January 17th, 2010 / 4:25 pm
Web Hype

Economist on anonymous

Many hands write The Economist, but it speaks with a collective voice. […] And some articles are heavily edited. The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it. As Geoffrey Crowther, editor from 1938 to 1956, put it, anonymity keeps the editor “not the master but the servant of something far greater than himself. You can call that ancestor-worship if you wish, but it gives to the paper an astonishing momentum of thought and principle.”

I like this idea, but I also like the idea—as somebody who writes (can’t really bear to say “as a writer”)—of being credited. As a reader, I’ve come to expect a sensibility with certain writers, and need to know who I’m reading. The quote above suggests that writers are rhetorical and editors are objective, that those attributes are mutually exclusive.

If htmlgiant were anonymous, I think I could still spot a Justin Taylor or Sam Pink post easily, a good thing, the face [balls] behind the words. Before reading any essay, I always read the quick bio/blurb on the writer, just to acquaint myself with their (presumed) conditions or belief systems, like if they’re an emeritus professor they probably have very soft skin and a lot of time, or if they are a hippie not to take them seriously. Values begin before the sentence begins.

On the other side of the serious spectrum, The Onion comes to mind, who are not anonymous, but whose articles are uncredited. There is implicit esteem in doing this, as if the publication has, to use Crowther’s words, “astonishing momentum.” They do not accept submissions, as one can imagine a dripping slushy inbox full of unfunny farces. Oddly enough, it’s about economics — the need to be published [there] is greater than the[ir] need to publish.

Virginia Woolf’s “anonymous was a woman” was a brilliant indictment, but time has passed, and I got a feeling the Economist[er] are mostly men, which is fitting, as the end of the world sort of always had a phallus attached to it. I hate to end with a dick joke, but I’m not anonymous, and what else did you expect?

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