Thursday, September 17, 2009

Some Comments on the Curiosity of Blogs

Stanley Fish's latest NY Times blog post "Does Curiosity Kill More Than the Cat?" has provoked 399 comments as of this morning (17 Sep).

Fish basically presents 'curiosity' as a vice that when given a "positive twist" morphs into "the scientific project"—leading all the way up to present efforts on behalf of the National Endowment of the Humanities to digitalize "just about everything." Fish seems to be unimpressed with the promise of digital archives.

In short, Fish concludes that 'curiosity' seems to be the God that humans want to worship. I keep placing 'curiosity' in scare-quotes because it seems like such an unwieldy concept, and an odd one to take on in a brief expository form such as a blog post. The 399 comments generated in the three days since the post appeared tend to either ridicule Fish for sounding like a religious fanatic, or applaud Fish's critique of hubris.

For one commentator, a welcome apocalypse is on the near horizon:

Do not despair, however, because soon there will be a collective, intellectual revolt, at which point the compasses will be righted once again and everything will be given its proper place.


There is something so, what, curious about this kind of certainty. It makes me almost suspect that Fish's post was a provocation, a calculated ruse intended to expose just these sorts of impulses. Clearly, to maintain a blog (or comment on one) involves more than a little faith in human curiosity, and such faith would be more than a little resistant to the "revolt" anticipated.

I wonder then if, really, Fish's post is a (perhaps unconscious) reflection on the curiosity of blogs in general. Let me explain.

Stanley Fish could have written a blog post with the title "Does Chocolate Kill More Than the Cat?" Then, using some clever passages and strategic citations, he could move swiftly toward an argument about a general idolatry concerning chocolate. One can imagine concluding sentences that would read something like this:
The question, posed by thinkers from Roald Dahl to Frederick Shilling to Timothy Morton, is whether this is the God—the God, ultimately, of indulgence—we want to worship. Given the evidence, including the philosophy of Green & Black's, the answer would seem to be yes.

Within three days, Fish would have around 399 comments that would account for a dispersed field of praise, agreement, disagreement, counter-argument, and sarcasm—over the subject of chocolate. And here we are: in a world of blogs, communicating about communication, right at home in the world. The argument was never about 'chocolate' or 'curiosity' all along—it was about ways of reading and habits of writing, and how these acts become ingrained over (digital) time.