Saturday, October 15, 2005


Michael Berube posted an insightful commentary on blogging in the academic world last week. This is not the first time he's addressed this topic. As more of us young academics are blogging, more of us young academics are also going on the job market. And the prevailing wisdom holds that the job market, at least the one that involves tenure, doesn't necessarily like our blogging. We have a couple of choices here: publish a "serious" academic blog that tows the party line (the problem: that line is vastly different for different departments) or publish an anonymous blog and say whatever we want. And make sure that NOBODY finds out it's you.

That's not much of a choice. In the worlds of academia and cyberspace, I have no cultural capital

So at the same time as we are being implored to figure out ways, whether through our research or our teaching or our integration into the community, to assert the importance and continuing relevance of foundering humanities departments everywhere, we are being denied the cultural capital with which to do so. My generation is supposed to be, in large part, made up of the risk-takers who are showing up just in time to reinvigorate our disciplines. But we're not actually supposed to be taking any risks. I always fall on the side of responsibility. When I started blogging, I decided to attach my name and pictures because I am a big believer in not saying anything publicly that I am not accountable for. My blogging friends also seem more or less to follow this, even those who are more anonymous than I am. It's my choice to put what I want on my blog; when I attach my name to it, I write what I want with full knowledge of the consequences. On one hand, it's a good exercise in responsibility and accountability for those taking part in some kind of public discourse.

On the other hand, that responsibility is really overdetermined. I find myself considering my accountability to the job market, not to myself or to anyone who reads my blog, unless they are considering whether or not to grant me tenure.

I have found myself, of late, reconsidering anonymous blogs. I still don't see the point. If you want to say a bunch of stuff that you refuse to be held accountable for, why are you saying it? Why should anybody care? For example, I occasionally check in with powerprof at Just Tenured (sorry, no links when I'm using my mac). Powerprof writes about, roughly in this order: dates she has been on, dates she is going on, her screwed-up relationships, her struggle with bipolar manic-depression, sex, drinking, and shopping. Everybody in her world has a pseudonym. She goes to great pains to retain her anonymity, all the while writing things I wouldn't tell my best friend. I am of two minds about this. One: god, that's really self-absorbed; do you really need to spend hours each day talking about yourself? Why not just write some bad confessional poetry?

BUT. Two: I wish I could do that. Powerprof has a community of readers who don't care that for all they know she's a fictional construct. They comment, support, and offer advice. She is more a part of the on-line community than many "serious" bloggers. No, she's not doing anything to reinvigorate her academic field, but that might be because in large part, she can't; she can't even really tell us what her field is. I don't dream of a world where Powerprof could reveal her true identity since, I don't care what she does, she's writing about really personal things. So I guess it's largely irrelevant to a discussion of blogs in academia. Yet this woman clearly has some cyberspace capital. She's anonymously rewriting her identity as free from overdetermination. And she's a newly tenured professor.

In _Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures_, James Berlin writes that he would "propose the necessity for provisional, contingent metanarratives in attempting to account for the past and present" (77). This is part of Berlin's strategy to make English studies culturally relevant in the academy by way of an investment in his "social-epistemic rhetoric." To my mind, a blog, whether by an identifiable author or an anonymous entity, provides a "provisional, contingent metanarrative" for the academic humanities. It seems like this would be indispensable to the future of our cultural relevance, which includes the ever-shrinking number of tenure-track positions. It's just that it seems like in order to attempt these kind of metanarratives in a way that isn't always already overdetermined by our desire for those positions, we have to completely dis-identify with said academy.

Again, this isn't to suggest that Powerprof would ideally be able to write what she writes with a "real name." The only thing that makes her blog relevant to academia is its title. But that she writes this blog under that name demonstrates her complete disidentification with the hand that feeds her, all the while remaining under the sign of academia. In that sense, it's sort of a fascinating exercise, akin, somewhat, to Theresa Ebert's concept of "resistance postmodernism" as later discussed by Berlin. "Resistance postmodernism" is available to academics as a way to challenge social totality and to reinvigorate our disciplines by offering a materialist praxis for critical and social theories. It is also available, to me, as a critical metanarrative of the academy and the possible ways to ensure the continued growth of the humanities that must necessarily include their being traversed by cyberspace's "differences." Totality, writes Ebert, is "an overdetermined structure of difference... thus always self-divided, different from itself and multiple; it is traversed by 'differences within,' by differance" (Berlin 81).

Does the question of academic blogging, even the most responsible kind, point to the failings of the university to consider itself a postmodern entity, to integrate itself into the historic context of poststructuralist logic that it both espouses and exists within? Ebert: "If totalities are structures of differences and thus multiple, unstable, changeable arenas of contradictions and social struggle, then they are open to contestation and transformation. But such transformations are themselves contingent on analyzing the ways in which the operation of power and organization of differences in a specific system are _overdetermined_ by other systems of difference, because systems of difference are also situated in social formation– which is itself a structure of differences made up of other systems of differences, including the social, economic, political, cultural, and ideological" (81).

Have we disconnected from disidentification? Am I supposed to teach one thing, while my very existence AS A TEACHER depends on its opposite? I have no idea. I haven't even started my dissertation. But when I am writing this, I am worried about who will read it.


Anonymous jeff said...

"And the prevailing wisdom holds that the job market, at least the one that involves tenure, doesn't necessarily like our blogging."

Really? Where does it prevail?
I don't think so. That's a myth, and it seems silly to blog without saying who you are - as if this is the CIA. The only thing to do is use common sense. And you do. So what is the worry?

Engaging with ideas, using new methods of expression, those are not things which hurt you in the long run. The other issue is - small minded people exist on search committees no matter what you do. You can't fret about things like that. If you find writing online helpful to your work or enjoyment, you should do it.

9:34 AM  
Blogger sarah ruddy said...

I do find blogging extremely helpful and freeing, and I intend to continue doing it. But you must admit, I can hardly be blamed for being "overly" concerned with getting a job. It's sad, I think, but true that I need to self-censor perhaps more than I'd like so that I don't regret it later. Those small minded people could, sadly, be the ones that matter in the end. I am hoping that my scholarship will preclude this from being an issue, and I obviously work to further than every day, but I can't escape the fact the the blogsphere is full of warnings directed at people just like me. Remember that I am years closer to the job market than most people in our class - I can't afford to make a crucial mistake. But you are closer than I am, having so recently been through that ringer, so your advice rings clear and true, also.

8:39 PM  

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