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Archive for the ‘Disclaimers’ Category

Something strange is going on and I’m not entirely sure how to get to the bottom of it. I’m suspicious, curious and oddly trepidacious, which is unfortunate because, under the circumstances, I should be feeling thankful and flattered.

That may sounds deliciously mysterious, or perhaps rather dully melodramatic, but I shall explain. Basically, in recent weeks the number of followers of my blog has increased dramatically – from somewhere in the 300s – which took a couple of years and two Freshly Pressed posts to accumulate – to well over five hundred, with a serious head of steam up towards 600. Over the last four days I have received regular e-mails from WordPress informing me that new subscribers have signed up to my blog, yet not a single one of them has liked any of my posts nor made any comments. Indeed, I’m convinced that none of them has even looked at any of my posts, judging by the activity data on the Dashboard, because there has been no corresponding increase in the number of views. In fact, quite the contrary – the last few days have marked a steady decline in viewing numbers – no doubt in the absence of any recent posts.

Puzzled

After my post Back to the Front was Freshly Pressed in February, I received a significant spike in views, likes and subscribers as might be expected, and for which I am still very thankful. Inevitably, as my post moved off the top and steadily further down the page, thus receiving less exposure, that flood of views dwindled to a trickle and, ultimately, down to a daily average that hovers somewhere between 40 and 100. Once a few weeks had passed the number of people liking or subscribing – outside of my posting anything new – also dwindled to the very occasional – maybe one a day at best. This is precisely what I would expect without the exposure offered by the Freshly Pressed page because it fits the pattern I’ve identified over the last few years.

At the end of that burst of activity and attention, I had roughly three hundred plus subscribers. This was a very pleasing number and, it seemed, a group made up of people who had actually read my work or looked at my photographs, judging by the distribution of likes and comments. Then, about three weeks ago, I noticed that the number of subscribers had risen to c. 450 odd. This came as a real surprise because I had hardly received any e-mail notifications of new subscribers in that period, or notice of any activity for that matter. I began to wonder – is this because WordPress no longer informs me when people without a Gravatar sign up? Had I received a torrent of subscribers getting notification via e-mail, but without any presence on WordPress? Previously I had been notified when people without a Gravatar signed up, so, perhaps something had changed. Either way, however, the numbers seemed outrageously inflated for such a short period of time. Where were these subscribers coming from? What was going on?

Then, four days ago, my inbox was suddenly full of WordPress notifications again. My first thought was, oh joy, perhaps I’ve been Freshly Pressed, for outside of a fresh post which receives an uncanny amount of attention, there are never so many notifications. This, however, was not the case, and, as stated above, none of the new subscribers liked or commented on anything I’d posted. It occurred to me that I should Google Tragicocomedia and see if my blog was somewhere being promoted or highlighted, yet apart from a bunch of references to various of my posts, the only other site that seemed to be associated was one called Bloglovin’ of which I’d not previously heard, but which seemed to provide links to roughly eight million blogs on exactly the same subjects – fashion and vanity. This was depressing enough, but also entirely unenlightening, because when I searched through all the categories I couldn’t find my blog anywhere prominent that might explain the attention it had recently received. It also seemed so far removed from the subject matter of the top blog list – which are, quite literally, almost all about fashion – that I can’t imagine anyone visiting that site would take an interest in Tragicocomedia.

F F F F F Fashion, and not much else. Bloglovin.

I was left feeling very deeply suspicious. Was this an example of the sort of bullshit that goes on at Twitter, wherein people buy whole swathes of followers in some desperate attempt to promote their personal brand of self-obsession or some utterly undesirable product? I’d certainly not instigated any such activity. Was this some slightly back-handed flattery, in that my blog had received enough hits to warrant people wanting to follow it for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon, in the hope of drawing attention to themselves? The idea seems both utterly preposterous and also deeply annoying as I had liked to think that WordPress existed outside of that insincere and pointless follow me if I follow you universe. Surely people would only follow blogs because they actually want to read them, right?

Maybe I’m being horribly naïve and old-fashioned about all this. Either way, I certainly have no desire to alienate or upset new subscribers who genuinely are interested in my writing and photography. But if you’re only here to get a leg-up of some kind, then I’d recommend you go back to Twitter, because I’m not in this for the numbers and frankly am not going to follow you back just because you followed me. I’m only interested in following blogs I’ll actually read, which I really ought to do a whole lot more of! Indeed, I just paused a moment in writing this to work out why on earth I never receive notifications of posts from blogs I’ve chosen to follow. Strangely, the default setting is to send no notifications whatsoever. Having now made reparations for this, it seems my inbox is going to be a lot fuller after all and the time I allocate to reading is going to need a serious extension.

Anyways, to finish up, I’m still baffled about all this and would be happy to receive clarification, should anyone know the cause. Either way, what I would like to say is a great big thanks to all my subscribers, especially those who have been following me for some time now. I shall try in future to be more inter-active, as it were, and to pay proper attention to what is going on in your worlds as well. All the best!

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I have long had a fear of blogging, because I’ve always made the error of regarding it in the same light as opinion writing, and, sadly quite a lot of rubbish is written in the guise of “opinion”. Don’t think I don’t see the danger and the irony in making this statement in a blog, but there you have it. I felt it was necessary to make this point, both by way of a disclaimer and as an excuse for why I have been for so long so reluctant to blog.

I am fully cognisant of the fact that the term blog derives from “web log” and means, in effect, an online journal or diary. It is not by any means necessarily supposed to be a forum for debate or the equivalent of an opinion column or leading article. Yet the simple fact remains that many blogs do constitute precisely this. They are often used as an informal means of addressing contemporary critical debate and, all too often, the flimsiness of their academic foundations are immediately evident.

Having pursued research to a post-doctoral level, it is difficult to be sympathetic to arguments (which, frankly, is what opinions essentially are) that lack the same depth of academic credibility. It does not mean they ought to be dismissed, but they do rather reek of agenda as opposed to impartiality.

But isn’t the whole point about opinion partiality, I hear you cry? Yes, it is, but that thought doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable when reading poorly constructed arguments. It goes without saying that the construction of any argument will always be a highly selective process, yet at least within the academic world this process is, ideally, achieved through consideration and demonstration of knowledge of the available evidence and literature on the subject.

Clearly it is impossible to be an expert on everything before forming an opinion on something, just as it is also possible for people to form relatively accurate assessments with only a relatively limited amount of information. I guess I’ve always thought it was a little presumptuous or even arrogant to seek to influence people with opinions that were based on relatively little research. More often than not, these arguments are constructed purely for the sake of a political, economic or social agenda. So why should anyone trust such hastily composed, poorly researched blabber as often can be found in blogs?

So what the hell am I banging on about?

Opinion is also very much of the moment. In commenting on recent events it is impractical to expect any writer to have at their disposal the full spectrum of academic and non-academic research and analysis in order to pass authoritative judgement – a judgement which might, through proper review, turn out to be flawed in its conclusions.

So who do we trust? And how can one be so bold as to make a statement of their own? This has long been my principal objection to blogging. I have no desire to see statements restricted to people with the appropriate qualifications, though this might quell a great deal of unnecessary hysteria and prevent many of the worst consequences of populism, my objections have essentially rested with the arrogance of many commentators who were clearly unqualified to pass judgement on anything. In such a light, how could I possibly justify making my own contributions to the world of opinion writing? Is it arrogant of me to comment on politics, when there are so many established, better qualified political commentators? Could I write about psychological issues, when my doctorate is in history and not psychology? Am I qualified to comment on society as a whole when not a sociologist who has conducted research into precisely the social phenomenon upon which I am commenting? Can I have any confidence that my opinion will not be misleading, and thereby, dangerous, as so many other misleading and patently incorrect opinions can be? And, let’s face it, I’m a really opinionated sonofabitch.

I’d like to think that it was a deficit of arrogance that has kept me from blogging al this time; an academic distrust of opinion and argument that lacked the depth and the checks and balances of academic work. Perhaps it is as much timidity as anything else. After all, as Yossarian said in Catch 22 in response to the question – “But what if everyone thought like that?” – “Then I’d be a damn fool to think otherwise.”

 

Wtf, I’m blogging now, so to hell with it all.

 

Yours truly, Herr Professor Dr. Rollmops.

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Tragicocomedia

First things first. The title Tragicocomedia is not merely an embellishment of the term tragicomedy. Both in fact derive from the Latin term tragicocomoedia, which, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, was first used by Plautus “to denote a play in which gods and mortals, masters and slaves reverse the roles traditionally assigned to them.” For the sake of economy and appearances I have opted for the Spanish and Italian spelling: tragicocomedia. Basically, it looks a lot cooler, and in concluding with –media, it obtains a certain wanky contemporariness, quite appropriate for this domain.

Since its first use by Plautus, the term “tragicomedy” has come to be used rather more freely, to describe something, wait for it, both comic and tragic. The term can essentially be applied to any form of drama that does not conform to the basic conventions of either tragedy or comedy, yet contains elements of both. In the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods, tragicomedy was derided as a corrupt form for its failure to conform to convention. It first achieved acceptance as a respectable genre in late sixteenth-century Italy in the plays of Giovanni Battista Giraldi (1504-73) and Giovanni Battista Guarini (1538-1612), where the form came to be known as tragedia de lieto fin – tragedy with a comic ending. These were most often placed in pastoral settings.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86), on the other hand, derided the increasing prevalence of tragicomedy in English drama. He made plain his distaste for the genre by referring to the plays as “mungrell tragicomedies.” Despite further contemporary objections to tragicomic drama, such plays were increasingly popular and, in the absence of a concrete rubric or clear definition, were often referred to as “romances.”

The Jacobean playwright John Fletcher 1579-1625 was later to define the term tragicomedy as follows:

“A tragi-comedie is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie.”

I do not wish to delve further into the history of the definition of the term “tragicomedy”, nor present examples of plays which might be classified as tragicomedy (such as Measure for Measure, for example. Oops). Rather, my intention is merely to provide a basic explanation as to why I have chosen this title for a blog.

The reason is as follows. Owing to the difficulties of determining the meta-narrative of life until very close to its conclusion – except in the most extreme cases – it is fair to say that most lives contain sufficient elements of tragedy and comedy, so as best to sit under the rubric of tragicomedy. Often the two narratives vie with each other to establish themselves as the meta-narrative, yet until the curtain begins to descend, it is almost invariably too early to be certain either way. When the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was asked in the 1960s, what the impact of the French Revolution had been, he replied “it’s too early to tell.” Whilst a human lifespan makes for a neater, more easily framed narrative than the ongoing, seemingly limitless historical process, it is worth bearing this in mind when considering the difficulties in selecting the appropriate classification of an individual’s narrative.

Hence, Tragicomedy, is the best candidate in the interim, and it is the tragicomic aspects of life, among other things, that I intend to discuss in this blog. Ideally, over a hot cup of cocoa.

A further few points…

The quote attributed to the American comic actress and writer Carol Burnett, that “comedy is tragedy plus time”, perfectly illustrates the difficulties in identifying the trajectory of the narrative of many of life’s subplots, let alone the nature of the meta-narrative, if one is ever able to be identified. What seems awful today might take on a more ironic aspect once the more apparent and immediate impact of consequence has passed. Equally, what seems funny and insignificant today might later prove the foundation of a great tragedy.

Success is as much a consequence as it is a cause of confidence and self-assurance, yet it is also greatly subject to luck. Equally, failure can be both a consequence and a cause of a lack of confidence and self-assurance, yet luck can bring about a rapid change of fortune for better or worse. It would be folly to ignore the potential for tragedy to strike, just as it would be folly to dismiss all hope of a stroke of good luck. We must also bear in mind that attitude and perspective will inevitably play a role in our ability to respond to any shift in fortune for better or worse. It is commonly understood that laughing at tragic circumstances is a viable means of coming to terms with them. Perhaps it can be said that in framing tragedy as comedy, we are taking charge of the narrative. I have no wish to say much more on the matter. The purpose of this discussion was merely to highlight the ways in which we fluctuate between comedy and tragedy through our action or inaction, and through simple good or bad fortune. In such a circumstance, until the narrative reaches its ultimate conclusion, how can we possibly, with any confidence, define life as anything other than tragicomedy?

Welcome then, one and all, to TRAGICOCOMEDIA!

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