I notice that Mistress Matisse has made an interesting blogging choice — she’s turned off her blog comments, and she explains why:

So, you may have noticed that the comment box has gone away. I made a vague remark a few days ago suggesting it was a technical issue, but in fact, I took the comments box off myself, because I was the one having issues.

I have become aware, lately, that my writing here has gotten really…careful. Almost defensive. When I considered it, I realized that it was due to my thinking too much about what people were going to post in the comments. When I first started blogging, I loved getting comments. At some point, that changed. Naturally it’s always been nice to have people say how much they liked this or that. I’m human, I like praise. But getting strokes can’t be the entire goal of the blog. Monk told me how Pete Townsend once remarked that people always talk about how musicians influence their listeners, but that the reverse was also true: fan feedback influences musicians. That’s true for me as well, and I feel it’s been detrimental to my writing here. When I took the comments off ten days ago, it was an experiment to see how I felt. And what I felt was an immediate sense of being freed from a constraint. Thus, I will not be having comments here anymore.

Even as I write this, I’m feeling the urge to bring up and pro-actively address all the various protests and arguments that I think you, the reader, might make. Defensive. But as with everything in my life – and in yours too – my choice to remove comments is influenced by a number of factors, both large and small. Some of my reasons I have shared with you here, but there are others I’m not going into, either because they are too complex or too personal. Without the comments box hanging over my head, I feel freer to write what I want, without lengthy justification.

I suppose it’s possible the silence will get to me after a while and I’ll put them back up, but not any time in the foreseeable future. You can, of course, email me with your comments, and I will probably post and publicly respond to selected ones.

I’ve got a fairly complex reaction to that. Before any of you start busting my balls the way some of you did over my post about deleting blog archives (and “here I go again!” with the defensive writing Matisse is talking about) I’m not going to question her decision, merely share my reaction to it and speculate about whether the very real benefits will outweigh what I see as a significant downside.

Like Matisse, I love getting comments. Unlike her, that hasn’t changed for me. But the proactive, defensive urge is very strong. My readers and fans (and I treasure you all) are a joy to hear from, but on the internet, there’s always a thundering brigade of trollish folk whose entire joy in life seems (judging by their behavior) to derive from attempts to “score” by going out on the internet and posting criticisms, rude comments, sarcastic put-downs, contradictions, and abrasively dismissive arguments. For these minor predators, the game of blog commenting seems to consist entirely of finding ways to piss in other people’s Cheerios.

It’s bad enough for me, who blogs from behind a shield of anonymity and (this being the bigger deal) puts very little of my actual life into the blog. These bloggers who, like Matisse, share considerable detail about their business, personal, social, and erotic lives, have a great deal more skin in the game. And it’s all food for the thundering brigade. Frankly I am often astonished at how open other sex bloggers leave themselves, and I do wonder where they find the mental energy to resist or endure the horde of nibbling predators.

After minimizing my exposure, I manage the thundering brigade by giving myself free and guiltless license to moderate with extreme ruthlessness. I demand civility, and not just in an icy may-it-please-the-court technical sense; comments that don’t come across as open-handedly friendly (no matter how critical they may or may not be) tend not to survive the moderation process. It’s not that the thundering brigade doesn’t visit here, it’s just that I don’t provide them with shelter, beer, or skittles.

That said, I still struggle with the self-censoring defensive urge Matisse is talking about. When I notice it, I try to resist it. Sometimes, I forbid myself to “bring up and pro-actively address” various inevitable criticisms, telling myself that (a) the rude versions won’t make it through moderation, and (b) if one of my valued, friendly commenters raises the issue, I can address it reactively. But, too often, I simply reword the blog post to avoid the objection. Sometimes this makes for better writing, but other times, it just makes things more bland. Without comments, I’m sure I’d be far more provocative.

That said, comments fill a social connectivity gap that email simply cannot replace. Sending an email automatically assigns a private communicative weight to whatever you say in it. You don’t do it if what you’re saying is below a certain level of triviality. But that same trivial remark may be perfect in a blog comment, because when you comment on a blog, it’s like saying something to a small and friendly audience, such as a cluster of friends at a cocktail party. You don’t say it to communicate, you say it to entertain and interact with the group. A private email cannot hope to replace that function.

By turning off blog comments, it seems to me that Matisse has blocked off an important avenue of social connectivity with her blog audience. In her context — which includes a meatspace life so rich in social connectivity that she clearly has to juggle furiously to maintain it all) — this may well be a perfectly sensible thing to do. But I know I would feel a terrible pang if I had to do that here at ErosBlog. If I had to do it, it would feel like saying “The party in my living room is over. From now on, when I want to talk to you, I’ll come out on the front porch and read from a prepared statement.”

I actually do think my “prepared statements” (my blog posts) would be a little bit better — more provocative, less defensive, fewer disclaimers and weaselly explanatory phrases. But, though my writing might be better, my blog would be worse, if that distinction makes any sense.

And another good thing about comments. They let me ask questions like this: What do you think?

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