L'esprit d'escalier

Sometimes, you read or hear something, to which you have an instant reaction. You can provide a reason, there and then, why you agree with something, or alternatively why the speaker is a mistaken moron.
More often, however, the mind is slow to form a response. The statement grates, but you cannot put into words why that may be so. You fester for days, and those idle moments, in the queue or on the bus, are devoured as you excavate the depths of your thoughts for what you are sure is an obvious answer.
Sometimes you unearth the quip that you seek, but too late. I heard a French phrase for this: L’esprit d’escalier, The Spirt of The Staircase. It is that witty one-liner that you never said during the argument, which you only remember as you are walking down the stairs to leave the dinner party (are all Parisian dining rooms on the first floor, I wonder?)
With online argument, these issues can be a killer. The ease of publishing your thoughts on a blog means that, for maximum readership, those responses have to be published quicker than the mainstream! A politician writes or says something in the morning. By lunchtime, detailed responses are already available online. That evening, there are already 250 contributions in the comments. Only a day later, it feels like old news. Letting your argument stew for a day, or a week, is to truly miss the party. You do find the answer you were looking for, but everyone else has descended to the street and gone somewhere else. You are left alone, arguing with yourself.
Justin at Chicken Yoghurt has been feeling a bit of the L’espirit too.

3 Replies to “L'esprit d'escalier”

  1. I think it all depends on your style. Some people really want to be part of that dialogue as it peaks, others “miss the party” intentionally as they don’t think it’s necessary to comment on each small move a politician/rock star/significant other makes, but to sit back and notice bigger trends within it all and then point these trajectories out later.
    But maybe the big-picture people are using the wrong tool if they are trying to blog that way?
    Don’t know, but I should definitely have a coffee before I say anything more!

  2. Quite agree MK. I think it is the right tool though. Newspapers get thrown away, and they have to talk about something new tomorrow, but blogs can stay and be commented on forever.
    Counter-inutitively, the blog post does not just out-do the newspaper on the info front by being faster, but also on the debate front by being slower.
    Blogging enables and motivates people to interrogate their thoughts on the issues of yesterday in a way that traditional media do not. I think that’s a really really good thing.

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