Saturday, May 02, 2009

In Praise of Flame Wars

Objections have been raised to me that much of the substantive content that constitutes the Net is negative. Even within the realm I have privileged (blogs), "flame wars" have taken their place as a not uncommon occurrence. What is a flame war? Essentially, a flame war is discourse gone bad; a digital conversation that has degenerated into a digital argument. As always, Reception Velocity insures that these fracases are fast and fluid (almost as fast and fluid as argumentative and/or discursive speech acts.) I see flame wars as positive incidents (apropos, considering how many I have been involved in), for several reasons: because they affirm speech-as-text as an adequate means of rhetorical display; straddle the line between public and private sphere engagements (and can thus, ideally, engender mass cultivation and availability as a "personal possession" at the same time); and because they subvert Romantic notions of the author as separate and atomized. When someone is flamed, a double vulnerability is made apparent: the target is exposed as subject to public censure (and even, sometimes, ridicule); the culprit displays in him or herself the weakness of the warrior- those who take the initiative to attack are most likely to be attacked. In this double vulnerability is the element of the human that grants digital consciousness amnesty from accusations of coldness and, to some extent, superficiality (flame wars tending to peel back and expose woundedness and insecurity.) An author in duress is more human than an author atomized.

Flame wars only get to be a nuisance to the extent that certain Net writers become addicted to the adrenaline rushes and frissons that they engender. Those who go around looking for flame wars are to be avoided. A healthy flame war involves both spontaneity and calculation, like a high stakes game of chess- as the one that happened between myself and several other poets over "post-avant" a few months back. Misunderstandings created self-revelations- I was accused of being (more or less) someone's dupe, and was forced to publicly state both the ethos and praxis of my poetics, and their connection to an entity known as post-avant. The revelation of character, where literature is concerned, comes to light in flame wars- what is usually visible (on the American side) is ideologies of competition and the desire for instant gratification. That substantial definitions of terms can (and usually do) take years to sink in is lost on the American, who wants resolution, affirmation, and acceptance now.

So bloggers are left to answer a pertinent and potentially confounding question: when to flame and when not to flame? When is it profitable to use specific names, and when to generalize? It would seem wise to apply the dictum of Wilde's Lord Henry Wotton: "one cannot be too careful in the choice of one's enemies." In other words, you learn certain lessons in maintaining a blog: if you flame a fool, or get drawn into a flame war with a fool, you will get a foolish response. Flame an intelligent poetry blogger in a purposeful way, and you may begin a valuable discourse. On the other hand, it is possible to be blind-sided, in such a way that self-defense is simply necessary. One cannot always choose the Other that one encounters. Heteroglossia is not always fun; it can be painful to be addressed in an alien language (especially when it seems to hold no rhyme or reason.) Yet this post is meant to act discursively, rather than as a how-to manual; what is important is that flame wars are both valuably illustrative of the most positive attributes of digital consciousness and valuable as incidents that demonstrate their own kind of heterogeneous logic.

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