History Boy

Orlando Figes, a highly-respected academic in Britain, has been caught writing very negative reviews of his colleagues, and very positive reviews of his own works, on Amazon.  When caught, he denied this, and his wife, for a time, took the rap.  As often happens, this all came to a head because - like Wilde - he instigated a legal case against his accuser; unfortunately (and perhaps again like Oscar) he actually was what he looked to be.  It's been in the TLS and is now in the papers and on the BBC.

Figes - who is now on sick leave - is clearly under great stress, and the potential decline and fall of his career - trumpeted in the media - cannot be helping him.  I wish him well.  Meanwhile, this sad case reminds us all of the seductive dangers of the Digital Age - how seeming anonymity, and the instant pleasures and powers of the Internet, offer many opportunities for self-destruction, as well as destruction of rivals.  Intellectuals and poets are not immune.

Indeed, isolated, in their heads often, and emotive, and used to using symbols and words to great effect, they may be more, not less, likely, to strike out, often too quickly, with these new tools, these new weapons.  Cyberia can be a cold and unforgiving place, for bullies, and for liars - but all of us need to be careful in the spaces between reading and writing online.

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