Farewell, ORBIS

by Kiko Matsing

ORBIS Banner
ORBIS Banner: Detail from Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte, Philippines,
evoking the labyrinths of Jorge Luis Borges.

After more than a year in hiatus, I am back blogging. Why the long pause? Not that I ran out of things to say. I doubt that will happen to one so opinionated and contrarian. I still have a long pipeline of pieces gestating that needs to be written down, except that they demand considerable time and attention to put together. In the meantime, I got busy settling in on a new job, and tying up the loose ends of a course website I developed for Science and Society during my brief teaching stint in the Philippines. I put together separate blogs called The Cyberflâneur that allowed me to write down musings on the fly to address the issue of time (this was what I used to blog my trip to the Philippines), and another called Mellis & Absinthia for interesting extracts from my reading projects. But even these turned out to be onerous as well, especially their upkeep.

The first order of business was thus consolidating these disparate efforts into one undertaking, and revamping the format to be more conducive to writing. I have therefore imported all the entries from the above into my main blog, ORBIS, and recast the site as The Flâneur’s Arcade. ORBIS was inspired by the writings of the Argentine writer Jorge Juis Borges, specifically, by his short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… [It] is so vast that each writer’s contribution is infinitesimal… [It] is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

It is a planet built by men. Not so much a real, physical world, but a fictive world–a body of knowledge. Borges uses other metaphors for this web of arcana: the library of Babel, an infinite labyrinth, a circular ruin, a garden of forking paths. Borges, as if peering into the all-seeing Aleph, has foreseen our modern cyberspace–the realization of his fictitious planet, devised by men and destined to be deciphered by men. I envisioned ORBIS to be my own fiction, a self-contained world among worlds on the Web, and myself as one of those anonymous technicians whose contribution was infinitesimal.

In renaming the blog, I’m moving away from the hermeticism inspired by Borges, to the more meandering, open-ended stance of the urban flâneur. I do enjoy writing about unsavory aspects of popular culture as much as serious academic arcana (partly from my discovery of Camille Paglia). I would also like to relax the writing style to include a range of tone from urbane to heckling. (It’s often more fun to jeer from the peanut gallery.)

In order to encourage writing (and reading), I have also simplified the format, by choosing a cleaner theme (Manifest) and by removing unnecessary trimmings (widgets, blogrolls, plugins). The sidebar is dispensed with and whatever widgets I retained (mostly about stats) were pushed down the bottom in order to keep reading distractions minimal. This migration should be complete within the next weeks, after which, we bid a final farewell to ORBIS.

Why I find the need to explain these things–the nuts and bolts of running this blog–seems silly. It’s not as if I have legions of followers to answer to, to whom I should justify my editorial choices. But part of writing, of putting things down on paper, is to explain these things to oneself. And what is more reflexive than blog writing?