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To fisk or not to fisk?

27 Nov

To “pilger” has somewhat different connotations, if a similar genesis. Both words derive from the names of prominent journalists.The verb “to fisk” is defined as “To deconstruct an article on a point by point basis in a highly critical manner. Derived from the name of journalist Robert Fisk, a frequent target of such critical articles in the blogosphere.” I actually have considerable respect for Robert Fisk; even if he is not always absolutely correct with his facts or interpretations, he is usually nearer the mark and far more interesting than his critics. I first encountered the term “fisking” on Bruce’s and Arthur’s sites, where you may sometimes see the technique deployed and whose links take you to more information about the practice. It is Arthur’s response to being travestied (definitely not “fisked” in any sense) on another blog that has led me to think about this topic. I love the pic there.

I am old-fashioned enough to hesitate about adopting the term myself when “critique” and “deconstruction” — the latter in its popular rather than Derridean sense — already exist, but I have no objection to the practice so long as it is used for substantial critique and not just to break butterflies on wheels or to score personal points. A danger (drawing here on a reader-response perspective) is that fisking can very easily turn personal, or be seen as personal, and the fisker is always in danger of being seen as (or even being) a superior and somewhat supercilious pedant. It is all a matter of focus and tone, I suppose. Certainly I have seen many worthwhile examples of the practice, and Arthur’s original “fisking” of a rather muddled effusion on gay issues, which led to accusations of “jealousy”, was not a bad example of the art. I said as much at the time. The long-delayed response on Seeking Utopia was itself infantile**; ironic, as that seems to have been the charge against Arthur.

Still, you won’t find me practising the art very often. It isn’t really my style. I did do a sustained “fisking” of Kevin Donnelly’s Why our schools are failing (sic) a couple of years ago: “probably the worst, the most stupid, book on education that I have read.” But I don’t do this sort of thing very often now. Perhaps I have mellowed. (I can thank Mr Rabbit* for that in part.)

On controversial issues I prefer to present, where I can, a positive case, doing my best to stay within the rules of logic and fair presentation, and where what I am saying is more intuitive than intellectual, or more right-brained than left-brained, I hope I am aware of what I am doing and make others aware of it too.

Anyway, I have no qualms at all about variety and even lack of seriousness on my own blog. Why should I? There are no delusions of grandeur here, I hope.

Later

* Mister Rabbit seems to have read the past week or so of this blog soon after this post was published. Just in case he comes back soon, I encourage him to revive his blog. :) I also hope we might renew some contact one of these days; he was a very good friend.

** Go over the fold for more commentary on Seeking Utopia’s “critique” of Arthur and Daniel’s quite bizarre responses to Arthur and myself. Daniel hasn’t won any arguments and I would suspect few hearts over this. Frankly, it has all been too weird for words.

*** Do read Thomas’s latest post on Deus Lo Vult. Not only might it be relevant, but it greatly simplifies things for all of us. ;)

The unseemly obsessions of Seeking Utopia

I gather (from his childish reaction) that Arthur doesn’t like a taste of his own medicine! Tough! — Daniel on Arthur’s post referred to above.

Response: Except you didn’t give him “his own medicine”, did you? He did a rigorous analysis of what you said in a serious post; you have highlighted a non-serious post (itself a perfectly valid thing to have), cut and pasted it, and then made false extrapolations from that to Arthur’s blog as a whole. Pathetic. And everyone can see through it too. Why bother? Readers may judge for themselves: 1) Arthur’s post of October 27, 2006 which, aside from the unfortunate name-calling at the end, is real argument and 2) the “mature” parody. [Sorry, you can no longer make this comparison. See "Tuesday sequel" below.] NOTE: I recall taxing Arthur over his use of the word “cretin”, apart from name-calling being a strategy that does not advance an argument; when I use the word “infantile”, on the other hand, I am evaluating the post under discussion, which may indeed be seen as “being or befitting or characteristic of an infant”, not its author, nor am I suggesting that other posts by that author are also infantile, as many clearly are not.

Final note

I have visited Seeking Utopia several times today for research purposes. Noting on Technorati that he had posted recently I was curious to see if there was a response to what I and others have said today. I did not expect it to take the form of rational discourse and I was not disappointed. What we get instead is one of the works of Hieronymus Bosch (visual cliche #123705?) and a tart little message about old gays. Fortunately I enjoy Hieronymus Bosch, both the artist and the detective, and that psychotic artwork does offer a wonderful glimpse into many an inner landscape, doesn’t it? So there is nothing there for me to respond to rationally.

Sad. Seeking Utopia was once quite a good blog before the Arthur obsession (“unhealthy and compulsive preoccupation with something or someone”) took hold… Lest I suffer from Dystopia obsession I now finally bid him a fond farewell.

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!
;)

You may trace the whole tale from September to the present here. I began to suspect Daniel’s objectivity (for want of a better word) about Arthur and a number of others fairly early on, and those doubts grew with time, which is why I did not even attempt to join the “secret blog” and wouldn’t have even if I had been invited. This does not change the fact that many of Daniel’s posts have been admirable in the past, but he really should deal with his homophobia and his fairly clear lack of balance (in my view) on a range of matters, and also attain a somewhat more realistic view of the role of his blog on the world scene. Otherwise I suspect his blog will just become more and more secret.

Tuesday sequel

Otherwise I suspect his blog will just become more and more secret. It has; today Daniel has password-protected the “open” version of Seeking Utopia. (This has proved to be an on-off phenomenon. — 12 December 2006.)

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25 responses to “To fisk or not to fisk?

  1. ninglun

    December 11, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    This really is very funny. WHO WINS THE PRIZE? Thanks, Daniel. ;) I wondered why you had been visiting for such a long time this afternoon. Now I know. I don’t imagine the picture is original. Good to see that the seriousness of your project does not prevent you from indulging in a little trivial pursuit of your own. I am surprised you devoted such an amount of your precious time to something so vulgar and mediocre as this blog.

    You could have entered the conversation, had you so chosen, and lifted the intellectual standard for the benefit of civilisation as we know it, but of course you didn’t.

    …those tedious tarts: Arthur, Ninglun, and Bwuce (Iain’s comment was the only one that contained a shred of intelligence which says a great deal).

    Iain will be really flattered I’m sure, even if the compliment strikes me as very back-handed. I am pleased you found this remark of his to some degree pertinent and even intelligent:

    I have had a number interesting debates with Arthur and I really appreciate how he does not take it personally (I try to avoid the personal attack as a rule) but with the likes of Daniel everything is a personal attack, if you don’t agree with him… For all of his posturing about his moral superiority he is such a joke in terms of serious blogging frankly I don’t know how anyone could “get into bed” with him in his approach to political dialogue. His secret club is such a joke the perfect example of hiding one’s light under a bushel :).

    I repeated that in case you hadn’t actually read it.

    I note too that your readers have to take your magisterial comments on this thread as “gossip” at face value, as you do not (unlike myself) provide them with a link back so they can assess our “gossip” for themselves. But that would spoil the fun, wouldn’t it, because they may find that the issues raised here are actually serious. We certainly believe they are. They may have even gone on to read other entries, or have even gone to Arthur’s or Bruce’s blogs — oh the sin of it! — and have made their own unassisted judgments about them, as I did, finding that almost everything you said about their blogs was unjustified. They may then wonder, as I did, what possible explanation there might be for that, and that has been one topic on this thread. They would also note, if they visited those blogs, that the only place you rate a mention these days is on this thread. I guess you could call that something of a half-life…

    By the way, aside from pettiness, why is Bruce always “Bwuce”, and how come Arthur has been restored to his proper name instead of being “Arfah” with that wonderful picture of the rainbow man with piercings and studs? You must spend a lot of time on image search.

    Bye. I’m willing to bet this priceless post will disappear within the hour…

    Update

    I was wrong about the last point, so far at least… I checked next morning, and the post is still there. There is a new one, good but unoriginal, on Iraq. I support what Daniel says there: who wouldn’t in this case, even if Baghdad Burning or Juan Cole do it with more authority. Look, I don’t blame Daniel for his lack of originality here; I don’t have anything original to say on the subject either. I think any Jo Blow in the Australian blogosphere who really thinks he/she has is up him/herself. But one can have an opinion. Daniel, however, spoils it with his pompous tone and insufferable air of superiority, writing as if God told him what to say:

    As a complete counterbalance to the frivolous nature of the previous post and the trivial people it involved, this graphic picture from Iraq (by Reuters) shows something much more serious and worthy of publication…

    Meanwhile, if you run down the post titles of most blogs, the majority seem concerned with inconsequential intellectual wanking or trite, self-indulgent nonsense….

    Cleanse that post of its underlying narcissism and it would be a good contribution. Such a shame. Obvious enough that anything not on Seeking Utopia must be “trite, self-indulgent nonsense” isn’t it? Otherwise it would be on Seeking Utopia. The greatest trouble with Daniel’s swipe at the unwashed majority of bloggers, especially of the usual suspects, is that it is irrelevant to his message. Surely the quality of that message can stand, if it will, without the endless self-serving comparisons with all us poor mediocre souls outside the coop.

    I do not regard this as flaming, I might add. I really don’t care any more what Daniel says, though I do concede that he can say and has said quite a number of good things. However, I absolutely deplore the way he has treated Arthur and Bruce, because he has been patently dishonest over them, and I also regret having once been sucked into his weird world in that respect. So I am critiquing, not flaming, because I support standards of discourse which Daniel infringes on a regular basis. That said, I will shortly give the game away. As I said, I really don’t care any more, and this spot is the only one where the controversy, if that is the right word, still goes on. Everywhere else on this blog it is as if Seeking Utopia simply does not exist.

    NOTE As of Friday 14 December, the entry in question has been removed from Seeking Utopia.

     
  2. AV

    December 12, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    I note too that your readers have to take your magisterial comments on this thread as “gossip” at face value, as you do not (unlike myself) provide them with a link back so they can assess our “gossip” for themselves.

    But in order for Daniel’s . . . erm . . . “criticisms” to make any kind of sense, his readers would need to be aware of our blogs and their URLs, and be able to access them. Daniel might be the Messiah in his own mind, but I’m hesitant to entertain that the majority of whatever readers still frequent his blog would accept his blatherings at face value.

    You could have entered the conversation, had you so chosen, and lifted the intellectual standard for the benefit of civilisation as we know it, but of course you didn’t.

    That’s because he’s a coward–and his cowardice, too, will not have gone unnoticed by his readers.

    By the way, aside from pettiness, why is Bruce always “Bwuce”, and how come Arthur has been restored to his proper name instead of being “Arfah” with that wonderful picture of the rainbow man with piercings and studs? You must spend a lot of time on image search.

    Playground insults, of course, are all he is capable of producing, given his meagre intellect. Note also the homophobic and misogynistic flavour of many of his jibes–which I’m sure must go down really well with the feminist/progressive denizens of his secret treehouse (if any indeed remain).

    This is hilarious. It’s almost as if with each post he has this gigantic bullseye painted on his foot, and has his hunting rifle cocked and loaded.

    I do not regard this as flaming, I might add.

    It isn’t flaming. It’s an honest and insightful assessment of a very lame, yet still very (unintentionally) funny blog.

     
  3. ninglun

    December 12, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks, Arthur. However, surprisingly, I don’t really think Daniel has a “meagre intellect” — but he has rather lost the plot and should return to thinking through the issues he raises in depth, rather than posing as a sage and spitting at enemies real or imaginary. Nor do I regard him as an enemy, though what he thinks is anyone’s guess. I just wish he would do what he does well and forget the rest.

    14 December: To judge from the snippet on Google Blog Search, Daniel may have addressed the link back issue. Later, however, I find the entire entry has been removed.

     
  4. Daniel

    December 12, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    Ah, Ninglun, you continue to send very mixed messages. As I observed recently, you’re certainly not beyond redemption.

    Arthur reveals a little more of himself with each comment. Soon you’ll be confronted by the whole picture: Arthur uses everyone as a mirror for his own misplaced narcissism.

    Cheers!

     
  5. ninglun

    December 12, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Good to see you replying in the normal manner, Daniel. I don’t think my messages have been at all mixed, however. I doubt they could be any clearer. You may be sure that is how they will continue. I support standards of discourse which Daniel infringes on a regular basis remains true. If Arthur is suffering from narcissism (misplaced or not) I think I would have seen evidence by now, but I have not and doubt I will. This Arthur business really has been magnified beyond any reasonable resemblance to reality.

    Update 13 December

    In response, perhaps, to a careful reading of this thread, but for all I know for other reasons, Daniel today posted an on Goya: “Goya was said to be mad when he painted this. I disagree. I think he saw more clearly than most how the world is, how most people are, how evil and villainy holds [sic] sway so easily…” I agree about Goya and admire the artwork posted there; I also liked the previous post on Palestine/Israel negotiation, hoping indeed that one was a sign Daniel was letting go of his obsession with Arthur and Bruce and, to a lesser degree, me. But the Goya post was not entirely a good sign, as the unmistakeable subtext (I Daniel am also a misunderstood genius) is sad. Read the Goya post.

    Given that the post(s) that gave rise to this thread have, it seems, been deleted, I have decided to close this thread. — 14 December.

    I really do wish Daniel well on a personal level. I wish he could realise that people really aren’t out to get him, no more, that is, than the usual reaction any blogger might get — and he has been more than a touch provocative at times, not that I object to that, but reaction to provocation is only to be expected. My thoughts on his possible personality issues are not malicious; I think the behaviour is quite indicative of such problems, and I hope he considers that as it could improve his peace of mind at the very least. I mean that sincerely.

    I notice the latest version of Seeking Utopia says in the sidebar:

    “DOES YOUR BLOG TRY TO MAKE OUR WORLD A BETTER PLACE OR DOES IT EXIST PURELY TO INFLATE YOUR OWN EGO AND TO DENIGRATE OTHERS?”

    “IF ATTACKED, BE WARNED, DANIEL WILL RETALIATE – IN SPADES!”.

    In SHOUT, you’ll notice. (This wording has subsequently been deleted, but the message continues one way or another.)

    There is more than one way to make the world a better place, an aim probably shared by Arthur, Bruce and myself in our various ways, and I would not question Daniel’s intentions either, though I think he is rather more ambitious about his blog than we are. It just isn’t rational to characterise people with different approaches and interests as seeking “purely to inflate [their] own ego[s]“, confusing criticism and disagreement with denigration. Even worse is it to issue threats. The best thing is just to do what you believe in, Daniel, and see who goes along with it. Build yourself a positive blog, and let’s forget the negativity. If I don’t agree with you, I’ll simply reject what you say; if I agree, I may from time to time note it, but you have not actually endeared your project to me by what you have too often done to sincere, but different, thinkers on other blogs. This is a shame, as what attracted me to your blog in the first place (just a few months ago) was your apparent sincerity about peace and a better world, a wish you share with millions, until the weirdness and bile became too much for me.

    Be more constructive, and less defensive and combative about yourself. The blog trimmed of that stuff, as it is at the moment, is much better. I think you’re wrong about the Iran Holocaust Conference, but let that go. Believe what you like.

    Late mail: 20 December

    There have been some good entries lately on Seeking Utopia, and as always it looks good. However, today an entry on pecking shows Daniel really sits there seething away. He is still the martyr, the one illuminatus in a world of mediocrities and egomaniacs — I may be one of those ;) as like Jim Belshaw and Juan Cole and John Baker and heaps of others I use my real name on my other blog and don’t really conceal it here — and assorted depraved bastards… Sigh! Oh well, happy new year to all, and forget it. Bruce is interesting on the subject (generically, not to do with SU) today.

     
 
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