Friday, 2 November 2012

Infectious Trolls

The frequency and popularity of trolling appears to be on the increase. This phenomenon seems to me infectious and viral, as more people are being drawn into the activity, or starting to think of it as normal behaviour.

But there is always the tendency to forget that what appears new may have been around for some time. We quickly forget the indignities of the past.

Many cultural commentators suggest that we are losing a sense of dignity and respect.

But does the Troll phenomenon precede the emergence of internet subcultures?

Is it the widening social participation of the internet, and the speed interactivity, that really fuels the apparent trending of Trollery?

Here there appears to be a sense of social or cultural prejudice, that the Trolls are the uneducated masses who have failed to learn the polite discourse and dialogue of enlightened conversational spaces.

None the less, I've recently witnessed troll fireworks in an academic list devoted to eighteenth-century studies. The reputation of Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, was also fiercely debated recently on the same email discussion list. Again there was the sense of ephemeral and careless attacks, with others fanning the flames in other ways.

Witnessing these happenings I began to speculate about the clarity of the dividing line between the belligerent displays of antagoniosts and the monstrous behaviour of the iconoclastic Trolls.

I'm awaiting the issue of a discussion concerning the origins of immoderate debate from the academic list, and will supplement this blog when responses are communicated to me.

Bcakground: from Wikipedia:

"In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: "That was an excellent troll you posted."

While the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, media attention in recent years has made such labels subjective, with trolling describing intentionally provocative actions and harassment outside of an online context. For example, mass media has used troll to describe "a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families."

Last year the BBC reported:

"For some the word derives from a fishing term for towing bait behind a boat, for others it comes from the Norse monsters. But today trolling is more likely to involve a keyboard and mouse than a trawler, and if not a monster, it is a very modern menace.
Opponents might characterise it as the internet equivalent of road rage, vandalising a grave, or kicking a man when he's down.
Trolling is a phenomenon that has swept across websites in recent years. Online forums, Facebook pages and newspaper comment forms are bombarded with insults, provocations or threats. Supporters argue it's about humour, mischief and freedom of speech. But for many the ferocity and personal nature of the abuse verges on hate speech."
"We're all capable of becoming a troll, says Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist in the US and author of You Are Not A Gadget. Lanier admits he has sometimes behaved badly online and believes the cloak of anonymity can encourage people to react in extreme ways.
"The temptation is there and we can get caught up in impulses. If someone reacts, it's emotional and it can be hard to get out of. We can all become trolls."

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Lives of the Necromancers (William Godwin)

Here are my grotesque and monstrous quotations from  Lives of the Necromancers (1834) by William Godwin (1756– 1836)

["Godwin is most famous for two books that he published within the space of a year: An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, an attack on political institutions, and Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, which attacks aristocratic privilege, but also is the first mystery novel. Based on the success of both, Godwin featured prominently in the radical circles of London in the 1790s. In the ensuing conservative reaction to British radicalism, Godwin was attacked, in part because of his marriage to the pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 and his candid biography of her after her death; their daughter, Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley) would go on to write Frankenstein and marry the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley."]

It is in such a state of the faculties that it is entirely natural and simple, that one should mistake a mere dumb animal for one's relative or near connection in disguise. And, the delusion having once begun, the deluded individual gives to every gesture and motion of limb and eye an explanation that forwards the deception. It is in the same way that in ignorant ages the notion of changeling has been produced. The weak and fascinated mother sees every feature with a turn of expression unknown before, all the habits of the child appear different and strange, till the parent herself denies her offspring, and sees in the object so lately cherished and doated on, a monster uncouth and horrible of aspect.


Various enchantments were therefore employed by those unhappy mortals whose special desire was to bring down calamity and plagues upon the individuals or tribes of men against whom their animosity was directed. Unlawful and detested words and mysteries were called into action to conjure up demons who should yield their powerful and tremendous assistance. Songs of a wild and maniacal character were chaunted. Noisome scents and the burning of all unhallowed and odious things were resorted to. In later times books and formulas of a terrific character were commonly employed, upon the reading or recital of which the prodigies resorted to began to display themselves. The heavens were darkened; the thunder rolled; and fierce and blinding lightnings flashed from one corner of the heavens to the other. The earth quaked and rocked from side to side. All monstrous and deformed things shewed themselves, "Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire," enough to cause the stoutest heart to quail. Lastly, devils, whose name was legion, and to whose forms and distorted and menacing countenances superstition had annexed the most frightful ideas, crowded in countless multitudes upon the spectator, whose breath was flame, whose dances were full of terror, and whose strength infinitely exceeded every thing human. Such were the appalling conceptions which ages of bigotry and ignorance annexed to the notion of sorcery, and with these they scared the unhappy beings over whom this notion had usurped an ascendancy into lunacy, and prepared them for the perpetrating flagitious and unheard-of deeds.

They were at large, even though confined to the smallest dimensions. They "could be bounded in a nutshell, and count themselves kings of infinite space."

One of the mischiefs that were most frequently imputed to them, was the changing the beautiful child of some doating parents, for a babe marked with ugliness and deformity.

Last of all, Jupiter presented her with a sealed box, of which the lid was no sooner unclosed, than a multitude of calamities and evils of all imaginable sorts flew out, only Hope remaining at the bottom.

On the discovery of this circumstance, Acrisius caused both mother and child to be inclosed in a chest, and committed to the waves. The chest however drifted upon the lands of a person of royal descent in the island of Seriphos, who extended his care and hospitality to both. When Perseus grew to man's estate, he was commissioned by the king of Seriphos to bring him the head of Medusa, one of the Gorgons.


reclaimed the savage man, from slaughter, and an indulgence in food that was loathsome and foul. And this has with sufficient probability been interpreted to mean, that he found the race of men among whom he lived cannibals, and that, to cure them the more completely of this horrible practice, he taught them to be contented to subsist upon the fruits of the earth.

Man in every age is full of incongruous and incompatible principles; and, when we shall cease to be inconsistent, we shall cease to be men.

Finally he can endure this uncertainty no longer; and, in defiance of the prohibition he has received, cannot refrain from turning his head to ascertain whether he is baffled, and has spent all his labour in vain. He sees her; but no sooner he sees her, than she becomes evanescent and impalpable; farther and farther she retreats before him; she utters a shrill cry, and endeavours to articulate; but she grows more and more imperceptible; and in the conclusion he is left with the scene around him in all respects the same as it had been before his incantations. The result of the whole that is known of Orpheus, is, that he was an eminently great and virtuous man, but was the victim of singular calamity. We have not yet done with the history of Orpheus. As has been said, he fell a sacrifice to the resentment and fury of the women of his native soil. They are affirmed to have torn him limb from limb. His head, divided from his body, floated down the waters of the Hebrus, and miraculously, as it passed along to the sea, it was still heard to exclaim in mournful accents, Eurydice, Eurydice!  At length it was carried ashore on the island of Lesbos.  Here, by some extraordinary concurrence of circumstances, it found a resting-place in a fissure of a rock over-arched by a cave, and, thus domiciliated, is said to have retained the power of speech, and to have uttered oracles. Not only the people of Lesbos resorted to it for guidance in difficult questions, but also the Asiatic Greeks from Ionia and Aetolia; and its fame and character for predicting future events even extended to Babylon.

But Cylon, from feelings of the deepest reverence and awe for Pythagoras, which he had cherished for years, was filled even to bursting with inextinguishable hatred and revenge. The unparalleled merits, the venerable age of the master whom he had so long followed, had no power to control his violence.

Yet this man, thus enlightened and philanthropical, established his system of proceeding upon narrow and exclusive principles, and conducted it by methods of artifice, quackery and delusion. One of his leading maxims was, that the great and fundamental truths to the establishment of which he devoted himself, were studiously to be concealed from the vulgar, and only to be imparted to a select few, and after years of the severest noviciate and trial.


The authority and dogmatical assertions of the master were to remain unquestioned; and the pupils were to fashion themselves to obsequious and implicit submission, and were the furthest in the world from being encouraged to the independent exercise of their own understandings. There was nothing that Pythagoras was more fixed to discountenance, than the communication of the truths upon which he placed the highest value, to the uninitiated. It is not probable therefore that he wrote any thing: all was communicated orally, by such gradations, and with such discretion, as he might think fit to adopt and to exercise. Delusion and falsehood were main features of his instruction. With what respect therefore can we consider, and what manliness worthy of his high character and endowments can we impute to, his discourses delivered from behind a curtain, his hiding himself during the day, and only appearing by night in a garb assumed for the purpose of exciting awe and veneration?

For these reasons he wrote nothing; but consigned all to the frail and uncertain custody of tradition. And distant posterity has amply avenged itself upon the narrowness of his policy; and the name of Pythagoras, which would otherwise have been ranked with the first luminaries of mankind, and consigned to everlasting gratitude, has in consequence of a few radical and fatal mistakes, been often loaded with obloquy, and the hero who bore it been indiscriminately classed among the votaries of imposture and artifice.

After a prelude of many unintelligible sounds, uttered with fervour and a sort of frenzy, she became by degrees more distinct. She uttered incoherent sentences, with breaks and pauses, that were filled up with preternatural efforts and distorted gestures; while the priests stood by, carefully recording her words, and then reducing them into a sort of obscure signification.

Saying this, behold, the ghost of the dead man stood erect before her, trembling at the view of his own unanimated limbs, and loth to enter again the confines of his wonted prison. He shrinks to invest himself with the gored bosom, and the fibres from which death had separated him. Unhappy wretch, to whom death had not given the privilege to die! Erichtho, impatient at the unlooked for delay, lashes the unmoving corpse with one of her serpents. She calls anew on the powers of hell, and threatens to pronounce the dreadful name, which cannot be articulated without consequences never to be thought of, nor without the direst necessity to be ventured upon. At length the congealed blood becomes liquid and warm; it oozes from the wounds, and creeps steadily along the veins and the members; the fibres are called into action beneath the gelid breast, and the nerves once more become instinct with life. Life and death are there at once. The arteries beat; the muscles are braced; the body raises itself, not by degrees, but at a single impulse, and stands erect. The eyelids unclose. The countenance is not that of a living subject, but of the dead. The paleness of the complexion, the rigidity of the lines, remain; and he looks about with an unmeaning stare, but utters no sound. He waits on the potent enchantress.