Anybody who reads this blog knows I post sporadically at best. I go through some periods of great energy, and then this space can lie fallow for months at a time. Which isn’t to say I don’t frequently have ideas for posts: it’s a more a question of whether the idea that pops into my head is something I can stick the landing on. I have a folder on my desktop full of half-written posts that I’ve either lost the thread on, couldn’t make work to my satisfaction, or simply was distracted by a shiny thing, and by the time I think about returning to the post in progress, it is no longer timely.
This year was interesting: I blogged 35 times, which is not a lot, but then my posts were largely clustered in the first half of the year. I had a fair bit of momentum coming out of 2020, and was propelled through January and February by events (most notably the assault on the Capitol and Biden’s inauguration). I posted eight times in January, which is a lot for me; then my productivity was reduced by two each month following until April (with two posts). May and June were saw five and six posts, respectively, in part because I was being ambitious and attempting to produce several posts on a handful of themes. That tapered off in July … and then nothing until November (once), and a single December post.
I’m never entirely sure why the well goes dry on a fairly regular basis, though as I said, often it’s not so much about the writing as about the finishing (I still have sitting on my desktop a post about galactic empires that I do want to finish). Sometimes it’s reflective of how productive I’m being otherwise, but not always; sometimes my blog is a useful procrastinatory device, something that makes me feel productive when I should be directing my energies elsewhere.
At any rate, I thought I might do something I’ve seen other blogs do, which is a year in review with a list of the best/most read/favourite posts. Given that my readership here is pretty tiny, it would be a bit silly to list my most popular posts. So I’m going with my personal favourites: which is to say, the posts was proudest of, and which I felt managed to get closest to the thoughts that spawned them.
I’m going with my top five, though I’m not ranking them, just listing them in chronological order.
January 5: The (Ironically) Monarchical Presidency
It’s a little odd that, of these top five, two of them deal with the topic of monarchy. This post is about how the American Republican system of government—developed specifically as a revolt against the tyrannical British crown—has ironically ended up imbuing the American chief executive with more king-like qualities than the prime minister in a parliamentary system. This contradiction, I point out, had become all the more glaring in the Age of Trump, whose authoritarian tendencies exacerbated the monarchical elements of the Office of the President.
I will also note that I posted this entry the day before the January 6 insurgency.
January 22: The Reality of QAnon
As I have noted many times on this blog, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on conspiracy and paranoia in postwar American fiction, film, and popular culture. Through the successive waves of Trutherism, Birtherism, Glenn Beck’s chalkboard rants, and the various paranoid fantasies spun by Tea Partiers, I have thought about dusting off the thesis … and am overcome with the sensation of probing the nerve of a tooth.
QAnon, like everything it does, ratchets that up to eleven. And yet I found myself writing this post, which I think does a pretty good job of breaking down the important elements. And I’ve watched the HBO docuseries Q: Into the Storm and read the book The Storm is Upon Us by Mike Rothschild … and now I find myself writing about it for another project.
It makes me feel like Al Pacino in Godfather III: “Every time I try to get OUT … they keep dragging me back IN.”
My second of two posts on monarch was prompted, perhaps counter-intuitively, by my profound indifference to the various plights of the British royal family. The occasion of this particular bout of indifference was the fallout from Meghan Windsor née Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and the fallout it caused.
But if you’re so indifferent, why go to the effort of writing a blog post, you may ask? Well, imaginary interlocutor, I started pondering precisely why hereditary monarchy has such a powerful hold on the contemporary imagination. And that led me down a rabbit hole of thought that proved quite interesting.
Also, it gave me the opportunity to write the sentence “Piers Morgan was the result of a lab experiment in which a group of scientists got together to create the most perfect distillation of an asshole.” So there’s that, too.
I made two attempts at sustained deep dives into large topics this summer. The first was “History, Memory, and Forgetting,” and the other was a series of posts revisiting the concept of postmodernism (“Remembering Postmodernism”). I have to say, I was very pleased with what I produced on both fronts, and annoyed with myself that the postmodernism series got bogged down and remains unfinished. (It’s for that reason that “Remembering Postmodernism” is not represented here).
To be honest, I think all three of my “History, Memory, and Forgetting” posts deserve a place here, but because they’re sort of a unit, I’ll settle for the one I’m proudest of, which is about how the erosion of memory about the Holocaust—through time, distraction, and the death of survivors—has denuded the historical awareness and created a present situation in which such terms as “Nazi” and “fascist” have lost meaning in the popular imagination.
June 29: Tolkien and the Culture Wars
Early this summer, I was alerted to a backlash against the Tolkien Society’s Summer Seminar—an annual conference in which academics present papers on a theme chosen by the society. Part themes have included Tolkien and Landscape, the Art of Tolkien’s World, and so on. This year? Tolkien and Diversity. Which prompted a not-unpredictable backlash in conservative circles, especially after the paper titles were posted. Though it hardly reached “critical race theory” levels of vitriol, there was an awful lot of angry talk about the “woke mob” coming to tear down J.R.R. Tolkien. Though most of this happened on message boards and social media, it did reach the lofty heights of the National Review.
A few days after I wrote this post, I attended the (virtual) Tolkien Seminar conference and watched every single paper. Guess what? Tolkien’s legacy survived. And guess what else? Everyone presenting at that conference loves Tolkien. No one wanted to tear him down. The very thought would horrify them. The biggest fallacy of “anti-woke” thought—which, really, stretches back to the culture wars of the 90s and Harold Bloom’s castigation of what he called “the school of resentment”—is the idea that people who challenge the traditional canons of art and literature and offer feminist, queer, anti-colonialist, anti-racist, or other such readings are doing so because they hate and resent the genius of such canonical writers as Shakespeare, Milton, or Wordsworth (an irony here being that Tolkien has never been included in “the Western Canon”). While there may be genuinely antagonistic readings of classic authors, most of the time people—like those at the Tolkien seminar—are finding spaces in their work in which they see themselves reflected.
And in the end, it’s a testament to Tolkien’s genius that queer graduate students can find themselves in the work of an ultraconservative Catholic. To those who lambasted the “Tolkien and Diversity” seminar, I ask: how is that a bad thing?
On second thought, don’t answer.