Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blogging's Barbarisms

In his "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Walter Benjamin writes:

There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. (Illuminations, 256)
I'm interested in the ways blogging also exhibits this barbarism. Discuss.


  1. I think that the civilization/barbarity binary is outdated, overused, boring and unproductive. Trying to analyze anything (including blogging) withing such narrow ideological constraints is limiting and reductive.

  2. hmmm... I think Benjamin has something different in mind here. It's not so much a contrast between civilization and barbarism as it is pointing out the barbarisms inherent in civilization itself. Benjamin's point is the Marxian one that all of our cultural production is based on exploitation and the appropriation of surplus-value and that these barbarous moments leave their mark on every one of our texts. I'm still interested in pursuing this idea in the context of blogging.

  3. I missed this but it's a great question, not unrelated to my recent little series on bloggery as a possible gramscian praxis (for which I had in the back of my mind your fun post on the porno/activism scale of medium development). I'll offer those retrospectively as a contribution to this discussion.

    I must confess that I've tended to read that Benjamin quote (perhaps wrongly and certainly anachronistically) through a Wittgensteinian lens, as a pithy commentary on the mutual incomprehensibility of cultures and their artifacts, deploying the metaphor of the barbarian in its original Greek sense. This circles back to a power model of cultural production and transmission easily enough, but is this reading just wrong, or is it compatible with the Marxist one?

  4. Reading this quote in relation to Benjamin's "Work of Art..." essay is productive, I think, in this case.

    To me, the essential section of the work of art essay is the closing when he discusses the aestheticization of politics and the politicization of aesthetics, and how fascism is basically the recognition of the right of the proletariat to change property relations and providing the means to express that while never actually changing property relations.

    I think this may be the barbarism inherent to blogging. It gives a lot of us the ability to express ourselves until we're blue in the face, but it seems to translate very little into actually changing property relations.

    Is there a threshold which blogging must cross to actually become political?

  5. I'm stealing this quote, yes sir, I am... Love the blog BTW - smart is as smart does.