U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Sad news from Obsidian Wings: hilzoy, one of the most insightful bloggers on the internets is retiring from blogging. I’ll honor hilzoy’s pseudonymity, but it’s been compromised frequently and often enough that her identity is readily discoverable. She’s interesting to this blog in part because, like a number of other important bloggers, she’s an academic. More specifically, she’s a moral philosopher and bioethicist (she’s entirely open about this fact). Although her blogging has been more in the way of political than academic blogging (she’s also blogged at Washington Monthly), her academic interests and training clearly affect the way she views politics and the world around her and add to the richness of her perspective. Although hilzoy is brilliant, what perhaps makes her blogging most unusual has been its measured tone. Blogging tends toward the shrill and the snarky (not that there’s anything wrong with that in general). Political blogs, in particular, have a not entirely undeserved reputation as places where people go to read what they already think. ObiWi, on the other hand, has been one of the few places in the political blogosphere where both left and right wing bloggers posted. Though the blog has, over the years, moved more definitively to the left, its commentariat continues to include serious participants on the right. hilzoy has been a crucial part of maintaining a tone and attitude that has made that possible. She’ll be deeply missed.

Her retirement from blogging, however, raises interesting questions about this still-young medium. There is still a kind of expectation that blogs will just go on and on and on. And there’s no standard way for bloggers to hang up their spurs. Plenty of bloggers have retired, but retirement is always somewhat awkward. Although blogging actually takes a lot of time and effort, it’s in the nature of the medium that it often feels like a kind of effortless transcription of a person’s thoughts. Surely the retiring blogger will keep thinking? Why not continue to share the thoughts? As a result, retirements often seem to need some special occasion (in hilzoy’s case, she’s about to go on vacation in Rwanda) or dramatic stagemanaging (as in Michael Bérubé’s–temporary it turned out–retirement). I wonder if, over time, a kind of average lifespan for blogs will emerge….and if it does, how long it will be.

And I wonder, too, how U.S. intellectual historians of the future will deal with this medium. So much public intellectual life is now taking place in blogs. And they are, by and large, automatically archived for the future. They’ll be an incredibly rich primary source for us…assuming that there’s any sensible way to sift through the incredible mountain of information they represent! If we ever figure out how to do this, I have no doubt that hilzoy’s work will be studied and discussed.