A Commentary on Commentary

Clark’s article on digital imperative was one of those that forces the reader to self reflect. I mean, after reading detailed analysis of the general trends in digital writing, how could you not reflect on your own habits? I won’t bore you with the details of my self reflection.

What I found most interesting in Clark’s article was the bit on “marginalia”  aka commentary. Clark explains that with the development of new technologies, commentaries are going public. No longer confined to the notes scribbled in the margin of a book, blogging takes “marginalia” to a new level. Clark also noted that there is the possibility for these commentaries  to become more influential than their primary sources.

My thoughts? I agree and disagree. I don’t think that widespread commentaries are really all that new. Take the Talmud for example, an ancient Rabbinic commentary on the Torah. This commentary was widespread way before the 21st century.

I do see the Internet as a means of making less important commentaries more widespread. For example, had I only scribbled these thoughts in the margins of the article, no one would ever see them except me. But because I’m writing them on a blog post, it is possible for anyone to access these thoughts.

Yet, I can’t imagine these commentaries ever becoming more influential than their primary sources. By that I mean, I think digital commentaries that do become more influential than their primary sources would have also become more influential than their primary sources independent of digital technologies.

I believe that degree of influence comes from quality of writing and novelty of ideas, not from ease of transmission. What do you think?

2 thoughts to “A Commentary on Commentary”

  1. This was a very thoughtful blog post. I’m interested in your ending statement that “degree of influence comes from quality of writing and novelty of ideas, not from ease of transmission.” For the most part, I agree. Maybe that’s because I like to believe that quality and novelty are still some of the most important qualities of “successful” writing in spite of our growing reliance on digital writing. However I think there is a certain advantage to digital rhetoric (in terms of degree of influence) not from the ease of transmission but from the scope of transmission. In my mind those are two different things, and I believe it has an impact.

  2. Lia,

    You bring up a really interesting point that I really glossed over when I read Clark’s essay. I agree that commentaries that become more influential than their primary sources need to be quality commentaries. But I think it is impossible for all quality commentaries to become that influential without technology. As you mentioned, without technology most of the commentaries you make in your life would be confined to ink in a single book or magazine or newspaper. I think Clark meant (similar to what you said) that prior to the development of these technologies, a lot of quality commentaries were unseen and so were never able to overpower the texts that motivated them. Now, commentaries that do describe novel ideas become as or more widespread than their primary sources and so have the opportunity to become more influential.

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