I couldn't find the drive-in scene, so I'll have to settle for the ostrich scene...And then . . .

In the abysmal farce Dude Where’s My Car, two guys are in search of a continuum transfunctioner. My favorite moment was when they became trapped at a drive-through where a disembodied voice insistently repeats “and then? . . .”

That’s an easy way of describing parataxis. Parataxis is a quality of primary orality —to keep Alex happy, I’ll further specify that it is a quality of ancient Greek primary orality— DUDE! That’s what the embryonic structure of blogging is.

When I first read Meg Hourihan’s piece on blogging, I said to myself— SWEET! Of course, this wasn’t the hegemonic response. Stavros was the first to blast it, followed closely by Jonathon.

You see, in my opinion, what she was writing about is really the continuum transfunctioner of blogging. To be tiresomely McLuhanesqe, the medium is the message. I’m not saying that Jonathon and Stavros didn’t raise valid points, but as Meg replied in a comment to Jonathon’s post:

What I was trying to do in my article was simply point out that we can’t define this thing based on the content we’re outputting, just like you can’t define photography based on the photos of one brilliant photographer. I tried to look beneath the content to the tools and format that enable us to make connections. I wasn’t saying that’s all there is to blogging, I was just saying that’s one piece of it.

I’d like to take that a step further. What she’s looking at is the grammar of blogging. There is a reason for the explosion of diverse content, post-blogging. I think it has a lot to do with the changes to the grammar involved. Blogging is a fat sandwich. I’m looking at it through the lens of orality, literacy, and secondary orality theory— what Kathleen Welch calls good bread for arguments about literacy in the electronic age. I think the content produced through blogging represents an entirely new kind of meat. And to invert Welch, we need the bread too.

Simply put, the structure imposed by the grammatical rules of timestamps, permalinks, etc., results in paratactic information exchange. Each day adds another level of and then. . . which had been largely lost in conventional hypertext documents. In hypertext, there doesn’t have to be a then, only rhizomatic patterns of connection. Blogging imposes a structure which makes hypertext more functional as a medium. The first generation “link blogs” are entirely paratactic, compared to the hypotactic, subordinating [dare I say tree-like] nature of first generation personal home pages. Hypotaxis was derived from print literacy. Link blogs are in essence far more oral and conversational.

Blogs move things back toward the pole of orality because of their grammar. The world returns to its long-lost and then . . . roots. However, as the divergence of conversation suggests, it’s not a simple change. As long form blogging has stretched out, it still maintains its periodic oral structure while each post within a blog maintains a largely literate subordinate hypotactic structure. We are going into the future by rediscovering the temporal, ever-shifting nature of the oral past. As Jeremy Bushnell reflected a few days ago, there are precedents to this return to temporal writing, but the sheer scale of the thing begs that we examine not just how these tools affect “writers,” but how they affect everyone. Blogs are one of the best arguments for the emergence of what Father Ong calls secondary orality.

Why is this important? Because it represents an entirely new kind of consciousness, not a “paradigm shift” (yech!) but a syntagmatic shift. The grammar of blogging is perhaps instrumental for the practical development of a completely new grammar of thought. I don’t think what Meg was talking about was trivial at all. Of course, I seem to be in the minority here, but I thought I’d speak up. Isocrates was present at a very similar interface point, and Welch has some really interesting observations that I’ll talk about later. For now, I just wanted to repeat a blogger’s chorus:

Dude! What does mine say?

Sweet! What does mine say?

Dude! What does mine say?

Sweet! What does mine say?

And then is the paratactic connection with the dawn of oral, storytelling consciousness. I know I may get tedious and tendentious with all my linguistics and grammatology, but I feel this sort of thing is really useful in understanding what’s going on as we move deeper into the mass of electronic textuality.

The technology of photography is indeed of great importance, for example, in examining how the small hand-held camera and high speed films fundamentally changed the content of photography. In a mature medium, these questions are less important. But still, Walker Evans’s nearly recursive move back into heavy view cameras deeply effected the character of the images he produced, when contrasted to his street photography with roll-film cameras. The grammar of the machine affects the content. I gave up infrared photography largely for the reasons Jonathon suggested; people didn’t care about the photographs, only the technology. But, how old is blogging? Shouldn’t we be asking precisely these sort of questions?

[ducking before the ostrich pokes my eye out]

1 thought on “Dude!”

  1. I’d just like to put in an utterly facetious, but sincere!, vote for secondary orality. I just like the sound of it. (Pun intended.)

    Forgive me, I’m a little drunk on kisses.


    Which hegemony is that? Three dissenting voices amongst the avalanche of enthusiastic endorsement?

    I agree wholeheartedly that “Walker Evans’s nearly recursive move back into heavy view cameras deeply effected the character of the images he produced, when contrasted to his street photography with roll-film cameras.”

    But that’s an infinitely more nuanced argument than defining the difference in terms of the dimensions of the respective negatives and the presence or lack of perforations.

    Anyway, the weather here in Sydney is cold and overcast, rain on the way. How about Little Rock?

    Jeff, I like this, I like this a lot. Thank you for making me revisit what Meg was saying and look at it in a new light. Whether or not she was thinking in terms of the ‘grammar of blogging’ when she wrote the piece isn’t important… you’ve given me a way to approach that article in a way that makes it more meaningful. For me, anyway.Cool.
    So that’s how you do it… you translates Meg’s article into pomo, and the chicken gets it.
    Calling VD’s Latinate clarity “pomo” or “English major crit-speak” shows a merciful lack of experience with pomo English major crit-speak, and, less mercifully, a blanket hostility which reminds me of the pomo English major who condescendingly asked a speaker “You don’t really believe in DNA, do you?” That science stuff is so discredited nowadays….

    Those misguided few who persist in believing that there’s some point to the humanities as well as to science, and even (to a much lesser extent) to computer technology, will also find some point to explicitly bringing one realm to bear on another. I wouldn’t call that “translation.” I’d call it noticing evidence and dealing with it. Or, more briefly, “insight.”
    Point well taken Ray, in my excitement to see that once Meg’s thesis was recast in another domain, that stavros had his ‘aha!’ moment, I was dismissive of the effort to illuminate him.Mea culpa.
    Thanks, Bill.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that — even though I had no real problem with Meg’s description, and even though I’m skeptical about the extent to which the weblog format is revolutionary or lends itself to revolution — I also got a lot of “aha!” out of VD’s post. To recast in another domain is often to say something new.

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