Open University

Lee Siegel Goes Vizzini On The Blogosphere


by Daniel Drezner

On my own blog, I use the phrase "going Vizzini" to describe what happens when when a person repeatedly uses a word or concept differently than everyone else defines it -- in other words, it doesn't mean what they think it means.

Reading through Deborah Solomon's interview with Lee Siegel in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, I can't help but think that Siegel has gone Vizzini on the blogosphere. Some samples:

Anonymity is a universal convention of the blogosphere, and the wicked expedience is that you can speak without consequences....

Everyone seems to be fleeing from the responsibilities that come from being who you are. I think that is why the blogosphere is thriving. It allows people to develop a fantasy self....

Seriously, the blogosphere strips argument of logic and rhetoric down to the naked emotion behind it....

At least for those who practice incessant character assassination, which represents a good portion of the blogosphere, they vent out of the pain of being unacknowledged.

In these comments, Siegel seems to be making an obvious and fundamental error -- he's confusing bloggers with some (though hardly all) of the people who post comments on blogs. Certainly, the bloggers who tangled with Siegel in the past did not hide their identities (as a general rule, it's difficult -- and less rewarding -- for a blogger to maintain anonymity once they acquire any appreciable audience).

What is interesting about the entire episode is that despite Siegel's status as a professional critic, he seemed incapable of tolerating any form of criticism leveled at his writing -- even if the criticism was, in Siegel's eyes, an expression of pure id by anonymous commenters.

This might be a comparative advantage academics bring to the blogosphere -- thicker skins. All academics have had the experience of presenting their work to other scholars, and then have that work analytically sliced and diced by experts who know what they are doing (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Once you have undergone that kind of experience, having a commenter write the equivalent of, "Hey, Drezner, you're a f%$ing @*&hole and your argument sucks!" seems like an amusing trifle.

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