January 17, 2003
A small attitude problemo

Soon after I got started writing for samizdata, I suffered a small tremor of – and I'm flailing about for the right kind of phrase – growth pain. Something like that. My pain was associated with, to resort to an ancient cliché, ceasing to be a big fish in a small pond (a libertarian activist in London) and becoming a small fish in a big pond (a blogger in the blogosphere). I got over it. I am now a blogger in the blogosphere. My problem was that at first I wasn't used to my altered status. My answer was to get used to it, which I did.

But somewhat to my surprise, I recently suffered a recurrence of this condition, in connection with running and writing for this, Brian's Culture Blog. The reason I was surprised was that I had suffered no such growth pains in connection with the other specialist blog I also run and write for, Brian's Education Blog. That all went smoothly, at any rate from the psychological point of view. One moment I was only writing for samizdata. Then I started Brian's Education Blog and started writing for that. And I carried on, and am carrying on. Some people seem to like it, while most of the world ignores it, which is just what I expected. No problemo, as samizdata boss Perry de Havilland would say.

But that transformation of my public status, from big blog contributor to big blog contributor plus small blog boss, happened smoothly because I was already acutely aware of my limitations as an education blogger. I have no children, and have very little experience of actual teaching as most people understand that word, that is to say of being paid to subjugate and dazzle rooms full of young educational conscripts. So already I knew that I was, and am, a very junior voice in that conversation.

But this culture blog thing has proved to be a very different experience. At first I thought: education? – culture? – what's the difference? I just sit down at the keyboard and start banging out culture, same as I've been doing education. No problemo. Well, the problemo is that until I seriously thought about it, during the last few days, I had been living in a false universe, a universe in which I was a leading cultural authority.

In my London libertarian social circle, there are many teachers of all imaginable levels of rank, to remind me of my limitations as an edu-blogger. But when it comes to "culture", I am one of a very few one-eyed commentators in the land of the blind. Most libertarians have their cultural tastes and can talk quite intelligently about them. Some of them even write quite intelligently about them. (I fully intend that this blog will link to just such writings on a regular basis.) But when it comes to "high" culture - the posh stuff, oil paintings, non-electronic music done with violins and cellos, posh novels of the sort they used to study at posh universities and I dare say to some small extent still do, Shakespeare, Milton, Michelangelo - well, who is there, in my circle, who has much of a clue? Sean Gabb for one, and he has two eyes, I would say. Maybe Antoine Clarke, who is bilingual in French and English, which gives him an edge. Some Eastern Europeans, who got taught more about English literature than we tend to get taught in England these days. And, er, that's about it.

More debilitatingly, even those of my friends who do know a bit about Michelangelo, Jane Austen, etc., have tended not to talk with me about such things, in any serious, "no you're wrong about that, he painted that before he painted that, you're muddling his Florence period with his Rome period" kind of way. (This, after all, is exactly the state of affairs that this blog is intended to help to correct.)

But now, writing for a culture blog, I enter a world in which a frighteningly large number of the citizenry actually know what a Koechel number is, or the exact circumstances surrounding Marcel Duschamp's urinal, or who were the most recent recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature or the Turner Prize, and who will know at once if I have spelt "Koechel" incorrectly, which I dare say I have. Start a "culture blog", and some very scary and well-informed insects are liable to start buzzing around your head.

I dashed off that piece about late Beethoven string quartets a week or so ago, and felt very clever about it. And then it hit me. Christ almighty, there'll be people reading that who actually know as much about Beethoven string quartets as I do. More, in fact. Some of them may even have played in the things. I realised that from now on I was going to have to distinguish between matters of fact and matters of my own opinion with greater care.

The whole question of just what it means and does not mean to "know about" – to know lots of facts about – culture is, in particular, a very interesting one. It's not the same as knowing about science, for instance. Expect me to wield the insect spray from time to time. But I'll save all that for later. Suffice it to say here that I found that I needed a short period of mental adjustment before resuming my culture blogging, hence the hesitation which has surrounded the launch of this thing. It wasn't that I was too busy. My attitude was wrong. But my attitude has now, I hope, been sufficiently adjusted for normal service to begin.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:39 PM
Category: BloggingThis blog
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