Reliable texts…

by Paul Maharg on 02/02/2006

More staff development, this time in



.  The question of the reliability of information on the wikis arose, and the question was generalised to blogs: can students trust the information they find in blogs?  Two answers: 1. No, and it’s a good thing too.  2. When was there ever a source of information that wholly trustworthy?

I was reminded of a quote from Kristeva (Kristeva, Julia. 1980. "Word, Dialogue, and Novel". In Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, edited by L. S. Roudiez, 66.

New York

, Columbia UP) “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another”.  Blogs acknowledge this so uniquely and overtly, not just in the devices of RSS, trackback and permalink, but in the shape of the genre.  Ephemeral, brief, at odds with those commoditised products of capitalist enterprise, books, distributed on the web, highly intertextual, unfinished works, resistant to all formal unities.  What is there in the literary canon like them?  The nearest I can think of are collections of aphorisms + dialogues.  Aphorisms – Adorno’s Minima Moralia?  But even these are too finished.  Much closer is Walter Benjamin’s epic proto-blog,


, possibly Montaigne’s Essais, or better still, Erasmus’ lifelong wrestling with the form and content of his commonplace texts, De Copia (when did he realise that these were endless, co-terminous with life?)  Any of these authors would have surely taken to blogs with enthusiasm.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 John Mayer February 2, 2006 at 07:25

In law, authority is all-important and in blogs, authority is valued highly – at least the transparency of it. On Groklaw (, if someone makes a controversial and unsubstantiated statement, you will see a series of follow-up comments like “Got any links to back that up?”.
On the political blogs, it’s duelinig quotes (whose opponent said the most outrageous thing) and these are almost always backed up with links. Funny thing is, sometimes things are taken out of context and the follow-ups will heatedly point this out. It’s like a game to see if you can outquote the other where the blog is the battleground and quotes are the bullets.
It’s almost scholarly in its own way too. I have seen law review articles with 500 footnotes that seem to refer to other scholar’s thinking every two sentences – as though the writer had almost nothing original to say and was just stringing quotes together…..which was all very …. uh …. scholarly of them.
As for historical references. Samual Pepys diaries come to mind and if you Google that, you will find someone who is posting a Pepys diary every day on a blog …. remarkable.
Finally, let me close with a comment on reliability of information. This is not an absolute (and you did not say so). It’s like a stock price. The source that conveys the reliability can go up and down with time and circumstance. Some things are more like bonds – reliability changes little or slowly – rock solid reliability investment. Others we thought were like bonds, but now we think they might be more like stocks – Encyclopedia Britannica is the loser in any comparison with Wikipedia and Wikipedia is judged on the scandal du jour that someone finds in its soon 1 million articles.
Reliability is almost quantum at times. At the point of deciding a case, the judge or jury rely on the argument of one side versus the other and that’s that (except for appeals). New law students hate what is done to their minds because we mess with their reliability exchange and make it all more fluid and variable.


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