New Readers and What's Wrong With Substack [Trenchant Edges]

Unpacking this newsletter as a project.

Welcome back to Trenchant Edges, the Newsletter where we delve into the deep corners of English-speaking culture and poke it to see what comes out.

I’m your host Stephen Fisher, research guy and curious cat.

P.S. The chickens are at the end so keep reading.

As I said yesterday, this week will be spent bringing our usual self-reflective approach to the newsletter itself.

TLDR: I’ve regularly made big format changes to this newsletter without much thought or warning. Don’t want to do that again.

Back in June, regular commenter Sinoglowy posted a list of favorites so I asked if I could share it with y’all here as a pretty good place to start if you want to catch up w/ this newsletter.

If anyone wants to know where to start, here is list of top Trenchedges hits by random person from internet! From newest to oldest, it's just easier that way.

-Did Herman Mellvile do DMT?

-McLuhan's Core Insight

-Fish and water

-Why you should read moby dick

-Print as a media, conspiracy as inidividualism

-Space processor

-Who's Massaging my Medium?

-Reflections on Far-Right Propaganda

-UFOs: The Cosmic Rorschach test (wow, four in a row)

-OK, So I Lied About There Not Being an Email Today (about UFO again)

-Just Who is this Terence McKenna guy?

-FAQ and The Experiment at La Chorrera pt 1

-Terence Mckenna, Colonialism, and *Lightning Crash* Cultural Appropriation

It’s a solid list.

Over the course of this week, I’ll be charting more topic-specific pathways through our archives. We’ve developed quite a bit of a foundational perspective over the last year and I’ll try not to take that for granted.

I’m going to have to go back through our 100-post archive I keep in Scrivener and tag them with topics so it’s easy to track what posts are where. That probably will take a week or two for me to have the time for.

Substack Sucks

Well, kinda.

It’s just a *snorts ashes of Marshall McLuhan* different medium so it works differently.

Most of you are familiar with the Facebook page I’ve run, where over the last 6 years we’ve been able to cultivate a really nice wide swath of interesting people having much deeper conversations than usually possible on Facebook.

It’s my favorite thing about the platform and something I rarely see anywhere else. Reddit could probably manage the same thing.

And Substack, by its virtue as an email newsletter, generates none of that community.

I’ll often get a few comments, but they’re mostly directed towards me and rarely bloom into really good cross-pollinating conversations.

Maybe I could encourage that with questions at the end of the email, but that feels a bit too, “Please like and subscribe” for my tastes. But maybe the results would be worth the distastefulness.

It’s partially a scale thing: Even my smaller posts on facebook get 2-3k views, where we’re just at 450 people here.

Some of my crew and I are working on possible alternatives to FB or SS for conversations and it looks like that’s probably going to be some kind of message board.

But like I said, I’m not inclined to rush into anything right now. Slow and steady.

Substack has also been courting controversy both for courting transphobes and for supporting edgelords looking to escape the tyranny of editors.

I’m currently planning on migrating away from it once I can find a solid self-hosted alternative, but I’m not even going to start to work on that until I’ve got a lot more locked down in my life.

For those who don’t know, I’m recovering from a pretty serious back injury from a few years ago and that I’ve repeatedly reinjured by overexerting myself. I’d rather not push myself too much and end up laying in bed for weeks again or dependant on my walker to go to the bathroom.

Wrapping Up

The tricky thing is managing my productive “sitting time” each day. Today I’ve been pretty good: Got up at 7:30, was able to open up the coop for the chickens and water the garden without much discomfort.

But now I’m definitely back in the needing to rest zone.

It’s, uh, not ideal.

But one endures where one can.

Arguably, my “write pretty much every day” attitude these past few months have been a bad decision, as I’ve taken time away from my much more lucrative freelancing.

But 1. I promised I’d do it, and I’m working on becoming the kind of guy you can trust to complete those. And 2. I really enjoy doing it.

Tomorrow I think we’ll talk about my original vision for this newsletter and a bit more about what it’s become. Hopefully, that’ll illuminate where we can go from here.

I’ll also be sending out a link tomorrow where y’all can book a time to talk with me directly via zoom. I’ve got pretty narrow range of options so if none of those work for you, let me know.

Anyway, y’all have been good. Here are the Chickies:

Their coop is made out of an old trampoline, which I love.


One of the things I asked yesterday is if anyone cares about trying to catch up to what the wordcount would be if I had kept writing as initially planned.

  1. Does anyone care about that? Was I just being crazy there?

  2. What other topics would you like me to cover?. Yesterday we had some good suggestions like the CCRU, which gave us Nick Land and Mark Fisher.