They say things like:
25 Essential U.S. States That Would Make the Country Completely Different If They Were to Suddenly Evaporate
Why do I read them?
I went downtown to see three movies in a Market Street flea palace. It was a bad habit of mine. From time to time I would get the desire to confuse my senses by watching large flat people crawl back and forth across a huge piece of light, like worms in the intestinal tract of a tornado.
Night was coming on in, borrowing the light. It had started out borrowing just a few cents worth of the light, but now it was borrowing thousands of dollars worth of the light every second. The light would soon be gone, the bank closed, the tellers unemployed, the bank president a suicide.
A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan.
That’s two kinds of darkness. This is now a Richard Brautigan blog.
Arguments on the internet invariably turn into arguments about how to argue on the internet. But it’s really important to me personally—and it doesn’t have to be important to anyone else, though I suspect it is—to sometimes follow the spiraling debate down into the rabbit hole.
So: all the chatter about Girls led to some really pointed and worthwhile writing about racism. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Cord Jefferson’s take on the conversation surrounding New York and television and racism is really smart. And Matt Langer has the kind of conscience I really admire, talking about this Jezebel piece.
But then I started thinking about another recent internet debate involving the privilege and self-regard that supposedly attends female self-expression in media today: the whole Marie Calloway thing. That women writing/talking about things labeled or regarded or coded as “female” is always the opportunity for an argument, while men can say just about anything without always having their credentials pulled out from underneath them is an often-noticed but still bonkers cultural habit we have, but I’ve really been bugging out (in my head, where all the best bugging out takes place) because of the one type of writing I almost NEVER see, on the internet or elsewhere. There is no name for this kind of writing and it doesn’t need a name. It’s the kind of argument where someone writes in detail about how wrong they were. Not just a mea culpa sort of thing, but a detailed analysis wherein a writer says, “Oh, jeez, look at this smart response to that thing I wrote—that person is correct!” I have no argument to make in support of this kind of writing, other than saying I would really, really love to read more things like it.
For example, at the very beginning of this HTMLGIANT piece (which is a response, more or less, to a previous HTMLGIANT piece), the anonymous writer points out that
Reading Noah Cicero’s piece about Marie Calloway, it struck me that the Internet has invented a subgenre of literary essay. These essays could be easily be published in a volume called ‘How I Feel About Marie Calloway,’ collecting the torrents of writing about ‘Adrien Brody’ alongside the very small trickle of responses to ‘Jeremy Lin.’
Now, this is almost completely silly. To say that the internet recently invented essays that are essentially “How I Feel About X” is to pretend that Michel de Montaigne didn’t have that shit covered in the 16th century. That doesn’t mean we can’t argue about how intricate and logical the arguments constructed under the guise of “how I feel about x” are, but the beginning of this piece (and the rest of it) reminded me that people have no distance from their opinions. We take our arguments seriously, and that is of course a responsible thing to do. Sure, sure. But what about being dumb? What about taking our stupidity seriously? It’s not just a question of being humble or honest. Isn’t it a question of responsibility? When you make an argument, you take a risk—so where’s the post-mortem?
I am completely serious. I am a stupid person. I often find myself convinced of the things I believe when I can actually say to myself, “Oh, but you were wrong about this here, and that person over there was correct about it.” And I think I’m correct all the time, meaning that I think I am wrong all the time! Stupidity is a precious gift. It’s the little vacuum that tells you where thoughtfulness needs to go.
I am actually getting a little angry writing this, which is wrong of me. I’m going to do some grading. The best sentence David Foster Wallace ever wrote is: “There are limits to what even interested persons can ask of each other.”