On blogging and hospitality (revised August 2017)

While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Chronic(le) pieces, and while they can be disappointingly click-baity, I thought this “advice” yesterday from David Perry was splendid. It’s short and simple. Clear and true.

I also like it because it’s from a medievalist, and as all sensible intelligent people know, medievalists are one of the groups from whom one would expect intelligence and good sense. (There are other such groups too. Guerilla knitters, analytic philosophers, speculative fictioneers, geeky scientific cooks, anyone working voluntarily in areas of conflict and with refugees and migrants, etc.) It was delightful to see that the Three Lessons map exactly onto my own experience of blogging, over the same time-period. Because even medievalists are human and as such can be prone to smugness, to the warming of the cockles of the heart, and to those things happening simultaneously and non-incompatibly.

More warmly still, these are good wise general statements for anyone and everyone. Positive, helpful, should trigger a reaction either of “hey, nice, I’m doing that already!” or “hey, I could totally do that too!” And then: “hey, that’s helpful and helpful is good; maybe I could help others too.” It’s a very hospitable piece of writing, and blogging is a very hospital form of writing, as all creative arts and acts and human civilised things should be.

We are all, in a sense, migrants and refugees. Our people have all been at some time or another, often becoming exiles and newcomers more than once.

(Adding, August 2017: This is an idea to be distinguished from actually being a refugee. Which is entirely different; and different every time, every place, for every person, and with the additional intersecting social injustices attached. And no, I don’t think that anyone who is not a refugee can actually know what it is like, or feel anything more than a humble and respectful human sympathy. I had an argument about a year and a half ago (spring 2016) with my friend Carla, thanks to whom I changed my mind: there are limits to the powers of imagination and it is arrogant (a.k.a. “privilege”) to assume otherwise. We were talking about the situation of feeling suicidal, and how one can listen to, talk with, and try to help traumatised students; I was reminded of this conversation recently when teaching Montaigne Essai II.6, “De l’exercitation,” on understanding death and the limits to learning and understanding, and how they are to be treasured and embraced. “Que sçais-je?” indeed : you live, and learn, and learn to live and learn better.)

That larger sense of migrancy is in itself also a wondrous thing. Of having survived catastrophe, of still being alive albeit differently, and having learned from it. Allowing change, opening possibility, opening one up to being and becoming more than one thing at once. Humanly enriching. Migrancy is too often seen as a purely negative human feature (quite aside from the pejorative associations, racist nationalist NIMBY territoriality), as are transience and a lack of clear forward upthrusting progress. Ignore that, it’s silly macho talk. The noisy aggressive imperious babble of imperialist modernity, just a wee blip in the larger anthropocene.

We have a duty of care to others, in humane hospitality. The Golden Rule, remember, and “do as you would be done by.” The following hypothesis is unprovable but oh so tantalising: that the Golden Rule, ancient as it is and existing as it does in cultures all around the world, is surely as much about remembering your past and your ancestral past as it is about kind fair welcome and free gratuitous benevolence, or “there but for the grace of divine providence go I.”

It’s seeing Everyman in any graven haunted scarred face, and your possible self in another possible world; the shock of multiple recognitions all at once; the horror of mirrors. Shocking in the same way as jokes and horror are. Shocking for the same reason speculative fictions are, along with translation and commentary (and who knows where the borders lie), the oldest and most continuous literary forms. The shock of multaneously superimposed faces. Present, past, future, and multiple imaginable and unimaginable worlds collide. All shapes and sizes, colours, genders, kinds.

It’s confronting a further double commonality: shared humanity and shared individual insignificance.

Shocking, but not necessarily dividing and destroying. Dédoublement also multiplies and creates.

What can bring all these things together and bring a shocked individual back together in themself? The other human commonalities of communication and community.

Blogging, then. A good thing.

1. Pick the right platform [Blogger / WordPress].

2. Write whatever you want.

3. Write for the sake of writing.



Last year’s public poppy artwork in London to commemorate the beginning of the First World War was another exemplary case of all these commonalities conjoined in the public good, by and with all. Looking, making, acting, thinking, contemplating and considering together. Triggering conversation, reminiscence, the exchange of stories. (Consider this a positive angle on “trigger warning.”) In harmonious polyphonic concert (and including harmonics and dissonances). Educational and healing.

While mirrors and mirror reflections can be a source of fear and horror, mirroring as co-operative and creative behaviour can be therapeutic

This, on the other hand? (To be fair, shot from a bad angle and I’m sure the Daily Mail and suchlike use this exact shot deliberately.) Back to the worst excesses of regimented single-voice monotonous droning, from one colonising imperial power’s monolith that lies at the heart of a second such power, its descendant, the City of London.


Because Montaigne is at the back of and behind everything, haunting us from his arrière-boutique as our private worlds intersect, le spectre de l’altérité if Zahi Zalloua will forgive me.

A fine old chestnut is circulating again in the bloggosphere and on the book of face, I’m glad to see.

Now, I’ve been saying this since the beginning of the century, as have all Montaignists. When I first met blogging—back when it was e-journaling and weblogging—it was already strikingly distinct from other online interactions and discussions. Those differences made it enticing and exciting for a lit. hum. person. When I first started tentatively doing something with blogging–by this time the term existed and was in common use, back in LiveJournal days; I was still in the reading and commentating stage, wouldn’t start full activity until 2003—and tried talking about this curious newish thing, it was of course medievalist and renaissanceur friends who understood the concept first.

Some had also been thinking about it, and some were themselves already blogging anyway; so this was also my own first, formative, encounter with the hospitality of bloggers. As perverted, post-Web 2.0, by commercial consumerist exploitation and idiocracy; but that’s a whole other story.

The first time I heard someone say “oh, so that’s basically Montaigne technologically translated to the 21st century” was fellow students in François Rigolot’s fall 2000 FREN 513 “Montaigne, Descartes, Pascal” graduate seminar. (In conversation, so it’s hard to ascribe individual blame. Probably Philippe Baillargeon, being the wittiest of that group?)

What I just said is not meant to be a facetious comment or comparison, and I temper my appreciation of that 2010 piece’s re-circulation by saying that in my judgement the piece is rather facile. I’m not the biggest fan of either the Paris Review or the Atlantic: very culturally-Western; often Modernist and Anglo-centric and in a way that marginalises, exoticises, or excludes other cultures and their artefacts (ex. here of Montaigne, the sixteenth century, renaissance(s), humanism(s), literature in French); very older white male. Clever, sure, and sometimes brilliant; erudite and well-read with age, albeit with limited perspective.

(Yes, I say all that as a European and a medievalist; no, that’s neither hypocritical nor contradictory: it’s medievalist.)

What blogging—good blogging at its most intelligent—does is to do unto writing and thinking-about-writing (and writing-about-thinking-about writing, thinking-about-writing-about-thinking, and so on) what Montaigne did in assaying the essay and in so doing performing a sublime transcendent translationary act on Marcus Aurelius and co.’s memoir / life-writing / commentary.

Blogging at its best (and even not at its best, just what commoner mortals aspire to as its ideal form) should have Montaigne’s essay in mind as blogging’s closest relative, for form and function, for material and content, modus operandi, meandering discursiveness en flânant, but always with something to say—even if it takes a while to come around to it—moving in conversational cadences. Always with an intent to reach out to others, to do so in common humanity in the shared free open space of the e-verse, to create and build and maintain refuge; and with that chattiness, circularity, and relaxed inconclusiveness that characterises human conversational interaction. Unfinishedness is human. Leaving things open isn’t always a flaw, it too can be human: making something alive, having the generosity and kindness to leave it open for others to continue, having the humility and wisdom to acknowledge and accept incompleteness and to embrace it as the human/ist essaying condition.

Even the direst of the ignorant, selfish Food Babe Yoga Mummy Pampered Prince/ss are still in some way engaged in the great Stoic and sceptical project. Even if they are blissfully unaware and if their main contribution is as material for satire criticising hubris, hypocrisy, inhumanity, and folly; they can still provide a valuable service to the community by helping satire, which is itself a fine example of sceptical Stoical essay-ism.

Great minds think alike. And that is good. Great, even. Vive l’essai : continuons tous d’essayer, de s’essayer, et de nous essayer.

It is right and proper that the last voices heard here should go to our current greatest essayist, Clive James, and to Montaigne himself. The last word is the latter’s first Essai-ing words “au lecteur”; to you and me and us, his readers and future essaying progeny and humanist posterity. The first item below is the classically-Montaignianly three-long-paragraph “Introduction” to The Meaning of Recognition: New Essays 2001-2005. 



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.