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Unfiled May 27, 2004
Snubbed in Budapest!
By John Dolan Browse author Email

They think that things are all right/For the deer and the dachshund are one.
-- Wallace Stevens

I just came back from two days of snubbery at a conference in Budapest, and I'm here to tell you that even in middle age, getting snubbed is mighty uncomfortable. You think it's the kind of thing that only hurts in high school, but nope; all the old pain receptors are in place and ready to start throbbing. Of course, I was out of pain-shape and that made it worse. The past few years, people have been so nice to me I forgot what a primate quorum can do to the odd ape out, how easily they can make him feel like the unworthiest chimp in the jungle.

It was my own fault. It's always my own fault. I'm getting tired of that. Never mind the old whinge, "Where is the justice?" My question: where the Hell is the injustice? A little injustice would warm me up no end. Instead I just go around getting what I deserve.

The conference was called "the Culture of Periodicals," organized by a Budapest University. They wanted the eXile to take part, us being such a cutting-edge e-zine and all. To be honest, they wanted Brecher, but he doesn't go outdoors when he can avoid it, let alone make road trips to Europe. So I offered myself to the conference organizers as substitute. I figured it'd be a free trip to Budapest and -- may as well admit it -- a chance to stand at a lectern again, doing a few of the old moves for a new audience.

If it had only been Hungarians, there wouldn't have been a problem. The Hungarians were great. But the organizers had invited about ten English-speaking academics -- and boy did they snub the Hell out of me! Lordy, they snubbed me stupid!

What happened was, I overreacted to the opening speech. The speaker irked me from the start. He was all too familiar in look and sound. One Geoffrey Nunberg, from Stanford. Geoffrey (the spelling should've tipped me off) was a small white man, any age between 45 and 60 (they take good care of themselves, successful academics), with a fussy beard and a surprising collection of gold adornments: gold watch, cufflinks, big gold ring. His talk was called "Publics after Print? The Communities of Electronic Discourse."

The speech was hard to bear, because I was catching the nuances. He spoke American-pedant dialect, my own patois -- and the nuances were appalling. See, the great thing about being an expat, always struggling with somebody else's dialect, is that you miss the nuances. And since the nuances are always revelations of cruelty, hypocrisy, groveling and shame, missing them is a godsend. I've been away from California for 11 happy years, wandering in places where the nuances pass harmlessly through me like neutrinos. Then, listening to this Stanford professor, I was hearing them clearly, like the bad old days were come again.

Even his jokes were familiar, little markers of upper-middle-class solidarity: how big and heavy the Sunday NY Times is, how an English friend of Geoffrey's, seeing that big ol' Sunday edition, was astonished and thought Geoffrey had brought back several newspapers.

And that was what worried Geoffrey: that the comforting heft of America's paper-of-record might be lost in a swarm of insolent, non-peer-reviewed blogs. He tried to reassure us, and himself, that blogs would never "displace" academic journals; that the rise of invented identities online was typical of new media, and would subside; and that the experimenters are mostly adolescents who "won't pursue the genre."

It seems we're in danger of losing the "balance" provided by mainstream media -- the "balance" which Geoffrey illustrated by the way the NY Times puts Maureen Dowd on one page and William Safire on the other.The new media, he felt, could not be trusted to maintain this "balance"; they had no sense of responsibility to the Public. In fact, Geoffrey asked, "Can we talk about a public in the case of blogs?"

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