moment includes

-- at least five sets of galleys of new books, to be reviewed posthaste
-- several university press catalogs brought back from MLA
-- some Congressional documents concerning the subprime mortgage thing
-- a set of pamphlets from the 1920s by a renegade monk who became a propagandist for atheism
-- the revision of my introduction to a volume of George Scialabba's collected essays that will be published in a few months
-- several issues of Line of March: A Journal of Marxist-Leninist Rectification from the years 1981 to 1984 (long story)

Stuff that piled up in the final weeks of 2007 because, obviously, such things are all about me. Seems like '08 will finally be the year for me to starting developing a wider range of interests. And not a minute too soon!

First, though, an open letter. I've mostly ignored previous communications from this fellow. (It is a sound policy to treat such folks with the perfect contempt of silence.) But after almost a year of doing Quick Study, it might be appropriate to clarify certain basic distinctions, and to comment on where it fits in the continuum of writing from day to day.

So here goes:

You seem to be a fairly unintelligent person. Perhaps it would be best to explain things very simply. I will try. Still, you might want to read this two or three times -- even more, if necessary. Or don't read it and just go enjoy some other solitary vice. It is your call, totally.

I am interested in (and routinely publish articles on) topics in history, philosophy, literature, politics, and so on. That work appears in public venues -- in magazines, newspapers, and books, and also on the Web. I am paid for this work. There is quite a lot of it, actually. Over the past, say, ten years, it must have amounted to well over five or six hundred pieces.

None of it has involved writing about my hair. Were someone at the New York Times offer to a pay for an article about my hair, the matter could, of course, be discussed. (A lot would depend on the fee and the deadline.) Suffice it to say the possibility has never come up. They ask me to write about non-hair related issues, instead. So it goes.

A blog is something else. I am not paid to blog. A blog is someplace to let off steam, or jot down a stray thought, or make a recommendation or indulge in a remark or rant.

Should a topic interest me enough to write about it in an essay for a magazine or newspaper, then doing so is certainly an option. It involves more time and attention than these blog posts do. But even that is not the decisive distinction. The main thing about the blog is that it's a casual format, and utterly subject to my discretion, not to say whim. If I decide that Quick Study will henceforth be written in limericks, or in pig Latin (or as limericks written in pig Latin) then that is pretty much my call.

Other people approach the activity of blogging with far more seriousness than that. And good for them! To each his own. But in my sense of things, Quick Study is akin to what the sociologist Erving Goffman would call the "backstage area" of my public activity as a writer.

(Please excuse me for referring casually to something that is important to me, and that you will probably not have ever heard of, let alone understood. But then again, things could have been a lot worse. I might have indulged in a long digression consisting of quotations from Hetay Resentationpay Foway Elfsay Niway Verydayeway Ifelay.)

Now, the cumulative evidence of your various interventions here during 2007 would suggest you, yourself, do not have very much to say. And the only text by you appearing online that I can find is a review at Amazon praising a book for being one of the few serious works of history on the American colonial period.

It is rarely safe to generalize from such a small set of evidence -- but what the hell. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that "reading" or "writing" (or "knowing what you are talking about") is not really your "thing."

Instead, you turn up here from time to time to make pronouncements. For that is what they are, more than comments. You tell me to stop doing this....stop posting that...don't put up such-and-such a video link...etc. And to judge from the manner, it seems clear that you believe your opinion must necessarily be of very great significance. You evidently assume that you enjoy some kind of authority in my eyes.

This is puzzling, Let me assure you that it is not the case.

If you do not like Quick Study, feel free to go away. I will cry tears of manly self-pity at the thought, but must find a little consolation in the evidence that at least a few hundred people do turn up here on a regular basis.

I was willing to approving this guy's comments for a while, but finally decided that doing so made no more sense than posting stuff from the spam robots. I went back through and removed more or less all of his spoor. His contribution being so inconsequential, his complete absence seemed to count rather as an enrichment.

At some point, I contacted Doug McLennan (the AJ czar) to ask if he agreed with the complaints or gave them any weight. He dismissed them entirely and said he was okay with Quick Study's role here. And he pointed out that the traffic at Quick Study was actually pretty good.

So maybe the best way to face the new year is with a sigh of resignation at the truth of a comment here from a few weeks ago: "The internet often seems like one big cultural affirmative-action program for the bellicose, the ignorant, and the deranged."

Posted by smclemee at January 1, 2008 5:22 PM


This post is really self-indulgent.

Posted by: SEK at January 1, 2008 10:53 PM

What's wrong with the web being an affirmative action programme for the bellicose and deranged? We can't all have high paid magazine writing jobs or internationally famous blogs. Hell, lately I've been so bellicose that I couldn't even get a job with Blackwater. Here's a deal. You write about your hair as much as you like, then I'll get bellicose about it. That way we all win.

Posted by: Bellicose and Deranged at January 2, 2008 11:48 AM

Gosh, he must have something against hair. My brother, who can grow a fantastically huge beard, is often the focus of this kind of jealousy. It's not pleasant, but also no reason to let such talent go to waste.

Posted by: theorist at January 2, 2008 12:55 PM

Every dog has its day ... every blog has its troll. That's just the way things are.

Posted by: J J Cohen at January 3, 2008 6:43 AM

I know,I know -- it's just the price to be paid for the all money, power, and female attention that comes my way.... "He spoke of my work with the rage of a bald man at the sight of a comb," maybe? Something like that.

Anyway, the main reason for posting this gripe was that it had been a couple of weeks since blogging here, and it seemed like time to return. But between my post-MLA cold and an awful lot of work to do, I couldn't think of anything better to address than troll droppings.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at January 3, 2008 10:07 AM

And what about more news about celebrities?

Posted by: Ignorant at January 3, 2008 1:06 PM

I will do what I can. The problem is that I don't have any idea who most of them are.

The Yahoo main page will always have headlines like "Jonella to have Rhubarb's baby!" with a little picture of (presumably) Jonella and Rhubarb. The assumption is that the reader will know who they are and be interested in their lives. I don't even get past the first gate on that one, most of the time. So bringing anything fresh to the discussion may be forever beyond my grasp.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at January 3, 2008 3:30 PM

You don't know who Jonella and Rhubarb are? And you call yourself a cultural theorist!

Posted by: jd at January 4, 2008 9:32 AM

"I'm not a cultural theorist....but I play one on TV!"

Actually I would like somehow to make "Jonella and Rhubarb" into a commonly used expression meaning "people you know are famous because other people treat them as such, but you can't be bothered to find out why." Such a phrase might have its uses.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at January 4, 2008 9:42 AM