instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, August 02, 2004

Happy August
I'm not a big fan of fisking.
Why is that? Could it be he's incapable of it himself? Or maybe he's been fisked by others one too many times.
I know:
Don't count on it. If he knew, he wouldn't make the "fake Latin makes me sound smart" mistake:
Bloggere est fiskere. The fisk is the rhetorical pinnacle of blogging. It works nowhere else but on a blog. A fine fisk is why many people bother reading (and, for that matter, writing) blogs in the first place. And boy, when one of us lets go with both barrels at one of them, what a great feeling!
I suppose he has peer-reviewed references for all these claims? I could say the sentence "The fisk is the rhetorical pinnacle of blogging" is the rhetorical sewer of blogging, but at least I wouldn't be making overblown claims I had no intention of backing up.
But the principle of fisking seems to lie in a kind of dishonesty.
That's funny. I thought it lay in pointing out the dishonesty of others. Or at least their idiocy. To wit:
To fisk an article is to treat it as one half of a dialogue, to set up the original writer as the oblivious straight man upstaged by the witty and biting satire of the fisker. When you read a fisk, what is striking is how the fisked writer can bear to continue when all his previous points, and quite likely his own character, have already been badly maligned.
You're right, that is what is striking when you read a fisk... if you're too stupid to realize the fisking isn't a dialogue, but is, in fact, a fisk. In other words, his complaint about what "[t]o fisk an article is" is based on his utter failure to understand what "to fisk an article is."
A fisk is a form of theater that uses the original as a slapstick whacked against its author's head.
As appealing as the thought of whacking him upside his head is, a fisk is a piece of writing, not theater. Correct his basic misunderstanding, and what's left of his point? Absolutely nothing.
It presents a false image of the author, as though in an actual give-and-take conversation he would completely ignore what is said against him.

Fisking also does a disservice to the whole point of communication. Though language is necessarily imperfect, it can still be used to communicate ideas.
And so, Dear Reader, rest assured that, in his eminent opinion, even something as "necessarily imperfect" as language "can still be used to communicate ideas." I guess we'll put our plans to burn all books for fuel and return to grunting and pointing on hold.
Fisking, though, takes advantage of imperfections, holding them up for condemnation or ridicule as though their very presence undercut the original writer's point. Any sentence, or even a part of a sentence, taken in isolation, can be mocked,
Some writers' sentences more than others.
but what does doing so prove?
Oh, I don't know, maybe that the writer is an idiot?
There is also the fact that, as it's generally done, fisking makes such heavy use of personal derision and insult. True, fisking doesn't positively require derision,
So why mention it? Anyone for a hasty generalization?
but I think by its very nature -- studying each sentence for some weakness, some opening for a quick shot to the short ribs -- composing a fisk is at least a near temptation of sins against charity. Add to that the encouraging reactions cheap shots often produce among the like-minded, and the habit of fisking is very likely to be at least tainted with vice.
It took him long enough, but he finally gets to his real point: unlike the rest of us, who occasionally get encouraging reactions from what we write, he is not tainted with vice.