28 August 2007

Blog burnings

Being on holiday, I've had a chance to do a little thinking about the blogging experience. I read blogs compulsively, blogs by librarians being the most numerous of my subscriptions. I am fascinated by big tech blogs like Downloadsquad, Lifehacker and Engadget; and I value more offbeat productions like 3 Quarks Daily and Separated By A Common Language.

Like real life, the world of the blog can get crazy sometimes — and really nasty. We are familiar with blogs whose primary role is to attack or ridicule without pity, shame or self-respect. I think of the pathetic celebs of perezhilton.com, Anne Coulter's ghastly effusions, or Canada's own rabid small dead animals. It's an uncontrolled, scabrous and ribald world out there in Blogland, where the still-steaming offal is flung at and by the moneyed, the moronic and the run-amoks.

The classic blog attack
There's nothing that gets my pulse going like a no-holds-barred blog attack. A good example is the recent hilarious tirade by David Rees that appeared in the Huffington Post, Cormac Ignatieff's "The Road". Rees takes perverse pleasure in publicly eviscerating former Harvard intellectual, now deputy leader of Canada's Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff — and scattering his entrails across cyberspace. Rees writes in a uniquely American patois which combines elements of Vaudeville, tent preaching, scat singing, diss tracks, talk show one-liners, and Madison Avenue jingle into a roiling, roisterous monologue of vilification and contumely, all set in a colourful text boasting 33 words entirely in upper case and 40 exclamation marks!

One of America's peculiar gifts to the world is this kind of unhinged, loopy, over-the-top rant. What a performance! But for all the Schw√§rmerei of his perfervid prose and his sheer delight in not merely flying to extremes but abiding there, Rees commits the error that many bloggers fall into. Not that he cares, but he cannot break out of his own clowning, frantically clawing, self-referential, all-consuming act. Here in spades is a notable feature of postmodernity: the encanaillement and Tarantinization of social discourse among the educated elite. Yes, he nails Ignatieff — an easy target whom many Canadians lampoon as the "Prince of Darkness" — but only in the way one would embarrass an opponent by, say, ripping off his pants in the middle of Times Square, slapping him about, and then pushing him into traffic. Committed political argument is replaced by cruel badinage in Bourdieu's society of the spectacle.

Caught in its own kitsch, Rees's surreal criticism amounts to little more than unrestrained and quasi-violent raillery. Through some awful metastasis of his psyche he swells up with frightful Schadenfreude — he knows a mountebank when he sees one — but beyond the seething invective his critique is limited to variations on "You lying sack of s**t." He does not seem to have a very active sense of history, either as hope or as memory. His smirking, gloating, parodying, bombast approaches the hysterical sublime. He's as mad as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest; but he can't hold himself back and come up with a substantive analysis. Rather than encouraging his audience into some form of resistance to the threat of poseurs and lackeys like Ignatieff, Rees is content to finish up his dirty work, mop his hands, pop a final raspberry from behind that thicket of exclamation marks, and exit stage left. The comedic spectacle concludes, and we poor onlookers are left with nothing but fading laughter amid the wreckage.

From the hysterical sublime to the ridiculous
I have a particular interest in blogs dedicated to hating or parodying a certain person, notion or institution. The I Hate Wikipedia blog's purpose is pretty obvious, and I Hate The New Yorker is still hurling the magazine across the room. In the tech world there is the The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs (whose author was recently revealed to be Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes magazine) and Microsoft Sucks!!!

I distinguish these from the we-mean-business hate blogs, of which there are far too many for our own good. Beyond the febrile and furunculous ravings of klansmen, knuckle-draggers and just plain kooks, there are complete nutters like Topeka's Fred Phelps. In Canada the good reverend has been the source of many a cocktail party snicker for having called this country "the sperm bank of Satan." (Although it is not a blog, I notice that someone has set up an anti-Phelps website called SatanLovesFredPhelps.com. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.) On the opposite side of the fence are the need-a-life atheists like those represented in the strident A Blog From Hell. I wasted an entire afternoon browsing through a tawdry collection of hate blogs with an assortment of targets: Hillary Clinton (why is this woman so hated?), Liberals, Republicans, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Capitalism, the Right, the Wrong, the epicene, the porcine, the merely breathing, even blogs themselves. Amidst these lurid, bloviating efforts there are the truly creepy (Atlas Shrugs, Spiritual Pathways Ministries Library) or the just plain sinister (Hier ist Deutschland, StopTheACLU).

Library hate blogs
But let us not venture further into these trackless wastes. My mouse-clicking tendon is getting sore. Returning to the world I know best, I must ask, what about library hate blogs? I enjoy The Annoyed Librarian, especially the recent Library 2.0 fulminations, but I haven't found a blog whose sole purpose is to diss libraries, or one library in particular.

Until recently. Enter Stabiblues, an earnestly contrarian blog devoted entirely to dishing out the dirt on the State Library of Berlin (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin), also known as the Stabi. As might be expected, it's entirely in German. A few selected translations will give you an idea of what's going on in this blog, whose subtitle is "The daily insanity of the Berlin State Library."

Here are some recent entries:

Posted August 2, 2007
Yesterday, on leaving the library, I'm asked once again for my ID card by the exit guard on duty. My new technique: simply ignore her. Why should I have to show my ID card when exiting, just because a few other visitors have the habit of leaving their cards where they have been studying in the library?

Got the Stabiblues? (A comment from a reader)
13:22 - December 19, 2006
Reading Hall full, 5-day wait for a book on hold, war damage, etc. — The Stabi has really driven every user to despair. The Stabiblues blog offers every Stabi-plagued soul a platform for venting their frustration. The curious and extraordinary from the limitless expanse of the Stabi-day-to-day.

Who are these people?!
Posted November 3, 2006
How I hate having to read library books in which some stupid idiot has scribbled annotations. In the jargon of the Berlin State Library this is called "illicit marking up." ... I hope the perpetrators are found and punished appropriately. If I had my way they'd be put out of business by being banned from the library.

Cast thy net upon the waters!
Posted October 26, 2006
No Wi-Fi in the Berlin State Library. That would be too user-friendly, wouldn't it. Just think about it. No 15-minute queues at the Internet workstations just to write a quick email or read the news. Searching the catalog from your carrel, requesting a book with your own laptop. All too user-friendly! Not happening ...

Posted October 24, 2006
It's hard to believe but it's true: in the toilets of the Berlin State Library there is the most infernal stink! Are there corpses lying about in there? Is the air conditioning not working? Does any cleaning get done?

The situation is truly disgusting. At the moment I'm seriously considering using the toilets at Starbucks for hygienic reasons.
Just a bit of a chip on his/her shoulder, wouldn't you say, as the anonymous author retreats to the comforts of American hygiene? You wouldn't believe the number of items posted on Stabiblues, some extremely long, detailed and angry. There are lots of comments too. Obviously all is not well with the Staatsbibliothek, especially when it comes to the plumbing. With those final critical remarks still in our nostrils, we shall leave our blogger with the Stabi blues. I'd love to find something similar in the English-speaking world. Meanwhile, I try not to drive my patrons to despair, and I make sure the toilets are clean.


zp said...

Thanks for the link!

On different note, I've been (not very diligently) looking for a blog that hosts library reviews. I mean, reviews of libraries from users, or the library's own librarians.

I've been to some real winners lately.