02 January, 2008

Tempus edax rerum

Chris Miller predicted that 'the last entry in VUNEX will be the most exciting of all'. Is disappointment evitable? Writing the Varieties has been possibly the best adventure of my life, and I regret not a moment of it, not a word, not a flicker of scorn, not a morsel of indiscretion. But my star is waning, or has waned; response of late has not been quite what I had hoped, and it is my own fault. Sure, you find the wit, the style, the erudition all still there: but it is no longer enough. The work has ceased to inspire and engage you. It has become moribund. And all around me I find the sites I once loved become monotonous, like a set of jokes all with the same punchline (even if those jokes are clever and well-told), or else adrift in Nova Zembla, or lacking, like myself, the passion of earlier days. Or barely there, or dead altogether. And, of course, all the rest. It is a sad state of affairs, but still, friends, we have our memories, eh?
Despite all the opportunities to "interact", we read material from the internet entirely passively because all the interesting associative thinking has already been done on our behalf. Electronic media are intrinsically ephemeral, and work quite strenuously against any sort of historical perception. The opposite of edited, the material on the internet is unmediated, except by the technology itself. And having no price, it has questionable value. Finally, you can't write comments in the margin of your screen to be discovered by another reader fifty years down the line.
This was written by Lynne Truss, in her wildly popular Eats Shoots, and, Leaves. I will be happy if my efforts at this cockpit have, if nothing else, disproved every one of these statements. In some ways it is a shame to leave now: I wanted to write about Seurat, and John Buncle, and literary fools, and London, always, and irony, and geology and underwater bells and Goropius Becanus and the Neminiana secta and the capacitor and Laura Riding and eighteenth-century lavatory graffiti, rithmomachia and John Conway, e cosa via. I may add to and develop earlier posts—and please, feel free to comment, though I'm sure few will, so that this corpse might continue to grow its nails. All, old and new, are encouraged to contact me. I have already met several of you, and each delighted me; I only hope I might meet more.

Thus, I end it. It was two years ago today that I began. 2008 has gotten off to a bang: at the turn of the year I found myself with friends in the dark, letting off fireworks from a dam in the Elan Valley. I leave you with a shadow of a shadow—myself, at midnight, spread out against the shingles of the beach at Aberystwyth, contemplating the rokkes blake, and what lies beyond.

Update: D. informs me that the shadow is not mine but his—the final irony.


Darconville said...

No! But oh, how I want to read about the capacitor and John Buncle and literary fools--especially through your eccentric lens. I think of the Pump Court sundial and the walk from Blackfriars after I had seen it here. I suspect its legend will still be on my tongue many years from now.

I suppose this comment is too little praise, too late. Eventually I'll get my hands on a copy of Michael Neo Palaeologus His Grammar and I'll fondly recall all the things I read here.

All the best to you, Conrad.

Sid Leavitt said...

Oh, damn. You gave hints a while ago that you might drift away from your weblog, but we're not going to.

Varieties will remain on our blogroll at Readersandwritersblog.com because what you have written so far is worth reading for as long as our weblog is up.

Thank you for everything.

Anonymous said...

And here I cannot issue one of my many and intense dislikes - for I commend your choice. Buon Anno to you and yours - may both the tangibles and intangibles the Internet cannot provide/nourish now abundantly fill your snail box, dinner table, and mind...

ZC said...

I've never commented, but I've read and enjoyed much here--and I'm very sorry to see the Varieties come to an end. (Now to go have the Scheerbart novel recalled...)

Anonymous said...

I regret, deeply regret, whatever small part my sloth may have played in your demise. I can plead only paying work; and I will go so far as to start blogging again if you agree not to stop. The Internet is not so large that it can afford to lose writers like you.

Languagehat said...

Tsk, you young people: no stick-to-it-iveness. A wrench, a rift—that's all one can foresee... (As you remarked the last time we went by the Institute: "I really could not tell the differences between this place and Hell.")

Ah well, I guess I'll spare the world my reflections on the Zemblan variants of the Kongskuggsiö. It's the least I can do. All the best, and may your next star wane more slowly.

Conrad H. Roth said...

What a moving response! Thanks, all. Aaron: I have my work too, I quite understand. I need to give it more time. I'm most touched and flattered by your remark, and it is a very kind offer, but if I did accept, it could only look like an angle for praise! Perhaps this is not forever, at any rate.

Steve: I could only expect a wry wave from you. But do not dizzemble on my account: there's a big audience for Russia, I'm just not in it. I wish you well.

Malone said...

A fine final image - my own shadow haunts the beach at Aber from time to time - I hope one of these days we'll coincide . . .

. . . and Conrad, thank you. You will be missed. I wish you and Mrs. Roth all health, wealth, and happiness in the future.

Iechyd da!

A. Ominous said...

Amazing that the quality remained so high for so long! Here's to a job well done, and the others to come...

Anonymous said...

No, I refuse to accept this. You can't stop. You are in a funk -- many of us are you know, right about now, start of a new year, what's to look forward to, that sort of thing -- but you can't cave in to it and quit now. You're at the top of My Blogroll, and even if I rarely thought I was smart enough to comment -- you roll with some pretty rarefied types you know, and they say themselves they don't like hoi poloi joining in, and I get that, I know my place -- even if I didn't join in the fray as it were I was listening, I was following, I was planning on more date stones, I was doing my homework, I was trying to understand. You inspired me, sir; and I was TOO writing in the margins of what you said, and I was too paying attention and keeping it for posterity in my head and I know you got more to offer, you got more stories and you just needed to know we all care. Well, we do. Now get on with it again. WE ALL FEEL from time to time as if we plow a lonely furrow. On our own, no one watching. Well, some of us do. But there are always a few on the watch. Keeping an eye. Caring. And being inspired by your example. Don't stop now.

Anonymous said...

I suspect you've had more readers than you ever suspected. I'm a lurker and have never commented here before but I'll come out of hiding to wish you good luck and thank you for the hours of entertainment I got since finding this blog half a year ago.

Greg Afinogenov said...

Worst news I've read all day.

Que tu es renommée
D’estre tombeau nommée
D’un, de qui l’univers
Chante les vers!

Et qui onq en sa vie
Ne fut bruslé d’envie,
Mendiant les honneurs
Des grands Seigneurs!

Ny ne r’apprist l’usage
De l’amoureux breuvage
Ny l’art des anciens

Mais bien à noz campagnes
Fist voir les Sœurs campagnes
Foulantes l’herbe aux sons
De ses chansons.

Car il fist à sa lyre
Si bons accords eslire
Qu’il orna de ses chants
Nous et noz champs.

La douce manne tombe
A jamais sur sa tumbe,
Et l’humeur que produit
En May la nuit.

Tout à l’entour l’emmure
L’herbe et l’eau qui murmure,
L’un tousjours verdoyant,
L’autre ondoyant.

Et nous ayans memoire
Du renom de sa gloire
Luy ferons comme à Pan
Honneur chaque an.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Why, just the other day I spent half an hour trying to figure out why the rest of the Internet had never heard of Guilhermes III. I blame myself, for being (there is no doubt about it) monotonous, and a terrible correspondent to boot.

I'm quite confident that if I hadn't put myself on a weekly schedule, I'd long since have let UR drift into dead-blog land. And even weekly is perhaps too often. It's unfortunate that the medium lends itself so poorly to irregular posting. Perhaps technology will rectify this as well.

After giving us this last will and testament, you will probably feel some strange sense of honor, or at least consistency, which impels you to refrain from posting again - after having so shamefully jerked our tears in this manner.

Please resist this urge. It is not one of the healthy ones.

In Benjamin H. Hill's Notes on the Situation, perhaps one of the finest series of political essays in the English language, and one which is utterly unknown today (but online here, see page 730), the author is constantly declaring each note to be the last. In the end he runs to twenty. Since Senator Hill's honor is beyond question, I believe the example should settle the matter.

Conrad H. Roth said...

I apologise if I have given the impression either that this post was written only to swell my ego with praise, or that I blame my decision to stop writing here on the quality of comments previously received. Neither of these are true. At the moment I don't want to continue this--but it is entirely possible that some time in the future I will want to resume. Let us compromise by calling it a sabbatical, then.

Again, many thanks for your kind responses.

zmjezhd said...

Oh, drat! I shall miss your grand posts.

Anonymous said...

A sabbatical? That's like a hiatus or in academia a paid vacation but you've got tenure so you're sure to come back, and it wasn't our fault for not commenting? Well, I for one consider this encouraging news. I felt my own will to go on slipping. Phew. Close call!

chris miller said...

Yes -- in my typical solipsistic way - I just assumed that everyone else was as obsessed with internet interaction as I -- especially you -- since you've done it so well.

I had figured that only some momentous event - like a religious conversion - would prevent you from sharing your endless explorations into the world of unreligious experience.

(I loved your last post -- although I admit that I got obsessed with El Bulli and didn't read any further)

But while you are shutting down VUNEX - I'll be starting yet another 2 or 3 blogs next year (can't help myself) - although, I suppose, eventually I won't have enough time to keep them all going.

Like everyone else, of course, I'm hoping that you'll return with a different format - perhaps even with a published book. So when that happens, I do hope you'll let us know.

Languagehat said...

Like everyone else, of course, I'm hoping that you'll return with a different format - perhaps even with a published book. So when that happens, I do hope you'll let us know.


John B. said...


I feel as though a friend has died or moved away and because of my sloth I just hadn't know about it till it was too late to say good-bye properly.

But I also know that the recidivism rate for would-be retired bloggers is surprisingly high, so I'm reminded of a scene from the old TV series Taxi in which one of the characters loudly declares that he's going to leave this dump of a cab company, that he has hopes and dreams and all the rest, and Louie DePalma, the dispatcher, says, "The only person who has ever left this place is James Caan . . . he'll be back."

Best wishes to you and the Mrs., Conrad.

Anonymous said...

Bye bye.
I wish you happiness in your private life and success in your profession.

Anonymous said...

You made a fine thing here & I'm sad to see the end of it.

I look forward to the day when your reflections appear in book form.

Raminagrobis said...

This is a shame. Until you decide to start writing again, I'll have to content myself with digging through the site archives for the many pearls contained therein.

Happy New Year, Conrad!

Wm said...

Well, drat.

Just another one of your non-commenting readers hoping the sabbatical will not be too long.

Robert said...

With so much light you have shed on so much I can indeed believe that it is another’s shadow. Reading this has caste a shadow on me today.

May be you'll catch the bug again, I hope so. On a practical note; do you have a copy of it all? (With “self Tags”!)

Anonymous said...

Bonne chance et bon courage pour la suite.

Anonymous said...

This is a shame. In the introduction to one of his academic works, Umberto Eco mentions that he has other outlets for his literary ambitions, and so doesn't need to try to be clever in his writings on semantics (though he inevitably always is). I imagine that, now you are back in Europe, you also have other outlets in your research work, and perhaps have less need to write here (or perhaps have more need to write there?).

I'm glad of the opportunity to have caught you in a literary mood, and to have had the chance to exchange the occassional email. It was a passing encounter that has certainly enriched my life.

Good luck in all your future endeavors, Conrad.


Anonymous said...

i really like this blog yet find it hard to motivate myself to read it because it seems so much the kind of thing i'd prefer to read on paper, preferably in some peculiar 18th Century anthology found in a dusty bookshop cellar in Edinburgh for 5o pence.

Anonymous said...

... or Semiotics, whatever it is that Eco writes about.

I wish comments had an edit function.

Anonymous said...

I ahve been waiting for a recantation. It has not appeared, yet. I do not accept this.

Since when does your like give damn about "response"?

What the hell is that all about?

You want response? Masses of it? Write about the royal family. As it is, you, your site (here), your work and your nom de plume are mentioned all over the world. Only by a few maybe. And maybe only by eneducated horsemen like myself. But our mentions reach a few more. Response? What?

What you write is hard to read and hard to write. It is abstruse. It is the defination of abstruse. So are you I suspect.
But when I finally digest what is here, there is wonderfulness. Sometimes I am not too exhausted and I comment. Sometimes I do not.

Thank goodness you are abstruse.

Take a break.

Wait until the spring thaw.

Your humanity, I accept. Frustration. Exhaustion. Sure. But I do not accept this.

Anonymous said...

You don't note Groundhog's Day, do you? It sounds as if the majority of your readers were hoping for cloudy skies on the 2nd of last month.

Conrad H. Roth said...

I think at this point return is inevitable; but probably not until June. We'll have champagne and all.

Languagehat said...

I heard that. (And don't think you can get away with Freixenet, either.)

Anonymous said...


Sid Leavitt said...

Hey, good news. We check in from time to time since you're still on our blogroll, although listed as inactive. We can hardly wait to list you as active again.

As always, best wishes from Readers and Writers Blog.

Malone said...

Champagne! And underwater bells. Not to mention literary fools. Ah, and London!

Can't wait.