The Blue Raccoon

Friday, August 17, 2007

[The Wit of the Staircase,"Always Happy To Serve," Jan. 1, 2006]

Seven Different Kinds of Denial Just
to Get Out of Bed
Part VI

Perspective On The Duncan-Blake Effect

Memory’s a still, a ruthless contraption.
You cannot work it backwards.
A trace, anemic limb within a sprawling wood,
A random pool of silt through a funnel.
It’s not alchemy, it’s not miracle.
It’s criticism. Winnowing.
From three hundred thousand spawn, five minnows.
That one brilliant salmon who flew out of the stream.
You lived somewhere for many days.
What can you retrieve?
-- from “Alembic” by Sarah Hannah

This is a preface for the sixth and final installment examining the Duncan-Blake Effect, that is, the reaction to and processing of the deaths of cultural critic and bloggist Theresa Duncan and artist Jeremy Blake throughout the many-storied blogospere.

The Duncan-Blake effect passed through three phases:

1) Initial Impact: That is, the first reports of Duncan’s death and Blake’s disappearance. This began on July 19 on the perfume of life forum, and from there spread to LAObserved, L.A. Brain Terrain, Living with Legends: The Hotel Chelsea Blog; Vitro Nasu and ArtfagCity.

2) Reactive and Reflexive: This phase goes from July 19 to about July 22. Numerous blogs and forums across the Internet seized on the news and individuals sought to express sentiments of, loss, anger, frustration, dutiful reportage – and suspicion that all was not as it appeared. These elements are represented by the New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Ron Rosenbaum, enthusiasm: a novelty choking hazard; Gazpachot, Woman and Child First, Nancy Rommelman, Charm School, Gothamist, and Modern Art Notes.

Sub 1: A running thread between these two phases were the comments on the temperament and characters of Duncan and Blake. A cloud of anonymous writers acknowledged the various talents of the two, but also explicated that they were, at best, confused, and at worst, deranged. A second segment championed the two as brilliant, and therefore, misunderstood. A smaller group insisted that their suicides indicated a failure of will.

3) Investigation and archival: During July 22 to July 26 bloggers began assuming the guise of investigators, as, again, with Ron Rosenbaum, ArtNet, John Stodder’s From The Desert to the Sea; The Gothamist, and within a few days, Professor Hex and most notable, Charm School, Rigorous Intuition, and the wild and wooly DreamsEnd.

Sub 2: Counter reactions and criticism of individual efforts began appearing in the comments sections of blogs The characteristics of these denunciations ranged from explicit and harsh, to odd and nonsensical. The motivation and even mental balance of some individual bloggers were called into question. Duncan and Blake loyalists accused some observers of callous exploitation -- while others urged the bloggers onward in their quest to glean uncertain yet hidden truths. Then, some bloggers began suspecting that other bloggers were participants in some kind of mind-and-truth-twisting game of control.

4) Journalistic summary: This phase was concurrent with the previous, and continues. But most important, by August 1, the LAWeekly News, the LA Times, and Washington Post had published their assessments of the Duncan and Blake deaths.

The professional journalists were taken to the whipping post by bloggers for sundry reasons: accusations of delusion, operating for secret agencies desiring either cover ups or disinformation and misdirection, and general persnicketiness.

[Image: The Wit of the Staircase, "Francis Jonckheere's Staircase Wit," July 28, 2006.]

At this phase on the blogs, the comment rosters evolved into reservoirs of dynamic debate, with vehement vindictiveness toward the couple and an equal and opposite defense, Their politics and ideas underwent word-by-word and image-by-image dissections. The subjects pressed by the examiners ranged from the attitude and regard of suicide in the 21st century United States; the suspicion and outright paranoia of many people hooked into the blogosphere concerning the national government and corporations; the connection of an artist to his or her art and how much the art represents the maker’s personal history and character; the lack of understanding of metaphor and the reach for some kind of encompassing metaphor to describe the deaths, and people who claimed to have known the couple and were either mentored or harassed by them.

The unfolding of the Duncan-Blake Effect demonstrated how, much like a stalled traffic jam accelerates when the first car moves forward, that online journos and blogs were ahead of the dead tree fiber media. This didn't mean, however, that they got all the details right. Just that they were first.

The cause of this is multi-fold: Duncan’s death on July 10 didn’t achieve public awareness until at least July 19. The "delay" was caused by the physical need of informing the families and the time required by the police and medical professionals to accomplish their tasks, and that neither Duncan nor Blake were bold names outside of certain social and cultural circles within Venice Beach and Manhattan, and, a rarefied portion of the blogosphere. Editors outside of those spheres of influence would have paid little attention.

If Duncan was somewhat estranged from the outside world as a person—not as a bloggist—the lag can also have some accounting. Information—in particular tragic and intimate news-- takes time to travel, even during this instantaneous age. Further, Jeremy Blake was missing from July 17 until July 25. There was no kicker end to a newspaper story the longer he remained lost.

This absence of boilerplate provided ample time for hyper-anxious and suspicious bloggers to vent their unguarded emotions. Cataracts of versions rolled unvexed throughout the Internet purporting to reveal the reasons behind their deaths. Offered as a desultory afterthought in some quarters was the basic explanation of two distraught people choosing to take their own lives. The argument against this behavior was that Duncan and Blake were too smart, too good-looking and had too much to live for to extinguish themselves.

By time Seaword and DreamsEnd began archiving world-wide sensations, the Duncan-Blake event had become the stuff of myth and the real people within it were gone; not just due to death’s reach, but by the fact that so few bloggers knew them as individuals or cared a whit, or even sought to understand anything about art. To some observers, the Duncan-Blake deaths became more comprehensible within the framework of a horrendous conspiracy formulated by a terrifying new world order.

The Blue Raccoon’s analysis of the Duncan-Blake Effect sprung up due to my reaction upon learning of Duncan’s death and Blake’s disappearance, from my wife’s reading of the Saturday, July 22, New York Times online.

That newspaper article received damnation throughout the blogosphere, as would almost every print media report from that date forward, including the August 1 article that appeared in the L.A. Weekly. The blogosphere proved that like will attract like, and that people enjoy assuaging their personal biases, in the belief that they are in an open-minded pursuit of truth. But the very existence of any kind of truth was also called into question, leading to resignation, paralysis, and vituperative denunciations of contemporary society and culture. The spinning into butter proceeds apace, as does the cry of “A pox upon both your houses!”

People exposed themselves as anxious, angry, bitter and fearful. Theresa Duncan described these sensations in The Wit of the Staircase, and, perhaps, succumbed to them. Jeremy Blake followed her into the dark ocean.

Coming next: Thursday, July 26, 2007 and following.

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