Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse

Posted: March 24, 2006 at 3:17 pm    |  14 Comments

This is the code word for the research that I have been doing over the past months, while based in Berlin at the Wissenschaftskolleg, the Institute of Advanced Study. Next week I will give an internal presentation on this topic for the 40 Wiko fellows and staff. Every fellow has to do such a presentation once. Catherine David will do the introduction and lead the debate. The lecture is around 50-55 minutes and then one hour q&a session, followed by a heavy German lunch in the Wiko restaurant. I wrote the following announcement/summary:

Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse is the opening essay that I have written for my upcoming book (Routledge New York, 2007). It aims to formulate a theory of blogs beyond the ‘citizen journalism’ rethoric. This book that I hope to finish during my stay at Wiko, will be volume III of a series on critical Internet culture. Earlier titles were Dark Fiber (MIT Press, 2002) and My First Recession (V2-NAi, 2003). In my talk I will outline where we are in terms of the uptake and use of the Internet, worldwide. I distinguish three phases: 1. The academic, pre-commercial, text-only period before the World Wide Web. 2. The euphoric, speculative period in which the Internet opened up for the general audience, culminating in the late nineties dotcommania. 3. Post-dotcom crash/post 9-11 period, which is now coming to a close with the current so-called ‘Web 2.0’ hype.

Blogs are successors of the 90s “homepage” and create mix of the private (online dairy) and the public (PR-management of the self). As there are tens of millions of blogs it is next to impossible to make general statements about their ‘nature’. I will nonetheless do this. It is of strategic importance to develop critical categories of a theory of blogging that takes the specific mixture of technology, interface design, software architecture and social networking into account.

Instead of merely looking into the emancipatory potential of blogs, or emphasize its counter-cultural folklore, I see blogs as part of a unfolding process of ‘massification’ of this, still, new medium. What the Internet after 2000 lost is the “illusion of change”. The created void made way for large-scale, interlinked conversations through automated software, named weblogs, or blogs.

After a general introduction into net culture I will present my specific work that centres around the often voiced criticism that blogs are cynical and nihilist, because they merely comment and dump on the establishment (be it leftist, liberal or conservative). Instead of trying to prove that blogs are, in essence, good, I have taken up the challenge to interprete blogs as nihilist vehicles. Nihilism is not a lifestyle or opinion but a condition in which (Western) societies find themselves. In the Internet context it is not evil, as Rüdiger Safranski suggested, but triviality that forms the drama of media freedom.

Blogs bring on decay. Each new blog adds to the fall of the media system that once dominated the twentieth century. What’s declining is the Belief in the Message. That’s the nihilist moment and blogs facilitate this culture like no platform has done before. Blog software assists users in their crossing from Truth to Nothingness. The printed and broadcasted message has lost its aura. News is consumed as a commodity with entertainment value. Instead of presenting blog entries as mere self promotion, we should interprete them as decadent artifacts that remotely dismantle the broadcast model.


  1. Rudy says:

    March 24th, 2006 at 6:26 pm (#)

    Now this, I can completely relate to. Spot on!

  2. Alex Rolin says:

    March 27th, 2006 at 10:57 am (#)

    Hello Geert! This presentation of yours sounds a little depressing ;) All in all, the fall of the media establishment is a race for what’s next, isn’t it? I am betting on what’s next, a glocal reassembly. Isn’t this evidenced in Europe anywhere, with a higher transparency on the other side of competition?

  3. Jodi says:

    April 5th, 2006 at 12:40 am (#)

    I don’t buy it. First, too general, like describing books overall instead of books by genre. Second, too particular, that is, focused on two blog genre’s like the re-mediating blog and the personal life blog. Because of this, you lose the sense of blog conversations and blog communities. Now, I’m not saying that these things are utopian, transformative, or anything like that. But they are more the consumption and commodification of news and more than self-celebration. You might say that some are sites for discussions of truth, sites for thinking through political possibilities, sites for grappling with ideas.

  4. felipefonseca says:

    April 6th, 2006 at 7:54 pm (#)

    Hi Geert

    It might be something related to Brasil, or even something related to a specific group, but I see something else about blogging. There surely is a nihilist impulse behind everything, but there are as well some positive network formation, collective identity forging and the creation of environments both open and restricted where information can circulate. Meaning, it’s not only about nihilism, but perhaps creating new forms of organization. I remember being part of some webrings in 2001 – my blog was not only an individual website, but part of something else…

  5. random theory » Digitale Nihilisten - Geert Lovink (Teil 1): Bloggen als Softwareeffekt says:

    June 21st, 2006 at 11:20 pm (#)

    [...] Geert Lovink Versuch einer medientheoretischen und philosophischen Analyse des Phänomens Bloggen ist ehrenhaft, aber nur ansatzweise gelungen. Sicherlich gibt es durchaus gute Ansätze, aber, wie auch ein Kommentar zu der Ankündigung seines Textes ganz klar formuliert, scheitert der Text an mindestens zwei Punkten: [...]

  6. a reader says:

    July 6th, 2006 at 9:14 pm (#)

    blogging, once again, is about the game of difference and repetition,
    the collective production of sameness and singularity. in todays market
    of opinions you need to be an artist in managing the tricksterism of delivering
    a package with minimum content.

    yes we have a thick description of a moving target (the bloggers) but what
    else? the message given here, the “philosophy” or “theory” is where the
    real nihilism lays: there isn’t one. not by the method and not by the result.

    the underlaying “thesis” is itself a repetition of a known cultural criticist
    scheme, “cultural pessimism”: stating a general decay, and tendency
    towards entropy, compared to the higher culture of the mailinglists.
    with this not only claiming a long term relevance of “network culture” but
    also taking a conservativist position with its microhistory. the relation
    of network culture and general cultural theory remains untouched.
    the possibility of media theory is answered by discovering that there
    is no such possibility.

    once again the reader has to submit to a given number of rethorical
    figures, which are remixed and enriched with precise observations,
    well placed puns, factoids and actualties. the “theory” given by the text is
    at most applying to itself: it is a farewall to the possibility of theory, so
    a text which legitimates its own inability to formulate a proper thesis by
    claiming that the bloggossphere is not about making sense anyway.
    yes, as dandyist attidude, but is this academic media theory?

    such media theory adds merely to the further establishment of a
    structural mediocraty, which was
    lately claimed also by jaron lanier for other stereotypical reasons (here: elitism)
    such a form of “theory theater” with a very limited number of given positions
    and tropa is rather a part of the symptom.. the packet is there,
    but there is not much in it. (is that the nihilism?)

    if we would be able to remember all books and newspapers written at the
    turn of the 19th century, or even 6 years ago, we would certainly
    suffer immediate cultural meltdown.

    btw, to quote max bense to describe nihilism is rethorical joke,
    max bense was a romantic conservative rationalist.

  7. POLIS - Sind Blogger digitale Nihilisten? says:

    July 19th, 2006 at 3:46 pm (#)

    [...] Sind Blogger digitale Nihilisten? [ Blog-Politik ] Medienwissenschaftler Gerd Lovink schreibt derzeit an einem Buch über Blogs. Ein Auszug davon mit dem Titel “Digitale Nihilisten” ist kürzlich in Lettres Internationales erschienen. Frage mich gerade was ich davon halten soll. Einige kritische Anmerkungen dazu haben sich random theory und axonas gemacht. [via Charming Quark / Digitale Nihilisten / Tags: Blogs, Blogtheorie, Blogger, Blogging, Nihilisten, Medien, Media] [...]

  8. random serner » Digitale Nihilisten - Geert Lovink (Teil 1): Bloggen als Softwareeffekt says:

    August 10th, 2006 at 8:14 am (#)

    [...] Geert Lovink Versuch einer medientheoretischen und philosophischen Analyse des Phänomens Bloggen ist ehrenhaft, aber nur ansatzweise gelungen. Sicherlich gibt es durchaus gute Ansätze, aber, wie auch ein Kommentar zu der Ankündigung seines Textes “Digitale Nihilisten” ganz klar formuliert, scheitert der Text an mindestens zwei Punkten: [...]

  9. event mechanics » Blog Archive » pessimistic about our nihilism says:

    January 8th, 2007 at 9:25 am (#)

    [...] Lovink is caught up in the received binary of relevance or importance. Accordingly then, blogging is merely the “triviality that forms the drama of media freedom.” The importance-binary is received from what in Lvink’s terminology would be called ‘old media’, but it extends beyond the media apparatus. When talking about ‘importance’ I am more interested in the function of importance, and not necessarily in its content. What does this mean? [...]

  10. random items » Digitale Nihilisten - Geert Lovink (Teil 1): Bloggen als Softwareeffekt says:

    January 10th, 2007 at 1:16 am (#)

    [...] Geert Lovink Versuch einer medientheoretischen und philosophischen Analyse des Phänomens Bloggen ist ehrenhaft, aber nur ansatzweise gelungen. Sicherlich gibt es durchaus gute Ansätze, aber, wie auch ein Kommentar zu der Ankündigung seines Textes “Digitale Nihilisten” ganz klar formuliert, scheitert der Text an mindestens zwei Punkten: [...]

  11. re-public: re.imagining democracyRe-public : re-imagining democracy - english version » Geert Lovink - Theses on wiki politics says:

    April 16th, 2007 at 2:33 pm (#)

    [...] Geert Lovink: It is interesting that you position blogs and wikis as antagonistic players. Usually, within the Web 2.0 craze, blogs, wikis and social networking site are portrayed as complimentary applications. It is true that blog culture, as it exists right now, facilitates the idea that ‘I am the only mind that exists’. In my essay Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse, I have analyzed the blogosphere as one that is by and large introspective. Blogs recast postmodern techno subjectivity in a way that has not yet been fully researched. Why? Because the outcome would be straight-out boring. The fact is that most blogs have a two-month lifespan and contribute little to the liberal myth of our time which proclaims that bloggers are ‘citizen journalists’. This is a sad state of affairs, in particular for the first and second generation of bloggers who believed in linking and responding to each other’s postings. However, by 2004 the collaborative atmosphere in the blogosphere had vanished. The original values disappeared and the blogosphere became noisy and self-promotional. [...]

  12. re-public: re.imagining democracy Re-public : re-imagining democracy » Geert Lovink - Θέσεις για τις πολιτικές μέσω πλατφόρμων συνεργασίας (wiki politics) says:

    April 16th, 2007 at 7:00 pm (#)

    [...] Geert Lovink: Είναι ενδιαφέρον που τοποθετείτε τα blogs και τα wikis ως ανταγωνιστικούς παίκτες. Συνήθως, μέσα στην τρέλα του Web 2.0, blogs, wikis και ιστοσελίδες κοινωνικής δικτύωσης παρουσιάζονται ως συμπληρωματικές εφαρμογές. Η αλήθεια είναι ότι ο πολιτισμός των blogs, όπως υφίσταται αυτή τη στιγμή, εξυπηρετεί την ιδέα ‘είμαι το μόνο μυαλό που υπάρχει’. Στη μελέτη μου ‘Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse’ (Μπλόγκινγκ, η Μηδενιστική Παρόρμηση), αναλύω τη μπλογκοσφαίρα ως ιδιαίτερα ενδοσκοπική. Τα blogs αναδιαμορφώνουν τη μεταμοντέρνα τεχνολογική υποκειμενικότητα με τρόπο που δεν έχει ακόμη πλήρως ερευνηθεί. Γιατί; Επειδή το αποτέλεσμα θα ήταν εντελώς βαρετό. Γεγονός είναι ότι τα περισσότερα blogs έχουν διάρκεια ζωής δύο μηνών και συνεισφέρουν ελάχιστα στον φιλελεύθερο μύθο της εποχής μας που διακηρύσσει ότι οι bloggers είναι ‘πολίτες δημοσιογράφοι’. Είναι μια θλιβερή κατάσταση, ιδίως για την πρώτη και δεύτερη γενιά bloggers που πίστεψαν στη μεταξύ τους διασύνδεση και αλληλογραφία. Ωστόσο, από το 2004 η συνεργατική ατμόσφαιρα εξαφανίστηκε από την μπλογκοσφαίρα. Οι αρχικές αξίες χάθηκαν και η μπλογκοσφαίρα έγινε θορυβώδης και αυτό-διαφημιζόμενη. [...]

  13. re-public: re.imagining democracyRe-public : re-imagining democracy - english version » Helen Kambouri and Pavlos Hatzopoulos - The banality of blogging or how does the web affect the public-private dichotomy says:

    August 9th, 2007 at 2:48 pm (#)

    [...] Whatever its impact and the trajectories it made possible, Luther Blissett was an attempt to challenge existing parameters of the public sphere by producing a private being. Counter to blogging’s introspective character, projects of this kind promote an ethos of invention, performing alternative individualities already engaged in political struggles and working towards their digital re-articulation. Counter to blogging’s embrace of closed identities who ‘speak out’ to the world, Luther Blissett type of projects set out an open identity, depended on the digital performances that will be enacted in its name, an open identity which is amendable in relation to the political projects it engages with. [...]

  14. Daniel says:

    August 15th, 2007 at 6:18 pm (#)

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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