Alex Massie

Blogging the Revolution

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I was playing cricket* yesterday, so wasn't able to follow events in Iran too closely. Happily, Andrew Sullivan's blog means that it's easy to catch-up. Andrew, of course, has been at his considerable best these past few days, but yesterday's marathon live-blog was something else. Newspapers, at least in this instance, are now the second draft of history; blogs, Youtube, camera phones and Twitter are the first.

Reading Andrew's live-blog - a compendium of tweets from Iran, video footage, stills photography, commentary and links to other sources of information around the web - is a pretty draining experience; producing it must have exhausted Andrew and his brace of helpers, Chris Bodenner and Patrick Appel. It really is living history. There's an immediacy and a passion that thrills, even as some of the stories highlighted chill the blood and leave one feeling shaken and appalled. Everything is chaotic, rumour and intrigue thrive and no-one has the whole story. Indeed, there are unreliable narrators everywhere. Collectively however, the tweets and photos and commentary are much greater than their individual obsevations and leave one with a sense, no matter how confused, of the extent of the thrilling and terrifying drama unfolding on the streets of Iran's major cities.

In that sense, then, there's also a novelistic quality to the sweep to this narrative that, actually, carries echoes of, say, Stendhal's justly famous depiction of Waterloo in the Charterhouse of Parma. That was a recreation of the chaos of battle; this is happening in real-life and real-time. And, to be clear, comparing this Iranian revolution to great scenes from great novels isn't meant to trivialise the story. On the contrary, it's a way of highlighting the epic nature of the passion, the pathos, the excitement and, yes, the confusion of what we're seeing. There's great brutality on display but also great humanity and, in as much as this is the kind of material a Stendhal, a Tolstoy or a Dickens would use as their inspiration, its overall impact is as powerful and intense as the great nineteenth century novels. This time, however, it's a story being written in real-time in blogs, on Twitter and on Youtube.

And, like any great novel, its a story in which the reader can immerse themselves, forever anxious to find out what happens next and acutely conscious of the fact that everything else seems secondary and unimportant in comparison to the drama unfolding on the page or, in this instance, the streets of Tehran and being followed on your computer screen.

*We lost. My run was a very elegant leg-glance. Ruined next ball by an awful across-the-line swipe than resulted in the undoing of my off-stump. This is happening too often.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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