If the linked pieces that comprise “The Intellectual Situation” are polemical, they are generally justified in being so. And what better object for skepticism than the transformation of consciousness and culture we are undergoing as citizens of the Age of Infotainment? Even the stern shade of Adorno would approve of “Whatever Minutes,” which observes that silence, that hard-won legacy of literate civilization, has begun to disappear. (No doubt some enterprising corporation will soon be marketing “silence spas”—selling back to us what we once had for free.)
But n+1’s theoretical commitments lead it astray when it turns its gaze to the weblog. “The Blog Reflex” suggests that reflexive antagonism and an imperative for speed have ruined, for good and all, the much-hyped democratic potential of the blog:
Yet criticism as an art didn’t survive. People might have used their blogs to post the best they could think or say. They could have posted 5,000-word critiques of their favorite books and records. . . . But those things didn’t happen, at least not often enough. . . . The language is supposed to mimic the way people speak on the street or the college quad, the phatic emotive growl and purr of exhibitionistic consumer satifsfaction—“The Divine Comedy is SOOO GOOOD!”—or displeasure —“I shit on Dante!” So man hands on information to man.
Not least among my disappointments with this premature obituary is that it is, in many small ways, accurate. Anyone looking for an Ebert-style thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Dante will be sure to find one on the internet. Google will even tell you how long the search took.
And yet, depending on one’s degree of fatalism about world history, the medium may not doom the message. Your essayist’s rhetorical excesses proceed from stovepiped intelligence. He or she assumes that “I shit on Dante” is the alpha and omega of lit-blog discourse. But just as the lazy researcher can Google up coprophiliac reductions of il divino poeta, he can also easily find the sorts of long essays n+1 values. Indeed, online response to “The Blog Reflex,” ranging from highbrow to low-blow, has demonstrated both the best and worst tendencies of the medium.