Blog Talk

Straightaway, a housekeeping item. Several readers have emailed to ask why there is no place to comment at the end of this blog. One reader complained, “It is a nuisance having to look up responses on Facebook.” Maybe I should explain.

World War I spoof postcard published by Cynicus Company, 1915.
World War I spoof postcard published by Cynicus Company, 1915.

The comment box is disabled for a jumble of reasons. Chief among them is the snowball effect of comments on individual readers. Positive comments roll one way; negative ones, intimidating, roll another. It matters to me that readers respond to the content of a posting on their own, without being distracted— bolstered, diluted, or bedeviled—by other respondents.

Considered remarks that amplify and extend a posting are valuable. But they are also less common than other kinds. Comment threads tend to evolve into readers signaling to each other. Sometimes it is contention for the sake of it, a kind of antler display. Too often, comment boxes offer a pretext for plugging a reader’s own website, latest book, or line of sportswear. Previously, when my comment box had been on, I sometimes thought I was hosting a dating service. “Great comment, Joe! Where can I see the rest of your stuff?” That sort of thing.

Pablo Picasso. Card for Guillame Apollinaire, 1916. Musee Picasso, Paris.
Pablo Picasso. Card for Guillame Apollinaire, 1916. Musee Picasso, Paris.

One popular argument in favor of a comment section runs along the lines of community-building. The comment box is thought to serve as a sort of drop-in center where locals can chat and get to know each other. That is the same rationale the CEO of Starbucks once offered for the existence of the chain. I did not believe it then, and I do not believe it now.

An online community is a mirage; an e-community is no community at all. It is a faceless, soundless collection of pixels in drag as a community of persons. Hashtag Nation.

This goes against the grain, I know. And to some extent, it is an aesthetic judgment. But it is mine. I simply do not share the prevailing assumption that blogs exist as open forums for reader exchanges. That expectation is little more than the sense of entitlement peculiar to online media. James Kalb, experienced in writer/reader protocols, is dry about it: “There is something about joining an internet discussion that’s a little like putting on a clown suit.”

Vittore Carpaccio. Legend of St. Ursula (detail, 1495). Accademia, Venice.
Vittore Carpaccio. Legend of St. Ursula (detail, 1495). Accademia, Venice.

I have no clue to the nature or tone of what gets passed along on social media. Something about Twitter and Facebook—especially Twitter—reminds me of stalking. I have no personal account on either; am innocent of both. Is that a fault? Not sure. I just know that I care about the words of readers who take time to write off stage and under their own name. These matter to me very much. That is why an email address appears at the bottom of every post.

If clarification or correction is in order, tell me and I will make it. Thoughtful yeas and nays are forever welcome. And helpful.

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Note: One reader emailed to ask what was the point of the earlier posting on Roy Strong. Forgive me. I had thought it was clear: Strong made a choice.

He preferred marriage—to a woman he did love—to living under the strictures against homosexuality of the era in which he came of age. In other words, social disapproval contained his impulses toward homosexuality.

Moral of the anecdote: When culture puts out a welcome mat, Dionysus leaps in to the parlor.