Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unsolicited Public Speech

The splendid technical tools provided free of charge to bloggers—enabling us to present words, images, indeed even videos to the public at large in a most professional way—sometimes produce a sense of self-importance the activity doesn’t merit. Unless you keep a family blog, you’re engaged in unsolicited public speech. As a corrective, I take time at intervals to remind myself what it is all about: addressing the few at random. My earliest notion was that blogging is like printing out something you wrote and tacking it to the back of the garage for all the world to see—which is at least theoretically possible if (although this is not my case) a public alley actually runs behind your garage.

When I am out of sorts two other images come from my days in Washington, DC. There at lunchtime or going from place to place, I used to encounter two quite different figures at regular intervals. One was an always very well-dressed, very presentable woman in her mid- to late-forties. She obviously suffered from Tourette’s syndrome. A small minority of such people shout obscenities for anyone to hear. Her words stood in stark contrast to her facial expression and her upright and civilized looks. Everyone listened but did his or her best to look away.

The other figure was a little man who carried a tent-shaped man-sized wooden board, his little head on top. On its surface he had laboriously written out in inch-sized capitals his troubling suspicions about the world. The story began on the front. To complete reading it, you had to go around him and read the continuation on his back. I don’t remember if the front ended with the words: “Read more…” as some blogs let you say to shorten the post and thus to tease the reader at least to sample your immortal thought. Atomic radiations released by a great government conspiracy were penetrating this unfortunate man’s mind, he claimed, and he was seeking public support to hunt down the criminals and to restore his rightful humanity. He went into the subject with a vengeance—the physics of it, satellites, the physiology of it, the whole nine yards. I once actually did what very few allowed themselves to do. I stopped and took time to read the whole message, front and back. But he was so accustomed to being ignored, he did not register my brief but concentrated attention to his story; he just kept staring straight ahead as he always did.

I’ve never been to Hyde Park in London—never been to London, either—hence I’ve never seen soapbox oratory at the famous Speaker’s Corner. But, to be sure, the audiences that drift past that corner on Sundays would no doubt make a pretty good random sample of the people who visit any blog—unless they belong to one’s narrow circle—and smile, or frown, or laugh as they pass, your voice echoing a partial meaning in their heads as they head on to their entertainment.

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