What is going on at the Obsolete blog?

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And so, uneasily and half-paralysed with caution, we turn to the question of what is going on at the Obsolete blog. There are actually two questions here, a narrow one and a far broader one. The first is what is going on at the Obsolete blog? The second is how should you cope with those feelings of shock and alienation which arise when you have followed a blog for years and there is unexpected disruption to the clockwork?

How I hate the word “blog.” A few years ago I decided that I would have to live with it, but I can never bring myself to love it. We have launched this wondrous technology which allows anybody in the country to publish anything that they like, but as if in order to downplay its more utopian attributes, we have given it the most Anglo-Saxon name conceivable. The “blog” – it sounds like a medieval venereal disease.

Septicisle is a thirty-year-old blogger who is on the Left and based in London. He has maintained a blog called Obsolete since July 2005 and I first started to visit it in 2009 or 2010. Septicisle is not overly on the/my libertarian side of the Left and there is an almost Anglican mildness to his politics. Yet his writing is, for a left of centre blog, sane and even sensible; the prose is clear and the analysis thoughtful. Perhaps Septicisle himself would concede that Obsolete has a sort of forlornness to it which encapsulates the depleted nature of the Left at the moment. You get a distinct impression of the author writing alone in a bedroom somewhere in aching suburbia. In return, it is unlikely that his blog is debated loudly in the canteens of oil rigs.

Obsolete is very occasionally punctuated by the author’s musings on his history of self-harm. This week, following the Conservative election victory, there were more references to depression and self-harm and then the updates stopped, for once without any explanation. It is ten years since Obsolete was launched and this might be a fact of significance (I always tell myself that I am going to stop after a decade). But I should stress that Septicisle’s silence is not merely a comical tantrum from the kind of people who flounce off Twitter when they get upset. His readers are clearly meant to be alarmed by the cryptic reference to an “epitaph” in the last post; they are also right to be alarmed.

I have no wish to touch upon Septicisle’s identity and health, insofar as I am still unrestricted in describing my cocktail of feelings about this blog. If you read a blog every week you feel that you have come to know the writer as intimately as you think that you know, say, Kurt Cobain or Eamonn Holmes. When the blog is written anonymously, a lot of the exhilaration of reading it comes from gleaning little personal titbits from here and there and scurrying away like a mouse with these idly dropped crumbs of information. And so I have congratulated myself over the years on learning, for example, that Septicisle has three brothers and I have pocketed his views on the London riots and the Manic Street Preachers and Wings Over Scotland. Just as you would with any friend who you see every day in the workplace.

When there is suddenly a change, a blog which had previously seemed chatty and personable is revealed to be in fact distant and formal. The anonymity is now impenetrable, and it was never really any of your business what was behind this wall in any case. You have been abandoned! The blogger has moved on and you have been left behind!

This is part of the illusion of blogging. You are not sitting with somebody in their bedroom, as they pour out their heart to you. You are reading a stream of mini essays, mostly analytical and about current affairs. It might be the same, incidentally, in the workplace when that friend of long standing is relocated to another department, but the illusion of intimacy is somehow crueller with a blog. Although you might feel that you had established a connection to the blogger, you were only ever a number to him, notched on the stat-post.

But we cannot just park it here, because there is also the question of justice. For years I read excellent blogs by Davis Whiteman and David Osler which, at the time, appeared to be permanent fixtures. Both were terminated abruptly, without any opportunity for their readers to come together in gratitude, as the imagined communities which they essentially were. Instead, the bereaved readers left sad little comments, before shuffling away. One of the reasons why I have chosen, on a whim, to write about Septicisle’s travails today is because they have excited no remark on Twitter. This is not justice for Septicisle and if the blog has ended, it should not be allowed to end without a suitable amount of ceremony.

So the suspense continues. I hope that Obsolete resumes on Monday and trundles off to scrutinise the next five years of a Tory administration. Septicisle deserves a lot better than me having the final word on his blog.

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