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The handle, and flying off thereof:

Post in haste, repent in leisure; an unexamined screed is not worth uploading; never shoot back when you’re all het up. I’m looking over the past few long stories tossed off the short pier and wincing; watching myself dance out onto any number of limbs past the point where I know a damn thing about what I’m saying simply because I was set off and wanted to do something, anything—and speaking up is all too often confused with doing something. —It is; it frequently is. When you’re saying something substantive; when you’re bringing something to the table; when you’re telling a story you know yourself.

When you don’t know anything about Charles Pickering, Sr., beyond other people’s stories found with a couple of quick Google searches, you should maybe not rush to the Movable Type; when you can only link up to what other people are saying about the Bush stimulus package, you should maybe not bother bringing that to the table (especially if you miss one of the more in-depth kickings around it’s gotten); when all you say on the subject of the coming Iraqi war is “Here, look at these pictures of folks there on the ground,” you should maybe cast about for a little more substance before yelling something inconsidered. (For “you,” of course, read me.)

Sigh.

Everyone’s got to find their niche; everyone’s got to find the thing they give a damn about. I’ve whinged about blogging and tipping points and echo chambers, and this is, indeed, a thing blogs can do, and some of them do it very, very well. Their success is inspiring and even intoxicating. Which does not mean this is all blogs can do, or should do. No.

You’ve got to find something you give a damn about, or you won’t do good work. I give a damn about judicial reactivism, fiscal insanity, and grotesquely stupid wars; what I haven’t given a damn about is stopping to think for a moment, marshalling my arguments, finding something of substance and bringing it carefully, deliberately, and as irrevocably as possible to the table. —That’s how I am, sometimes, with politics, with the state of the world as it is; I want to leap up on something and point and shout at the top of my lungs, “Jesus Christ, can you believe this shit?” Or words to that effect. To do something. You know? And when done well, it’s preaching to the choir, and that’s a fine thing to do from time to time; it’s just that preaching to the choir is, in the end, about as effective as pissing in a pool. You get that nice, warm feeling—and then what?

The thing is that the thing I give a damn about is rooting around in pop culture. Digging through the so-called dross for the joy of finding unexpected gems. Watching how people use the stuff and re-use it, poach from it and recombine it; lining up the pieces of it in pretty, signifying patterns; kicking it apart to see what makes it tick. Criticism, I suppose. (A lengthy and whimsical for instance.) —This is what I give a damn about; this is where (I’d like to think, anyway) I can bring something to the table. A table, anyway.

It’s just that it’s so damn frivolous. Isn’t it?

This narrowing of the American mind is exacerbated by the withdrawal of the left from active politics. Virtually ignored by the media, the left has further marginalized itself by a retreat into introspective cultural criticism. It seems content to do yoga and gender studies, leaving the fundamentalist Christian right and the multinationals to do the politics.

That’s Brian Eno, being a wee bit uncharitable and even unfair in Counterpunch. Still. Stings a little. (A lot, actually.)

But what he’s glossing over and I’m being disingenuous about is that the best criticism is at once deeply and transcendantly political (especially gender studies; yoga, too, has that potential), and that in even the most irrelevant of out-of-touch ivory towers, clear, vital, engaged criticism can end up changing the stories we all tell each other and the ways in which we tell them. Which is cool and even in its own (modest-seeming) way, earth-shaking. The potential, at least, is there; the possibility. Sometimes. Now and again. But it takes so goddamned long. It’s almost utterly and frustratingly dependent on contingency and the laws of unintended consequences. And there’s so many pressing needs right here right now and I want to do something—

Eh. Maybe I should go volunteer somewhere already. —Next month. After the taxes are done and the downstairs is ready to rent out again.

Yeah. That’s the ticket.

  1. Kevin Moore    Jan 8, 11:36 AM    #
    Oh, Kip. You are always so hard on yourself. The Pickering thing is great. Very useful. I like the links you dig up. Ditto on your mom's pics. They're quite beautiful—and Jesus, somebody has to humanize those poor Iraqis (the guvmint sure won't.) So give yourself some credit. If a bug gets under your skin, ya just gotta get it out. There's no crime in shouting, however so distantly (or, as can be the case with you sometimes, obliquely), at the gross behavior of power elites. You have many reasons to fear, and if it gets a little paranoid, it's only by degrees—I mean, there are mentally problematized people with nukes threatening our survival and that's not even accounting for Kim Il Sung!

    So vent, link, quip, steam, stammer, mock, groan, stamp your feet, point and shout. My only advice: edit. Just a little. :)

  2. Emma    Jan 8, 05:13 PM    #
    And what is so wrong about a little frivolity? One does not live by strum und drang alone, Kip. One better not; that's how one ends up in a high ledge somewhere with insensitive people yelling "jump!". OK?

  3. Amy S.    Jan 8, 07:39 PM    #
    "...You get that nice warm feeling, and then what ?"

    Uhhh... a feeling of great relief ?

    ... the expulsion of something that would slowly poison you to death if you couldn't filter it out ?

    ... the knowledge that you can skip going to the laundromat for another day ?

    ... room to process more life-giving substances and to extract and expell their poisons ?

    Hey, you started the metaphor, Buddy. I'm just continuing it more-or-less logically.

    BTW, the Food Bank is always looking for volunteers. Lovely people, but their freaking warehouse floor's as hard as a rock. Next time, I'm bringing foam to stand on. :)

  4. --k.    Jan 9, 03:27 AM    #
    Kevin: it is possible to post photos without quite so much vituperation; without a gimme line that gets the chorus shouting, "Yeah, amen!" while turning anyone not in the chorus away before they even click through. --There are, in other words, classier ways to expel subcutaneous bugs.

    Emma: have no fear; if anything, I am attempting to reinvigorate my flagging sense of the importance of frivolity.

    Amy: you are, as ever, right. (I'm also thinking of checking with the Outside In folks.)

  5. Kevin Moore    Jan 9, 08:29 AM    #
    There are, in other words, classier ways to expel subcutaneous bugs.

    Depends on which class you envy. But more to the point, are you trying to embrace a "bipartisan" spirit? Also, regarding the posts you allude to, they were direct and to the point, yet by no means rude. No sin in that. So some might disagree. Heaven forfend they should read something contrary to their POV.

  6. sara    Jan 9, 08:44 AM    #
    there's also the small point that even if *you* feel like you're just repeating what everyone else has said, some of us in the choir don't *read* everyone else. so. keep on keepin' on, and stuff.

  7. --k.    Jan 9, 09:01 AM    #
    No, not "bipartisanship," cursed be its name. Nor "objectivity," ditto. But--oh, I dunno. Less self-righteousnes? Less sanctimony? Less filled with wrothful rage? Less bitter?

    Like I have a hope in hell. --You'll note from the next post, re: the INS, that whatever wagon I'd thought to climb up on I've already tumbled off of, so. Must now go find something frivolous. (Speaking thereof: you ever think about the comparison between letter-writing campaigns to one's elected representatives and letter-writing campaigns to save favorite TV shows? Much like fans mailed packages of crackers to the Farscape suits and [less successfully] blue gloves to the Firefly suits, what handy item could we suggest folks mail or FedEx their Senators to urge them to send Judges Pickering and Owens packing--for a second goddamn time? Oops. Nix that "goddamn." See above re: bitterness, sanctimony, &c.)

  8. Kevin Moore    Jan 9, 09:10 AM    #
    Lynch rope?

    How's that for bitterness and sanctimony.

    Without which, it wouldn't be "Kip", now would it? :)

  9. Amy S.    Jan 11, 05:00 PM    #
    I was thinking cold Spamburgers and slabs of government cheese, myself.

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