Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Getting a Dose from the Doctor (but then feeling better about it)

Turns out the audience members at that MLA blog panel thought my post-panel question was as lame as I did. Dr. Crazy, over at Reassigned Time, blogged my query thus .

Feeling (as I've written) as though I misrepresented myself and my interests, I tried to post a comment, but Dr. Crazy's comment function is on the fritz, so I corresponded with the Doc via e-mail instead. We've since had a very positive exchange (noted here by the Crazy One), and I, for one, am glad to have made the connection.

Here's what I wrote:

This is going to sound like splitting hairs, but I never used the word "count" in my question. What I did say was "how do I get my blog on my tenure file?" It was a cheesy, misworded way to end what I felt was going on too long (i.e., my own question; I should've thought about it more, but took the opportunity I thought I otherwise wouldn't get. L'esprit de l'escalier. It happens.).

In all honesty, I couldn't care less about getting my particular blog on my particular tenure file. The holy trinity (research, teaching, and service) is going perfectly well for me thus far.

Rather, what I'm really interested in -- long term, in the big picture -- are "surges" (if I may use such a loaded term) of anti-academic sentiment that see the tenure system itself as the root of all evil (especially in the humanities). Academic freedom is a pretty hard sell to parents ponying up 50K a year, or to corporations funding new football stadiums and research facilities, in a political climate where sneering at "tenured radicals" has become increasingly acceptable, if not de rigeur.

It's in this light that I do believe blogs perform a valuable service (as I wrote) in demystifying academic labor for the general public, and I'm all for the idea of blogging as service.

I also fully respect any academic's wish to sort out his or her blog from his/her academic persona. By all means, post anonymously, and raise a "Don't Tread on Me" flag in the banner. Up until I started working here [at my university], I saw my own blog in just such terms -- as an escape pod, if anything.

But in speculating whether blogging might have something to offer us _as scholars_, I am wondering whether the technology might be used -- and yes, valued -- to generate form(s) of "publication" other than those we typically produce, ones which would perform the "service" of rehabilitating the humanities in the public eye, while *also serving as an additional outlet for research. Something for us, and to get the NEH off our backs (or at least on our side).

I make no secret of the fact that I really don't know what that could possibly look like (which is probably why I fudged my MLA question). As Flavia points out to me -- and I agree (again, something I was going to get to) -- the "group blog" seems to be the going thing where "scholarly conversation" is concerned (and how hilarious was it when David Greenberg claimed to have "invented" it for TNR??).

I'd like to get a group blog going, for sure. Or I think. But I also like to post on idiosyncratic things, like the relationship of the Beatles to humanist imitatio or J.K. Rowling's deaf ear.

So, no, I don't have any answers, just questions. But my questions are more thoughtful and less crass than I represented them in Philadelphia. No, I don't care about "counting" -- in fact, what I *object to is the way in which _market values_ -- both academic and commercial -- have infected the way we think about our work, to enumerate and tabulate it in (indeed) such crass ways. We are constantly having to *prove our value, and the value of our research -- to one another, and to the culture at large.

If blogging can play a role in intervening in that phenomenon, then, by all means, count me in.

As a final question (the one I could have asked -- woulda coulda shoulda): why is it, do you think, that when speaking on blogging in a professional forum such as the MLA, people seem to feel the need to "relate" it somehow to some historical antecedent, in "eighteenth century tabloids," "nineteenth century newspapers" or what have you? (Hell, I write on sixteenth century print -- why not trace it back there?). I read that impulse, that attempt to "historicize," versus saying blogging is "marginal" -- as a contradiction. That is, one the one hand, they're saying -- look, blogging is so important it has ancestors -- it's "scholarly," legitimate because historical . . . on the other hand, nah, it's just marginal, part of my personal time (bug off). Which is it going to be? And for that matter, why participate in panels at the __MLA__??

Much more to say, but I've got a big day at the office. Thanks to all of those who have been weighing in, here and elsewhere.


Flavia said...

This is a useful and very interesting clarification--I wasn't at the first panel on blogging myself (only the early Saturday morning one), and I could certainly tell from your earlier reflection on the panel that you didn't mean that you wanted blogging to "count" in any crass or mercenary way. . . but I very much like what you say in your email exchange with Crazy.

(Were you at the second blogger panel? Scott Kaufman spoke there about the need to separate "academic bloggers" from "academics who blog," and that conversation has continued in a very minor way here, depending from his second bullet point. I understand the distinction, and its utility. . . but as someone who likes a certain blurring of those boundaries, I guess it doesn't really interest me as a distinction.

Amardeepmsingh said...

I was also happy to see this post.

I didn't want to answer this at the panel, because I am actually currently up for tenure -- and the jury is still out as to whether the blog has helped or hurt, and whether putting it on my CV (I actually do this) has been a good idea.

But if your question is, can blogging be a good thing in terms of fostering intellectual growth, my own personal answer would have to be yes. The desire to keep coming up with new topics and new stuff to say provokes me to continue learning in a way that the conventional publication track doesn't. "General intellectual health" may not count for tenure (for a good reason -- too difficult to evaluate), but I personally kind of enjoy having my nose in a lot of different things.

As for writing serious or at least semi-serious academic stuff on one's blog, that is a tougher one. It definitely doesn't seem to help in terms of getting articles and books published; one still has to do that the hard way.

One ends up writing in an "in between" style. People like Berube are very good at making "heavy" academic points with humor and a light touch; the rest of us have to remember to make textual "eye contact."

Anonymous said...

While you seemingly appreciate the freedom of blogging and/or academically letting your hair down so to speak, you also seem to lust for acknowledgment of service of that which is essentially, self-serving. Judging from your posts, it's obvious you enjoy the playful opportunities the environment offers, and certainly the intellectual stimulation (which can only be considered as service, both to yourself as to your readers). However, academically, it's a bit like serving wine from a box, wouldn't you say?

I was fond of Dr. Crazy's distinctions as to how the blog serves, as well as his interest in promoting the absence of ceremony while maintaining intellectual integrity. The blog is clearly a labor of love yet it affords a range of motion fueled by interest and passion, less the spit shine. In your case, you seem to want dividends on your investment, and perhaps that is the ultimate variance, one's personal expectations. I don't see anything crass about seeking validity, but all things considered, formalizing and burnishing the patina that gives 'the blog' it's aesthetic charm would seem a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water, wouldn't it?

Scott Eric Kaufman said...

I was actually curious as to who you were when you asked the question at the other big blog panel -- and it's nice to see you didn't skulk away after Berube's answer. What I'd have said -- what I have said, both there and in my talk -- was that blogging need not go on the CV because it improves all the things which do: dissertations, publications, invited talks, panel presentations, &c. For now, that's the best we can hope for, I think. (And for what it's worth, I don't think it too shabby.)


So much to say, so little time.

Suffice to say that Michael Berube thinks I'm a twit. How's that for a line on my CV?

No, I did not skulk away.

But I'm in between meetings: just coming from a department meeting, just headed to a meeting with my four and six year old children (with a lengthy agenda, no doubt).

So more soon on: tracking Amardeep's tenure case; my "lust for acknowledgment" (ooh baby, love me -- *not); and Eric's sage words about how blogging develops us "other"-wise . . .

Keep it coming, folks -- nope, I won't skulk away.

If I can be publicly belittled at my own professional conference by Michael Berube, I figger I can stand up to anything.

More soon.


I plan to respond to Professors Singh and Kaufman in their own blogs, not only to comment on what they've written here but also to address what they presented at the MLA.

Which leaves my anonymous poster here.

I don't deny that I see this particular blog as an opportunity to "let my hair down." (I am growing it out, in fact.)

You bet I'm playful here. I tend to be playful in my other academic capacities, too, but here, absolutely.

But I'm not in any way -- and this has been the misunderstanding from the start -- _my bad_ -- interested in "credit" for this *particular blog. No, I'm interesting in the possibility of using this technology to forge something entirely different.

It's occurred to me that the term "blog" itself limits the discussion, or at least the parameters of what I'm ever-so-vaguely imagining.

I need to think about it some more.

But the great thing about blogging? Is that it allows me to say that.


In other words: wine from a box is still wine.

If you don't want to drink, then pass the bottle.

kfluff said...

I like this post very much for the clarification it offers vis-a-vis the response to the scholarly uses of blogs. I was not at MLA in person, so I'm just reading along in the transcripts, but I was a bit taken aback by the seeming dismissal of the potential for blogs as one legitimate form of representating academic work. HUGE disclaimer here: certainly not all blogs, whether they be Kaufman's "academics who blog" or "academic blogs." But it seems obvious that there are communities of academics for whom one of the many functions of blogging is to discuss, with significant expertise, issues critical in their fields. And those same discussions happen with reference to other parts of their lives (their children, their pets, their musical predelictions). If nothing else, this seems to make visible the multiple conversations, debates, and re-evaluation that scholars undertake on their way to traditional (read: book or journal article) dissemination. Sure this is service, but it's collective work, and potentially a new kind of publication. The people at Making Media Commons are all over this.

For me, the lingering question is less about how we will use and value this as a form of publication, and more about how it will eventually shift an understanding of what a successful scholarly life looks like.


THANK YOU, kfluff. Your conclusion here speaks *directly to the kind of thing I'm interested in here.

Would you were there at the MLA to have voiced this so effectively!

Thanks also for the heads-up on Making Media Commons. Will check it out post-haste.

The Constructivist said...

Nice post. In case you haven't come across them, you might also check out the Institute for the Future of the Book (cf. Planned Obsolescence for a link) and John Holbo's MLA talk.

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