Every Man His Own Voltaire


I speculated about the communication possibilities of the weblog journal or column in a previous post – looking for on-going two-way communication in some real sense. It was a good idea as far as it went, but it is also possible to send another idea in a different direction to just as good an effect.

Imagine I am Voltaire. I toy with the thought. I may be a little put off by the haircut and the dental work but can take some comfort from the fact that if I am going to be M. Arouet, I am going to be listened to. Listened to and read extensively. And not just in my own time – for the next 200 years or more. That’s a terrifying, dizzying, delightful prospect. For those of us who are dismayed at not being listened to in the house, the thought of being heard and heeded in the rest of the world is wonderful – it is what fuels writers and You Tubers. It also makes money for the vanity publishers as well, but that is another story.

Okay, I have decided that I am going to voltaire it. He wrote essays, books, plays, 20,000 letters, and presumably any number of notes to the local shops and tradespeople. Leaving aside the ” two milk and a loaf of bread ” lists, that volume of communication would be nearly impossible to sustain under modern conditions if it had to be hand written on paper and then posted or delivered throughout the world. Money, bulk, time, and the vagaries of the current postal system would reduce it to absurdity.

Here is where the internet, and specifically the weblog journal portion of the net, comes in. The cost in paper of doing this is zero. Likewise the cost of ink, quills, envelopes, and postage. The letter I dispatch can go for free – or at least as part of the monthly cost paid for cat videos and Facebook. I need not wait for post riders to take a parcel of wit to the King of Prussia nor a sailing barque to slowly float a scientific thought to Franklin in Philadelphia. Once I am ready to publish, a button on the screen does it in about 11 seconds, and sends it everywhere in the world and somewhere into posterity.

That’s the bit I love. Judging from some of the material I see in a quick sweep through Google, I suspect that nothing ever vanishes from the web. It may be stored deeper and deeper in the electric vaults, but it’s all still there. I can achieve or be guilty of all sorts of things that someone in the future can see. I have the ambition to do what was done to me by an author in the 1740’s – an English essayist wrote a series of articles on London life and published them in the earliest magazines. I bought a cheap Heron book a few years ago, with a compilation of these, and read them through. In one, our Augustan made a joke – complete with setup, timing, and punch line. It caught me unawares, quite unlike the more measured passages of other authors. I burst out in genuine laughter – hard laughter – and then sat in awe when I realised that someone could entertain this well when they had been dead for two centuries. I could see philosophy and poetry and early science continuing on that length of time but this was the first time I had ever seen a joke do it.

Well, It is back to the inkpot and quill. The King of Prussia needs a little trimming back and I have just the sort of essay for him that will do it. Provided I never cross the German border, I should be safe…



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