Against the Machine

AGAINST THE MACHINE….Atrios and Ari Melber remind me today that I’ve actually read Lee Siegel’s new anti-web vent, Against the Machine. Why? Because I was going to review it for the magazine. When I was done, though, I talked it over with our books editor and decided not to bother. Sometimes it’s fun to write a nasty review of a bad book, but in this case it would have just been a chore. It was too lightweight to be worth spending time on, and we had plenty of better books to devote our pages to.

However, I had already scribbled down a few notes that I would have used if I had written a review, so why not share them with you? You’ll notice that they’re disjointed, tedious, sometimes opaque, and occasionally repetitive, but it turns out that’s actually appropriate for the subject material. So here they are: my first impressions, unchanged from the day I jotted them down.


Against the Machine
By Lee Siegel

Book is a set of irritable mental gestures. Irked at (a) vulgarity, (b) criticism in the hands of non-experts, (c) lack of true art on the net, (d) overcommercialization, (e) popularity as the judge of everything.

Shoddy research: just a bunch of cherry picking of strawmen. Exactly the kind of thing he deplores on the net.

Seems like a guy who only really discovered the internet a few years ago and came away appalled. Doesn’t realize that his critiques are common ones.

Has some occasional sharp insights, but doesn’t follow up on them.

History: “The Origins of Blogfascism,” sprezzatura, round mockery. So he wrote a book. As revenge?

Mostly takes on the most extreme of the net triumphalists. A worthy endeavor, perhaps, but hardly a unique one. And he truly doesn’t seem to realize that he’s responding only to the extremists.

Is convinced that he got suspended from TNR because editors are cowed by the blogosphere. Thinks everyone is cowed by the blogosphere. But sock puppeteers have gotten worse than he got in the past.

The book is assertion, not argument, just like the worst of the blogosphere.

Like a long Andy Rooney segment, except not as coherent.

In the end, the book is boring, just a bland repetition of old arguments. Siegel seems to think he’s the first guy to discover these critiques of the internet. Actually, they’ve been the subject of endless argumentation, but he’s too ignorant of the culture he’s critiquing to know that.

Self absorbed. Example: beginning of book, where he’s convinced that after his suspension, suddenly everyone was talking about the internet, and then after a few weeks it stopped. Sheesh.

He’s just arguing with voices in his head, not with actual defenders of the internet. His “conversation” about wikipedia is ridiculous, and he never wrestles with the real value of wikipedia, or with the downsides of traditional reference sources.

Bland regurgitation of stale anti-internet talking points that he doesn’t seem to realize have been part of the critical conversation for years and years.

Overall: the book is very much like the worst of the blogosphere. Ironically.