Tuesday, August 02, 2005

In My Day, We Trekked Twelve Miles Uphill To Get To Blogger

In honor of Technorati's announcement that a blog is created every second (that's 5,900% higher than the rate of sucker parturition as reported in 1869), I'd like to pay tribute to one of our distant forebears, a pioneer of the blogger's snarky, roving-eyed, bitter-tongued art from the days when the only thing digital about communication media was the ink you got all over your digits reading them. Friends, let us raise a glass to Flann O'Brien, aka Myles na gCopaleen, Father of Bloggers.

Between 1940 and his death in 1966, O'Brien wrote a column for the Irish Times under that pseudonym. (A collection of highlights is available under the title The Best of Myles.) Myles wrote on just about anything and everything, as his bloggishly errant fancy took him, but the unifying thread was a merciless, jaundiced observation of the quotidian pomposities and conventions of Irish society, accompanied by fiercely funny deflation of same.

Witness, for example, the Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché:
In 356 tri-weekly parts. A unique compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing. Compiled without regard to expense or the feelings of the public. A harrowing survey of sub-literature and all that is pseudo, mal-dicted and calloused in the underworld of print. Given free with the Irish Times. Must not be sold separately or exported without a licence. Copyright, Printed on re-pulped sutmonger's aprons. Irish labour, Irish ink.
....
In what can no man tell the future has for us?
Store.
With what do certain belligerents make their military dispositions?
Typical Teutonic thoroughness.
In what manner do wishful thinkers imagine that the war will be over this year?
Fondly.
Take the word, 'relegate'. To what must a person be relegated?
That obscurity from which he should never have been permitted to emerge.
What may one do with a guess, provided one is permitted?
Hazard.
And what is comment?
Superfluous.
Pages and pages of those, some in Latin or German, elaborately self-indulgent in prose, sharply critical in referent.
From what vertiginous eyrie does it behove us to proclaim our faith in democracy?
From the house-tops.
At what time should we proclaim our faith in democracy from the house-tops?
Now, more than ever.
Not unfamiliar, is it?

My other favorite Myles standard is the taxonomy of Bores. Over the course of many columns he compiled a detailed natural history of the common types of Bore, including the Man Who Can Pack, The Man Who Buys Wholesale, The Man Who Never Gives Pennies to Beggars, and The Man Who Soles His Own Shoes:
Quite innocently you complain about the quality of present-day footwear. You wryly exhibit a broken sole. 'Must leave them in tomorrow,' you say vaguely. The monster is flabbergasted at this passive attitude, has already forced you into an armchair, pulled your shoes off and vanished with them into the scullery. He is back in an incredibly short space of time and restored your property to you announcing that the shoes are now 'as good as new'. You notice his own for the first time and instantly understand why his feet are deformed. You hobble home, apparently on stilts. Nailed to each shoe is an inch-thick slab of synthetic 'leather' made from Shellac, saw-dust and cement. Being much taller than usual, you nearly kill yourself getting onto a bus. By the time you get home you have lost two pints of blood and the wound on your forehead looks as if it will turn septic.
It's genius stuff, and truly catholic in the good, little-c sense. Man was all over the damn place, and had a full-on majestic proto-blogger's sense of the absolute authority of his small realm. He clearly just wrote whatever came into his head, often with more than a little of the surreal, and threw it out there with divine, wry insouciance to its reception:
Our aim, by the way, is to give complete satisfaction. If this column is not in good condition when you receive it, return it to this office and your money will be refunded. In addition, you will receive six stouts in a handsome presentation cooper. When the column is written, it weighs exactly 0.03 grammes. Due to heat, evaporation or damp, the contents may become impaired or discoloured. In case of complaint, return it to this office with the rest of the newspaper and we will gladly replace it, or, at your option, return your money in full. Our aim is to make every customer a friend for life. We wish to give you complete satisfaction. We are your obsequious handwashing servants. We are very meek and humble. One frown from you and we feel that we have made a mess of our whole lives.

As the man said.
What, I ask you, is not to love? You just don't see writing like this among IRL journos these days. But you do see it in the blogosphere. Pissy, random, critical, cocky unto arrogant, and, in the best examples, as sharp and funny as anything you've ever seen in print, bloggers are the true Children of Myles, lo these 40 years on (or even earlier, as in the case of the absurdly prolific Whatever It Is I'm Against It, who has somehow managed to have been blogging since 1986, possibly not without recourse to alien technologies or truck with dark powers).

Let's take a moment, then, to pay respeck to a founding father and distinguished exemplar, the Ur-blogger, Myles na gCopaleen.

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