The rhetoric of drugs. I mean blogs.

The title of AU CIO Dr Brian Stewart’s recent blog post (“Addicted to blog,” 13 Feb. 2011) frames a discussion of the desire to blog as a question of addiction. This detail (whose explication here is not totally tangential to the substance of Brian’s post about another post by GMU prof Bryan Caplan) points to an interesting symptom of new media culture generally, and, more specifically, of the continuing, uphill battle for blogging to gain academic legitimacy of the kind that has been conventionally accorded peer-reviewed work.

The rhetoric of addiction informs (or infects) much popular discourse about new media in general (not just about clinically recognized forms of dependency like IAD, which is not my subject here). I’ve always found it fascinating that the characteristically modern subjectivity of the user is most closely and consistently connected not only with drugs but also with computing (as in the terminology of “graphic user interface”). “The notion of drug addiction as a disease,” Jacques Derrida remarked in a 1989 interview, “is contemporaneous with modernity and with modern science. Electronic circuitry got hooked up in the argot of drugs and the addict got wired” (¶8).

So the various reasons often given for denying to blogging the legitimacy of peer-reviewed research trade in no small part on modern Western culture’s deep association of new media usage with substance dependency (a variation on its associations of techne with death). Note how well the following quotation from that Derrida interview holds up, if you substitute “drug addict” with “academic blogger”:

What do we hold against the drug addict? Something we never, at least never to the same degree, hold against the alcoholic or the smoker: that he cuts himself off from the world, in exile from reality, far from objective reality and the real life of the city and the community; that he escapes into a world of simulacrum and fiction. (¶21)

Work Cited
Derrida, Jacques. “The Rhetoric of Drugs: An Interview” [1989]. differences 5.1 (1993): 1-25.

Cross-posted from my Athabasca U Landing blog

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3 responses to “The rhetoric of drugs. I mean blogs.

  1. a quick note on “user” language. for drug users, anyway, the language developed as a way of untying representations and perceptions of people’s bodies and “selves” from the the drugs they used. labels like “crackhead” and “junkie,” or even the reductive “addict,” were really unhelpful for people whose access to health, social and community resources was already limited by the stigma of addiction. anyway, it seems to have done more to change how we understand the word “user” than how we understand addiction. an interesting way to mark how powerful “the rhetoric of drugs” can be, when used to describe other behaviours as desirable or undesirable.

    and about desire: blogging seems to take shit from both sides there. personal blogs, the livejournal variety, have long held the association of exposing too much, as if readers, exposed to intimacies that are supposed to be unspeakable, could be left with nothing to desire. and from your post, it looks like the desire to write a blog, just for the sake of it (since the original post compared it to traditionaly publishing, which carries economic and social rewards to justify the work), is similarly “bad.” i wonder why that is, that wanting things and getting them is so loaded. i guess in either case blogs are not good for profit-driven media production… but with the association to drugs, it just feels like an excessive dirtying of pretty mundane writing.

  2. Fascinating. So the discourse of the “user” developed to distinguish activity from subjectivity — a kind of counter-Foucauldian move. (In that Foucault’s project historicizes the power-producing transformation of specific actions and activities into subjectivities.) I’d appreciate a source, if you can refer me to any — but not if it’s any work or bother to do so.

    As for the “overexposure” of blogging, this would be a new variation on an old trope (as discussed elsewhere, re: the inappropriate “promiscuity” of technologically proliferating signs); an especially resonant precedent would be the early reactionary reviews of autobiography and confessional when these forms became popular in early 19th-century England. De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater would be the example that explicitly connects the “badness” of mediated, personal overexposure with that of habitual drug use.

  3. sorry, it’s just language and knowledge picked up doing what i do. i tried to have a look through an old textbook to see if there was anything about language in there, but it’s joined the “nommed by rabbits” pile destined for the garbage (they managed to open a box when i moved :C). but you could check it out yourself: title is responding to the oppression of addiction. written by a fellow at mac whose name i forget.
    in flipping through my half nommed book-turned-rabbit-toy, i remembered why i liked it so much; the chapter on different varities and analyses of self-help programs was fascinating, and some of the rhetoric of “self help” might help to explain why “user” is such a dirty word. it’s not dirty when we say someone “uses a wheelchair” (instead of a person in a wheelchair, another old wives’ tale of anti-oppressive speech), but “uses drugs” (or “uses pornography,” “uses prostitutes,” “uses the internet”) seems to come with the implication that it’s being used for something illegitimate. the common knowledge of 12-step self-help programs, for about 70 years now, has been that an addicted person is selfish, self-centred, indulgent, and using substances to hide from reality. the various writings of dr. bob and bill w cover this well, and there’s a popular series of cds (i don’t remember the title, sorry, but they’re really popular) that really hammers the listener over the head with that information.

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