Commemorative tweets: “too poignant and too transitory”

As I try to find a way back to workable rhythms following the unexpected death of my father, one of the few things I’ve been able to do is return to the posts gathered here as fledgling’s archive and mechanically supply the tags that have been missing since I imported them to WordPress early in January.  I was sifting through the posts written in October when I encountered one that, I confess, I’d nearly forgotten.  The post, dated 10/23/09, was about Shashi Tharoor and the practices that have earned him the nickname “Minister Twitter.”  Here is a bit of that post, written in another time, on another blog, by (for all I know now) another person.

But it was less my fascination with this accomplished and multifaceted figure than the content of one (then two, then three) of his tweets from yesterday, October 23, 2009, that kick-started this post.  I first ran across this one, which I promptly saved to favourites:  “Oct 23: day I lost my father, Chandran Tharoor, at age 63, 16 years ago. Still feel the pain of profound loss.  But now he’s always with me”.  I then noted another tweet from the same time frame:  “Oct 23:  commemoration of great Tvm fighter Achamma Cherlan who led peoples march for dem rights & responsible govt on 23.10,1938” – hence 71 years ago.  Around nine hours later, Shashi (if I may) posted yet another commemorative tweet with the same dateline:  “Oct 23:  happy birthday to @23jacob, the man who put me on Twitter!”       

The fact that Minister Tharoor was prompted to tweet – thrice in one day – in commemoration of persons and events of importance to him is itself remarkable, and says a good deal about his relationship to Twitter. To dispatch tweets that range from birthday wishes to the person who “put me on Twitter,” to the remembrance of a historic civil rights march in his home district, to marking the anniversary of his father’s death – these are indications that the author takes the medium seriously, and that he may indeed warrant his nickname, “Minister Twitter.”   

In keeping with the objectives of this blog, which pertain to the impacts of Twitter and other social media on the history and historiography of our time, I would pause for a moment over the tweet that went out in commemoration of the death of the writer’s father.  Very likely these lines mark only one of several ways in which this anniversary was marked.  Of broader interest, perhaps, are the idea and the practice of commemorating by way of a medium – Twitter – that is characterized by frenzy and fragmentation.  A tweet is, apart from a vapour or a shadow, the furthest thing from a monument; indeed, it is barely an inscription (though it can be archived).  What is the intention – and more importantly the effect – of commemorating a death (and so a life), in the most ephemeral of media?  It is an exercise “too poignant and too transitory,” to cite William Wordsworth, writing in his Essays Upon Epitaphs.** More remains to be said on this matter, as time allows.   

Key excerpts from Wordsworth’s text are at

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Filed under Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing, Weblogs

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