No comment

When I watch a video on youtube or read an article or blog, more often than not I find myself scrolling down to read some of the comments before I’ve finished. Sometimes I do this before I’ve even begun.

The quality of comments varies between websites, but usually the comments are either phatic or moronic. On youtube or the Guardian they often depress or anger me. So why do I read them?

Listening to Ben Abraham defend his decision to take comments off his blog on a podcast convinced me of something I’ve felt about comments for a while: that I kind of hate them.

Abraham’s aesthetic reasons are really what clinched it for me. He says that not only does he prefer the look of his blog without the comments, but the very fact that there are no comments changes the way he writes. For the better.

I have to admit that I regret every comment I’ve ever left.

The comment section is a bit like that game where one person puts out a hand and the other lays their hand on top, then the first person puts their other hand on top and so on until both parties are slapping each other’s hands wildly.

Things I write here usually get zero comments. A few posts have attracted attention and at first I responded to all the comments, but this quickly began to feel draining, a chore. I’ve noticed that I often feel the same way once I’ve got sucked in to reading the comment section on other sites. I might have spent 20 bewildering minutes before I realise I’m wasting my time.

So anyway – to sum up this ramble – I’ve decided to avoid comments for a while, sending and receiving. I doubt it’ll inconvenience anyone, but if it really bothers you, write a post about it.



Comment on No Comment

In my malaise I forgot a few things. Something that wasn’t brought up in the podcast was that conversations needn’t be recorded to be important or worthwhile. Making a record changes things and being able to risk saying something wrong is important. Thinking that a wrong might be recorded would make one less likely to risk intellectual leaps.

The idea that we have to document our every move or thought is behind some of the pro-comment arguments. I’m reminded of Ralf Hütter’s observation that “Everybody is becoming like […] a Stasi agent, constantly observing himself or his friends.” But the defence of comments perhaps comes more from habit, from the feeling that this is just how things are done. No one in the podcast discussion used the phrase “information wants to be free” but an intimation that turning off comments was a form of censorship was constantly lurking in the background.

My main motivation for turning off comments is that I’d like to make a few mistakes in private. Off the record.


Case study: Jesse Watters

Jesse Watters is a Fox News reporter, one of the army of suits that populate the network. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC Ben Armbruster from a website called Think Progress approached Watters with his video camera and asked him what he thought about the recent accusations from a former insider that “stuff is just made up” at Fox.

Watters’ response is strange. He speaks like an actor. He improvises around the same one line – a vague critique of Armbruster – regardless of the question put to him. In the moment and in the raw video, he looks ridiculous. But he is performing not for the moment or for the raw footage, but for the future edit. He has created the raw material for Fox to make their own version of events. He has also, crucially, avoided commenting on Fox’s history of manipulation of the news.

What is fascinating is that without the props, the crew, the CGI studio and an agreed routine, Watters cannot function. He doesn’t even seem to understand that Armbruster can just come up to him with a simple DV camera and ask him questions. For Watters’ the expensive equipment and crew are a necessity. The drab nonplace of the conference room and Armbruster’s calm tone of voice and cheap camera – the everyday normality of it all – makes no sense to him. Without the drama and gloss of NEWS! then it’s just not journalism.

Watters’ role on Fox is to ambush the network’s daily scapegoats and demand answers. He can play the offensive role of the crusading journalist barking questions at harassed interviewees, but when on the defensive – even when approached with kid gloves – he cannot begin to come up with a direct response. All he can think of is weak ad hominem and meta deflections.

Watters’ attempt to curl up in his shell and be saved in the edit failed. It’s interesting to watch him and Bill O’Reilly trying to salvage the episode. Surprisingly, they don’t edit the footage too much (other Fox reports do, however) and can only manage to laugh it off as weakly as Watters did in the first place. O’Reilly describes Watters’ response as “perfect”, “brilliant” and “genius”. Neither of them quite manage to convince.

Posted in tv

Jeanne’s Journal

If the word fantasy wasn’t so strongly associated with bearded twats on a horse and the like, then I’d use it to describe Jeanne’s Journal. Because that’s what this book is: fantastic. In fact, it’s outrageous.

Staircases made of solid air, flesh-eating sand, spray-painted sapphire-eyed cats, human plants, high society cannibal parties, paralysed human statues covered in phosphorus… these are just a handful of the impossible phenomena that exist in Jeanne’s world. She often mentions them in passing, as if they were perfectly normal.

Jeanne’s Journal is very unique. It might be described as existing within the French tradition of the fantastique, but perhaps it’s more accurate to call it alchemical S&M. It’s a bit like if À rebours was written with a pulp economy and pace, the delicate, tormented Des Esseintes replaced with the driven, contemptuous Jeanne. Both books feature impossible plants and bejewelled pets, but while Des Esseintes immersed himself in a carefully created synthetic world of sensation, Jeanne already lives in a world where the impossible and fantastic is commonplace. The reader follows her as she descends into ever more visionary and dreamlike environments.

Sex is, unlike in the coy À rebours, always explicit. In fact, all descriptions are explicit, matter-of-fact and to-the-point, which gives the novel’s creations a sharp immediacy. Sadism is often present and the novel exists in a similar tradition to de Sade, working as it does within the dream logic of erotic fantasy. But Jeanne’s Journal is no “livre philosophique”. Its politics are of a vague feminism and aristocratic sexual freedom, its philosophy alchemical.

Mercier himself is – as the back cover has it – “dedicated to the occult and the fantastic”. The book jacket has a number of interesting details. The pink cover has a drawing of Jeanne holding a whip and looking innocent and fragile – quite the wrong expression for her character to wear. The back cover features a photo of Mercier – also holding a whip – displaying the vagina drawn on the palm of his hand, along with a strange blurb that describes him as “[a]n avid reader of literature dealing with the bizarre, he was also a leader of a gang of youths in his village and later became a judo expert.”

As well as all that, Mercier was a film director, making what he called “witch cinema”. In Pete Tombs’ and Cathal Tohill’s Immoral Tales, Mercier’s La Goulve (released in 1972, the same year as the English translation of JJ) is described as belonging to a rare group of films “that seem to have sprung out of nowhere, that seem to have no antecedents, creating their own grammar and going their own way, regardless of our aesthetic or artistic preconceptions.” They describe the experience of watching La Goulve as “like having your skull taken off and blown into.”

As detailed in this article on Esotika, Mercier has had a strange career. Two of his early books, including Jeanne’s Journal, were banned in France and his films never gained critical acceptance. He is now some kind of guru figure and is uncomfortable with his fantastique past.

Jeanne’s Journal is unfairly obscure. As Mercier says in his short introduction, “Death by silence is the fate of all who refuse to follow the safety of the well-trodden paths. But whoever dies such a death can always place his hopes in resurrection.”

Further reading: