Soapbox

2003-12-23

George Orwell wrote the following in his introduction to a collection of works by British pamphleteers:

The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious, and "high-brow" than is ever possible in a newspaper or in most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is always short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book, and in principle, at any rate, can reach a bigger public. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of "reportage". All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.

As Bernard Bailyn showed in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, the pamphlet was the literary form of the Revolution. Not that the pamphlets were great literature, but they got the job done.

Are weblogs the literary form of the next revolution? It's too soon to tell, but their similarities to pamphlets are striking: short, topical, polemical, and characterized by total freedom of expression. The fact that the blogosphere has not produced great literature (as Camille Paglia complains) is utterly beside the point. Blogs are getting the job done because they are a product of the free marketplace of ideas, not the ivory towers of professional intellectuals.

Welcome to the agora!


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal