Logically, this piece should not exist. Its sense comes only on reflection that it began as a post on a different topic — a reflection on George Eliot’s Middlemarch — which was abandoned before I put pen to paper or fingers to keys. The reason it was abandoned is because frankly, dear Weblick,[1] it is none of your business. It is none of your business how much this novel has recently meant to me, how long it took me to read it, and in what ways it does and does not touch on my personal or professional life. It is none of your business whether I find there varied likenesses of myself or others of intimate and distant acquaintance; whether I find its characters wholly sympathetic or naively unbelievable; whether the novel has done me some personal good, or simply reflected what I already know to be true of life; whether its Whig politics are impressive or repugnant to me; whether I think its ultimate optimism about human nature more indebted to the Gospels or to D.F. Strauss amd Feuerbach; and how I think it compares to Trollope, Dostoevsky, Joyce, or Woolfe. (That these are the only points of comparison I mention does, I am afraid, reveal one of two things: either I am an amateur critic, or I am writing for amateur readers. Such is the result, baleful or otherwise, of the specialization of knowledge and the effect of “the new historicism” on the study of literature.)

What I should like to say, and this in weblick, is that we should all be more circumspect when we blog. Let us start with the word. “Blog,” I take it, is short for “web log,” a name which suggests its origins in not in arachnology but in the electronic records of ships or warehouses. That we should all have a public diary, readily accessible not only to our local neighborhood (as, say, an opinion piece in the daily newspaper) but to the entire world is, in itself, a thought which should give us pause — all the more so when we take account of a second reality: that “bloggers” (present company excluded) have, taking a cue from their name, often “blabbed,” “gagged,” and “vomited” up in their blogs an undigested chain of acidic thoughts and published them as a cultured verbal appetizer. All the more so for users of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Yik Yak. If I shall be hereby accused by some of heaping opprobrium on the Pope and the Dalai Lama, let them remember that some elite weblick figures no doubt have a whole team of editors to manicure and perfect the content of their tweets. A technology which to one is a source of venting private and unformed malice or saccharine sentiments may be to another an opportunity for expensive advertising. But the best and brightest still have editors. Caveat scriptor.

I will not here engage in a rehearsal of the woeful results that many blogs have wrought on the tone of national politics and ecclesial debate. Others have said that more persuasively, and with data (to appease the technocratic obsession with testing, often at great expense, the obvious). What I should like to lament is that way that blogs have undoubtedly also had a detrimental effect on cultures of private, written reflection of a kind meant solely for oneself, one’s spouse, and one’s friends. The chief problem of the blog, I suggest, is that it bypasses the opportunity for cultivation of individual and familial identity, turning one’s first thoughts into contributions to the weblick square. First thoughts, however, should never be such, and ought generally to be preceded (one would hope) by five or six oral or written versions, spoken in confidence and refined by the charity and criticism of those who know and love us most, and refined in the university, the Church, and above all, the family life.

This does not mean that blogs should be abandoned altogether; what I mean instead is that we have an ethical responsibility in how we use them. Much that you read here on Covenant, dear Weblick, exemplifies the best in authorial and editorial restraint — a prudence (one hopes, though ever a work in progress) which draws on the strength of communal esprit de corps, fraternity, sorority, and ultimately, communio. For those who wish to know my first thoughts on Middlemarch, alas, this will not be the venue to find out. I do, however, respond to letters and emails, and if you are local, would like very much to pop in to pay you a visit and find out what you are reading.

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Michael Cover‘s other posts may be found here. The featured image by Grant Hutchinson is licensed under Creative Commons. 


 

[1] The spelling of this term might be better represented in American English by the neologism “Weblic”; but for a variety of rhetorical reasons, I prefer to make the spelling conform to the obsolete English form, “Publick.”

 

About The Author

The Rev. Dr. Michael Cover is assistant professor of theology at Marquette University and a priest associate at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa. A graduate of Harvard, Yale, and the University of Notre Dame, he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Dallas in 2010.  

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