I’ve been thinking about some recent discussions bouncing around on several blogs regarding the form “information compilation” blogs should take. Whenever we start speaking in terms of should instead of could I get a little nervous. Now, I believe that certain basic tenets need to be followed when dealing with history, including digital history – proper citation and attribution especially. But when I hear some suggest that there necessarily be interpretation and analysis, I have to wonder. Of course, narrative form history requires an interpretive framework that is the product of the author’s analysis (see here). But do we want to constrain ourselves with the narrative format when we don’t have to?
In a comment I made to this post, I mentioned that I think of the digital history portion of this blog, the Bull Run Resources, as being like the Buddha: not the moon, but the finger pointing at the moon. Now, I didn’t come up with that on my own – I don’t know much about philosophy (about all I learned from the one philosophy course I took in college was the very valuable lesson that it’s less important to provide a correct answer than it is to provide the answer the instructor wants). No, I got the Buddha thing from none other than The Dude, or His Dudeness, or The Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. That is, the actor who made The Dude famous, Jeff Bridges. In the foreword to the book I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski: Life,The Big Lebowski, and What-Have-You, the actor wrote [emphasis and brackets mine]:
“I often take these little walks in the evening at sunset and listen to different things. Recently I played some Alan Watts [a British philosopher], and it reminded me of my conversation with Bernie [Glassman, founder of Zen Peacemakers] and how Zen relates to Lebowski. Watts says, ‘The whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said.’ I suppose that’s true for any art, including filmmaking. He goes on to say that ‘Every poet, every artist feels when he gets to the end of his work, that there is something absolutely essential that was left out, so Zen has always described itself as a finger pointing at the moon.’ The Big Lebowski is a lot like that.
“The guys who wrote this book say the Coens [the writers, director and producer of The Big Lebowski] have kept clear of them entirely, and that tickles me. Like all of you reading this, I’d be interested to know what the Coen brothers think, but it’s kind of beautiful that they don’t want to say anything definitive. Let ’em be the pointing finger.”
So that’s kind of how I view Bull Runnings. I’ll give my opinion and analysis on the blog part of this site. But for now let the Bull Run Resources section serve as a pointing finger. Depending on who explores the data, why, how, and in what order, the story will be different. To me, that’s what really distinguishes digital history from traditional narrative. And perhaps what makes it more like real life.
More on poetry and digital history later.