Monday, May 01, 2006

Best of the Blogosphere, Part 1: John Holbo reads David Frum

(First in an occasional and entirely whimsical series. (Update: Later entries here.))

Bloggers, I am convinced, have done some damn fine writing in the past few years. The nature of the medium being what it is, however, the products of the past are too often swallowed up in the same void that devours day-old newspapers and month-old magazines. On the other hand, the nature of the medium also means that the rescue is easy: the material is there. One just has to link to it.

So, from time to time -- and I really have no idea how often, I might not do another for year, I might do another tomorrow -- I want to link to an old post that is worth reading -- indeed, worth rereading if one has already read it. To make sure that instant acclaim is not the standard, I will limit myself to posts at least a year old. (I know, I know: a pretty short time to ensure classic status. This is the internet, people. Way of the digital world.)

And, thanks to the most recent post by Michael Bérubé (most recent as of this writing), we have our first contender. Dr. Bérubé links to an old post by John Holbo which I really liked when I first read it. I just reread it: it really holds up. So, the first official Attempts Best of the Blogosphere™ post is: John Holbo reads David Frum in "Dead Right".

The basic set-up is this. Thanks to a recommendation by Josh Marshall (the link from Holbo's post is broken; use that if you want to read Marshall, although it's really just a passing comment) John Holbo went and read David Frum's Dead Right. Holbo then discusses Frum's philosophy, filled with ample and not-terribly-clearly-formatted quotations (the latter is my only gripe about the post really). Holbo decides that Frum hasn't really thought his underlying political philosophy through very well, and thus he

...attribute[s] rather outrageous views to Frum, not because I actually think he holds them but because I think he does NOT. These outrageous views are the views he WOULD hold if, perchance, he upheld and investigated only the most immediate ramifications of the bits and snippets of philosophy he espouses.
Hilarity ensues. But the insightful sort of hilarity that really good, biting comedy gives you. -- Really. Go read it.

The post exemplifies a few of the literary quirks of the nascent blogosphere, and I thought I might mention them briefly. First and foremost, it features a lot of very long quotations -- clearly in a copyright-allowable-way (being criticism, and only a snippet of the entire book), but in a way that in a traditional formal essay would seem excessive. But this isn't done because Holbo has nothing to contribute. On the contrary: he has a lot to say, but wants to A) be fair (in a fashion) to Frum, and B) let Frum hang himself by his own words.* (The Donner Party comes up. 'Nuff said.) This is a style of reading which, when done in its entirety to a short piece is referred to in the blogosphere as fisking. This isn't that -- he's only doing a tiny bit of a full-length book. But it is done with all the snark a good fisking entails... but having a dead serious intellectual point behind it (as, indeed, the best snark does).

I really wonder if David Frum ever read it. Part of me is inclined to doubt it, since he hasn't given up being a pundit and devoted the rest of his life to standing on corners and cleaning car windshields for spare change, which would be a reasonable response to this essay, I think. Nor does a quick google bring up any indication that he did -- just other people praising Holbo's post. But part of me thinks he must have read it. It was too widely passed around at the time for him not to have caught wind of it. So what did he think? What could he possibly have thought?

Goodness knows. But you can find out what you think: read the post!

Much Later Update: I just recently found out (via this thread) that John Holbo actually wrote a follow-up post to the one I highlighted here. Like many sequels, it's not as good as the original, but still, if you liked the first, it's worth taking a look at.

* Although at various points he quotes a full paragraph from other writers too. The idea here, I take it, is quite simply that the point has been made well, so why not simply quote it? This isn't written for money or tenure or anything like that, but just to convey ideas. So there's no reason not to simply rely on the words of others if they do the job well.

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