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Sunday, October 10, 2010  

Tip of the Hat

So Andrew Sullivan is celebrating ten years of blogging, and cheers and jeers are evidently in order. In the unlikely event that you're interested, you can peruse mine. Sullivan is the kind of figure that a lot of us have spent good chunks of time agreeing with, disagreeing with, and ridiculing. His retrospective, linked above, is unsurprisingly self-involved. Not just unsurprising because Sullivan has always been kind of solipsistic, but because anyone with a lot of archives (as it happens I do) will learn more about themselves than about the events of the past by reading through them.

I don't read Sullivan like I used to, partly because my politics and his have diverged, partly because I'm interested in different things, and partly because it's a much more diverse media landscape than it was in 2000-2001. He was and remains a quick trigger finger on impressions, suspicions, and judgments, which whether to his credit or not is unlikely to look like a wise strategy over time. But that's not what a blog is or was for. It's more about documenting a moment and the debate around it than putting down something for the ages. It's merely a technological irony that makes the medium more easily preserved than any newspaper or book. Moreover, Sullivan's blog was and is a collective project to a considerable degree. I don't email him any more, but I have fond memories of tossing him a quote from T.S. Eliot or C.S. Lewis in those early weeks after 9/11 and getting a response and a post (and during a Reihan residency, that blog gave me my biggest link evar). And to his great credit, his work today is heavily driven by feedback, both positive and negative. He says as much:

I'm a Catholic, so let me start with the things I am sorry for and even, in some cases, ashamed of. When you blog in real time, day by day, hour by hour, emotions can get the better of you. The blogosphere is awash in examples of invective, abuse, cruelty, accusations of bad faith, or just bluster - in part because blogging is so much more like speaking than writing and also because it addresses people in the abstract, not face to face. I am not innocent in this, and wish I could take back a few barbs, especially in the early days, when we were all discovering what this medium could do. As a pioneer - and in 2000, there was Mickey and me, basically, in the political blogosphere - I have been, for better or worse, an early adopter of the best and the worst. My only defense is that I have tried to learn from this as I have gone along, to improve on these moments of weakness and rhetorical excess by a more stringent tone, and by constantly and increasingly publishing real dissents, corrections and a much wider diversity of views than just my own, for balance, for fairness.

This he really has done. Sullivan has kept himself relevant by avoiding an obvious shtick. If for no other reasons than he chases any bouncing ball, publishes any well-phrased and relevant dissent, and links to any charismatic blogger or off-beat news item, he's never let himself be pigeonholed. He's been accused of ideological wandering and triviality and so forth, but that's far beside the point given the nature of his work. Many people who score better on those scales--of ideological consistency, gravitas, and whatever else--contribute a good deal less to a thinking person's self-education in the world of ideas and events simply by virtue of being predictable and boring.

So cheers, and jeers, to you, Mr. Sullivan, for helping to keep us sputtering and nodding and emailing all these years, and for breaking much of the ground that we narcissistic bloggers/twitterers/facebook denizens plow with such studied ease. Would that we all did it as frankly and humbly as you.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 11:00 PM
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