The Everlasting “Huh?”: Thoughts on Being a Member of Estate 4.0

Herewith, my five-hundredth entry in the broadcastellan journal. Without making a big to-do about it, I shall mark this occasion by summoning the irascible, inimitable Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), whose carte de visite (pictured) lies among the books and papers in my attic room, the “Sage of Chelsea” whose house in 24 Cheyne Row I can be seen inspecting below. Featured here as a character in a radio play about Margaret Fuller, America’s first female foreign correspondent (“The Heart and the Fountain” [28 April 1941], Carlyle had much to say about the press, to which he referred as the “fourth estate.” Perhaps, that makes us web journalists the estate 4.0. What is our role, our place, our worth? Whether derided, courted or ignored, we carry on surveying and opining, spreading and reprocessing what goes for news these days. In my case, chiefly old news.

According to Carlyle, “fourth estate” is no mere “figure of speech, or a witty saying,” but “a literal fact,” and a “very momentous” one at that. Publishing one’s thoughts, the Scottish philosopher-historian remarked, “is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable.” What might he have said about the phenomenon of web journalism? I shall put a few words in his mouth, a cheekiness duly signalled by brackets, and update his thoughts as expressed in Heroes and Hero-Worship (1840):

Writing brings [publishing]; brings universal everyday extempore [publishing] as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. The requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually there [. . . ]!

On all sides, are we not driven to the conclusion that, of the things which man can do or make here below, by far the most momentous, wonderful and worthy are the things we call [Blogs]! Those poor [digital bits and bites, . . . ] what have they not done, what are they not doing!—For indeed, whatever be the outward form of the thing [. . . ], is it not verily, at bottom, the highest act of man’s faculty that produces a [Blog]]? It is the Thought of man; the true thaumaturgic virtue; by which man works all things whatsoever. All that he does, and brings to pass, is the vesture of a Thought. This [modern world], with all its houses, palaces, steam-engines, cathedrals, and huge immeasurable traffic and tumult, what is it but a Thought, but millions of Thoughts made into One—a huge immeasurable Spirit of a Thought, embodied in brick, in iron, smoke, dust, Palaces, Parliaments, [cars, highways], and the rest of it! Not a brick was made but some man had to think of the making of that brick.—The thing we called [digital bits and bites] is the purest embodiment a Thought of man can have. No wonder it is, in all ways, the activest and noblest.

All this, of the importance and supreme importance of [bloggers] in modern Society, and how [web journalism] is to such a degree superseding the Pulpit, the Senate, the academia and much else, has been admitted for a good while; and recognized often enough, in late times, with a sort of sentimental triumph and wonderment. It seems to me, the Sentimental by and by will have to give place to the Practical. If [bloggers] are so incalculably influential, actually performing such work for us [. . .] from day to day, then I think we may conclude that [web journalists] will not always wander like unrecognized unregulated Ishmaelites among us! Whatsoever thing, as I said above, has virtual unnoticed power will cast off its wrappages, bandages, and step forth one day with palpably articulated, universally visible power.

Perhaps, I am squandering this magical potential, the thaumaturgy of casting myself broadly, by writing obscurely on the obscure, all the while revelling in my own obscurity. And yet, without romancing the scale, the struggle and the thrill of writing seem to outweigh any desire I might have to be read, let alone understood . . .

4 Replies to “The Everlasting “Huh?”: Thoughts on Being a Member of Estate 4.0”

  1. A superb milestone piece – both questioning and affirming, qualities (as well as actions) with (and by) which broadcastellan cast its spell. Here\’s to the preciousness and power of thought, fellow Member.

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  2. Thank you, Elizabeth. I have long waited for just the moment to get Carlyle into this journal, a booby prize for not devoting my dissertation to the man (after having written my MA thesis on his role as translator).It means a lot to me to be read by you.

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