Thursday, March 10, 2005

Speaking of bloggy celebrities, Tacitus is back up. Tacitus was one of the first blogs I commented on. The other was Billmon. Billmon's site was scary to comment on, in the earlier days, because Billmon would descend from the main post into the comment thread and crush you if you were stupid. At Tacitus, the other commenters would argue with you, and if you were polite, they would continue the debate and show you a different point of view.

That atmosphere changed when Tacitus switched to the Scoop format, requiring users to sign in. I didn't sign in at the time--as a perpetual lurker, I didn't feel that making a hotmail account for internet purposes was really justified, although I tried later and never had any info, confirmation, or anything sent to my email account. Still, I returned often to the site, reading both the main posts and the discussion threads, to see what was going on. And my general impression is that the switch to the Scoop format intensified what was already a somewhat clubby atmosphere. It's the same names making the same arguments, only applied to different objects.

The switch in format occured shortly before Tacitus (Josh Trevino) started up his project, whose mission is to seek "the construction of a Republican majority in the United States." This community has more commenters, more voices, but they tend to debate issues from within the Republican point of view, as might be expected from the mission statement. So, Tacitus's audience has been refined even more: not only did the Scoop format for the site eliminate comments from the noncommittal lurker, but the RedState site required both registration and a certain degree of affiliation. And while the Tactitus site went down, sustained only by diaries, the RedState site continued strong, with Trevino posting semi-regularly.

This material is all in preface to the point that inspired me to write tonight. Trevino's prose style has gotten out of control. I don't have good data points to support a case that Tacitus's prose has gotten more florid as a result of tighter control of his audience, although I do think the two are related. My first memory of being drawn up short by his style dates from late summer or early fall of 2004, but as the site doesn't have calendar-based archives and as I remember little about the specific post that appalled my sense of decorum, I can't substantiate even that point.

I can, however, take one data point: the first substantive post from Trevino on the most recent incarnation of Tacitus suffers from overblown rhetoric. I can't find a permalink for the post, which is called "The Dawn," but it's in the Tacitus section as well as on the mainpage, and was posted on Tueday, March 8th, at 7:15 EST. Here's a paragraph that's particularly dense in annoying rhetoric:

I was privileged to spend time this weekend with an old comrade from my ROTC days: she was recently back from Baqubah, Iraq, and was embittered and a bit weary as a soldier has the right to be. She was against the war, as war is terrible, and had no desire to see it again -- indeed, she voted for John Kerry, which is surely a rarity in my experience of the officer corps. But in the day to day horrors of dismembered men in which she worked at her forward aid station, her perspective, and her vote, altered accordingly. It is indeed as Eisenhower said: "Men acquainted with the battlefield will not be found among the number that glibly talk of another war". We listened to her speak and asked her questions. Then something interesting happened: another old friend (and another Kerry voter, at that) from cadet days who did not make it to war asked, "So do you think Joe Iraqi is better off now?" Her reply was sharp and swift: "I know he is." She shifted from a recounting of combat's horrors to rattling off all the ways in which the American presence -- her presence -- in Iraq had made life better for Iraqis (and, she noted especially, for Iraqi women). As firm as her conviction that she never wanted to go to war again -- and that this war in particular is bad -- was her belief that concrete and transmformative good was being accomplished there. There was pride in her words. Justified pride. And in that pride, you could see the realization that she accomplished more there than stitching up hajis, saving young soldiers, and staying alive.

You were privileged? That's nice. Oh, wait, you mean you enjoyed a "special advantage" (OED, sub. req.) in speaking to people who have been deployed to Iraq? It's a sweet compliment to them as well as to yourself, but it's a terrible transition.

Tacitus presents the viewpoint of someone in a position he's honor-bound to respect (former deployed servicemember) but with whom he disagrees, which rhetorical technique I applaud him for, as it is rare in the blogosphere, but he tends to reduce "Rachel's" opinions to her war-time experience--"embittered and a bit weary as a soldier has a right to be." It is also possible that a soldier has a right to be considered as rational and that her vote for a less pro-war candidate might have been the result of more thought than these post acknowledges.

I really object to is the obstreperous uses of the word "indeed." Oh yes, Eisenhower is a fearful reference, the kind best introduced with a vague absolute statement like "It is indeed as Einsenhower said..." Indeed, we must value things; indeed, our foes are wrong; indeed, I sound serious.

I also object to the narrative style: "Her reply was sharp and swift: 'I know he is.'" I feel as though I've dropped into a second-rate Kipling poem when I read those adjectives. In fact, I can't help hearing that sentence as distantly remembered from an Edwardian education by Bertie Wooster:
um, tiddly um-pum, something's amiss
Her reply was sharp and swift, tum hum:
My friend, I know he is.

Hearing Wodehouse do Kipling in that sentence makes the shift to Mickey Spillane-type sentence fragments even more jarring. "There was pride in her words. Justified pride." I'm saying something important. Really important. My sentence fragments heighten my emotional appeal. Emotion appeal for you. Because you care. We care. We are tough men. And we care.

What kills me is to click through to comments and see that people respond to Tacitus's writing style, which brings me around to a final speculative observation: the right-wing side of the blogosphere tends to the snarkier side of style. Glenn Reynolds's identifying stylistic tic is his "heh, indeed." Charles Johnson tends to the vague and insinuative. Dan Drezner does snarky policy. Michelle Malkin is predictable as well, writing short, safe, and, to this reader, strangely passive-aggressive posts. Tacitus, on the other hand, writes with grandeur (At least in mainpage posts; in comment thread arguments he practices what one commenter on Billmon's old site referred to as "the squid maneouver:
I agree that Tac is smart, eloquent and conservative, and some of the comment threads over there are outstanding. unfortunately, he's also a shameless practitioner of the squid maneuver. nail down a flaw in his logic or a place where he's actually contradicting himself and he disappears in a cloud of rhetorical misdirection and obscure historical references. this is often accompanied by an ostensibly humorous assertion that either you or your source are out of your minds, or that your argument is beneath consideration and he was just indulging you before.

Having recently seen Tacitus banned for similiar behavior at the site that some of his regular commenters set up, I think Radish's diagnosis prescient.) Tacitus's grandeur, however, relies on some lazy stylistic techniques, which limits its appeal. His closed audience has made his style trend to the more grandiose, making him the place to go if you're a conservative in need of uplifting moral justification. "Honor" is an important, if never defined, concept on his site; all is stern, noble, and uplifting. Except that it's also schlock. Heh. Indeed.


Blogger Jesurgislac:

Wow, this is good stuff - nice analysis. Sorry I missed it when you first posted it.

1/05/2006 06:58:00 PM  

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