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Its remoteness from the cash nexus

Yes, metablogging is rather tedious

Blogging is a terrible danger to English prose, “argues” Robert McCrum in the Observer, ((via Chicken Yoghurt.)) whose own finely wrought prose nonetheless somehow manages to survive the onslaught. But for how much longer? McCrum offers all kinds of pseudo-proofs that blogging is bad, of which the best is that it’s bad because people do it for free:

There’s another thing that Orwell the great freelance would have been quick to identify: in the blogosphere, no one gets properly paid; its irresponsibility is proportionate to its remoteness from the cash nexus.

Worthy of Orwell himself, that sentence, no? But you know, if I may quibble, I think Orwell the great freelance might have pointed out somewhere that in the freelance book-reviewing world, no one gets properly paid either. And yet that didn’t seem to him a reason to reject all the work done therein. Anyway, as a service to readers, I have translated the above quote from McCrum into plain Orwellian English:

Despite all appearances, this article must be brilliant, because I’m getting paid for it!

Quite so.

  1. 1  WIIIAI  September 6, 2007, 1:09 am 

    Call me irresponsible.

    At least when McCrum calls me and my ilk irresponsible, he specifies to what he thinks I should be responsible: the cash nexus.

    Would it be unspeak to refer to a writer who is wholly responsible to the cash nexus as a whore?

    That said, if someone wishes to render me more responsible and/or whorelike (you say potato, I say whore), they should feel free to drop over to my blog and deposit large quantities of cash into my Paypal account.

    What about you, Steven? You have a tip jar in the right-hand column. Are you prepared to be responsibly whorish if properly incentivized?

  2. 2  A Surge Of Our Own « Complex System Of Pipes  September 6, 2007, 1:09 am 

    […] A Surge Of Our Own Published September 6th, 2007 uk , protest , antiwar , iran , war , iraq , peace , politics Is it just me, or are things just descending into parodies of themselves this week?  First we had Britain’s political establishment putting “petty squabbling” behind it in official supraparty consensus.  Then George Bush revealed just how the war in Iraq (estimated death toll over 1 milion) looks to his warped little mind.  Now check out the panic spasms of the pompous elitist writing in this Sunday’s Observer (h/t Unspeak) and tell me I’m not dreaming or stuck in the Matrix or something. […]

  3. 3  Steven  September 6, 2007, 9:08 am 

    Naturally, WIIIAI. As Dr Johnson said: “Sir, no one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

  4. 4  marktristan  September 6, 2007, 6:09 pm 

    It’s good that your blog is opinionated. I mostly share your bias and therefore agree with the slant of your commentary.

    But it would be much more enjoyable to read if you could manage to be slightly less supercilious.

  5. 5  Steven  September 6, 2007, 6:25 pm 

    Maybe, but it wouldn’t be as enjoyable to write.

  6. 6  KB Player  September 6, 2007, 8:19 pm 

    So the more you are paid for your writing the more reliable it must be. Writers of advertising and PR copy are very close, in fact cuddling up to, the cash nexus, and Jeffrey Archer exchanges body fluids with it. And their writings are of course responsible and reliable.

  7. 7  richard  September 6, 2007, 9:28 pm 

    so that’s what Henry Miller was on about.

  8. 8  marktristan  September 7, 2007, 10:07 am 

    Steven it’s fine, if your cause is writing for your ego’s sake. But I detect you have a deeper cause and a haughty ego detracts from that. You risk shedding audience members sympathetic to your real cause.

  9. 9  Steven  September 7, 2007, 10:31 am 

    McCrum never considered that, although I don’t get paid for blogging, I do get free psychoanalysis in the comments, which is a valuable exchange.

  10. 10  Tawfiq Chahboune  September 8, 2007, 2:32 pm 

    But Steven, as much as any writer needs money to survive, I think Orwell would not have agreed with McCrum or indeed the great Dr Johnson. Actually, I can well imagine Orwell blogging away rather than await yet another refusal from a newspaper or magazine to print an article of his on political grounds.

    After all, Orwell died a rather poor man, publishers refused to print his work, Orwell’s books were published by those brave enough to do so only in low numbers, and he was always in financial difficulties.

    If ever there was a man who could have made a fortune from writing (if we exclude the great success, after his death, of his last two books), it was Orwell. The fact that he didn’t says a great deal about him. McCrum should put the Observer library to good use and read something about Orwell.

  11. 11  KB Player  September 9, 2007, 1:56 pm 

    “If ever there was a man who could have made a fortune from writing (if we exclude the great success, after his death, of his last two books), it was Orwell. “

    Tawfiq – like you I’m an Orwell admirer. And like you I can well imagine him blogging if he was writing today. But I don’t think he was a man who could have made a fortune from writing and chose to write otherwise. The writers who made a fortune in his day were the likes of Hugh Walpole (now unread) and Somerset Maugham (not much read). They were writers who touched a popular nerve like Stephen King does today. It’s a knack – and Orwell didn’t have it.

  12. […] From one of my favorite sites, Steven Poole’s Unspeak, a typically sharp and appropriate deconstruction of yet another article assailing blogging as the end of civilization, Its remoteness from the cash nexus. […]

  13. 13  WIIIAI  September 9, 2007, 9:44 pm 

    But what, one might ask McCrum, if one’s relationship with the cash nexus intensified through increased sales of one’s book following a mention by William Safire?;emc=rss
    What price the cash nexus then, so to speak?

  14. 14  Steven  September 10, 2007, 7:31 am 

    Aha! From now on, I will be posting to Unspeak over satellite link while sipping champagne on my supermodel-crammed yacht in the Mediterranean. I’ll try not to be any less supercilious as a result.

  15. 15  Tawfiq Chahboune  September 10, 2007, 9:17 am 

    KB, you’re right that Orwell could never have been in the Somerset Maugham league for popularity (other than Dickens, Wilde and a few others, who has?), but he could certainly have gone along with the fashions of the day and done well for himself.

    Look at the current crop of “left-wing” writers “mugged by reality” who froth at the mouth about “Islamo-fascism” – it’s not fascism, it’s just something else, say, extreme jihadi chauvinism – and how the Left apparently supports fascism. It’s absolutely bizarre. (Important to note that none of them did much frothing when the jihadis murdered millions of Muslims and destroyed Afghanistan and Indonesia; but only when New York suffered *comaparably* very little damage and deaths during the 9/11 terror attacks did these “left-wing” writers realise that these jihadis needed to be dealt with. Unfortunately, they concluded the best way to rid the world of theocratic chauvinism is to immeasurably empower it.)

    I really can’t see Orwell going along with incoherent arguments like that, no matter what the inducements. He was a highly independent figure (a rarity) who, as he said of himself, had the “power of facing” uncomfortable truths. He said the odd silly thing, but on the whole he stands the test of time.

  16. 16  KB Player  September 12, 2007, 8:25 pm 

    Tawfiq: I evidently misunderstood you re Orwell. I don’t know if he had gone along with the political fashions of his day – writing to a particular party line – he would have made much money. The impression I get of the writing world of his day of left wing magazines, pamphlets and newspapers like the Daily Worker is that no-one made much money out of writing. But come to think of it my impression of that world is through Orwell’s writings.

  17. 17  Tawfiq Chahboune  September 12, 2007, 8:52 pm 

    KB, what I mean can be summed up, for example, as follows. Rather than taking apart James Burnham (the father of neoconservatism), in two excellent essays, Orwell could have gone along a little with the political thinking of the day, whether the emerging US hegemon architects or the retarded “leftwing” intellectuals who excused Stalin anything and everything.

    He’s one of the very few people to take a very principled line: anti-fascist, anti-imperialist (including the “Soviet” variety) and anti-colonialist. What we would now call third world solidarity.

    Opinions and thoughts like these were seldom found in the major journals of the day. I probably overstated the case by saying that he could have made a “fortune”. But his life would certainly have been easier, financially and otherwise.

    Looking back now, it’s extraordinary that his was the minority voice in the journalistic wilderness. Can you imagine reading any other writer of the period with the same enthusiasm? Read other writers of the day and you’ll go away scratching your head, muttering “they got paid for this?” I have a similar reaction when I read the amazingly awful Julie Burchill.

  18. 18  KB Player  September 12, 2007, 10:15 pm 

    Tawfiq:- I agree with you about Orwell.

    “Read other writers of the day and you’ll go away scratching your head, muttering “they got paid for this?”

    Yes, and my candidate for that is Madeleine Bunting.

    Actually that brings us back to the cash nexus. Madeleine Bunting (susbstitute Julie Burchill or whatever name you want) writing a blog would not be so annoying. You would simply not visit that blog. But Madeleine Bunting a) getting paid and b) getting exposure to a large readership is really irritating. It quadruples your irritation when the “amazingly awful” are getting pay and publicity.

    I liken it to hearing music. If you hear a mediocre musician in a pub you don’t mind much. If you have forked out £10 for a rubbish gig you’re furious.

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