Seriometer spike

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I hadn't really planned on saying much more about Jeff's IHE article, but then I got pulled in by the furor over it, which you might similarly observe at various places. And I write this fully knowing that there's an easy way to read this entry, which would go something like "oh, he's one of Jeff's friends and one of the 'chosen few' besides, of course he'd jump to Jeff's defense."

If I'm going to be honest about it, then I have to admit that there's a little of that going on here. When I see a friend called out as an asshat, an idiot, a pretentious academic, et al., I don't think anyone would fault me for feeling a little defensive on that person's behalf.

In the comments at one of the sites mentioned above, Jeff's point is paraphrased thusly:

All the anonymous bloggers do it out of fear, which proves Tribble right; they don't do it in order to experiment with forms or personae.

That paraphrase differs so wildly from my own perception of the article that I have to wonder how much of this is hangover from the various "nymous" fights that have broken out at various points in the short history of academic blogging. That is, I can't help but feel that there's a predisposition at work in reading the essay that way. And I'm more than happy to acknowledge that this predisposition is probably justified (and that my own predisposition is to read the article more generously).

And yet. I know for a fact that Jeff finds no merit whatsoever in Tribble. And I know that there are plenty of pseudonymous bloggers who exemplify what Jeff is after in that article. And yet I agree largely with what he says. So let me take a crack at it:

Perhaps his point would have been a little clearer had he included examples beyond pseudonymous blogging. There are those who see that kind of blogging as a form of self-censorship, and to be fair, it is. But it's only fair if we acknowledge (and I do) the degree to which nymous bloggers self-censor as well. There are lots of things that I don't talk about in this space, and while there are plenty of reasons behind those choices, one of them is the same fear that everyone else has. The fact that we have a separate word for being fired for blogging suggests how pervasive that fear is. That's one aspect of this generalized "seriousness."

Another is the tendency to domesticate blogging by using it in classrooms, as some of us have tried. By making it "count" towards a grade, we make it "serious" in ways that can undercut the energy we were hoping to bring to our courses in the first place. Another comes from those of us who include blogs amongst the texts and/or communities we study. Another is the argument that our blogs should be counted in our accounts of our academic activity, an argument that is tantamount to demanding that our colleagues take blogs "seriously." (If that's not a recipe for potential stagnation...)

The Tribble article, and the nerve that it struck (which I took to be Jeff's point in raising it), speaks further to the seriousness that can permeate not just academic blogs, but all blogs by academics. And believe me when I say that I fully understand the reasons why some people might not want to blog under the kind of cloud that Tribble (and our Tribblicious colleagues) represents.

If there's a mistake in Jeff's characterization, it's to emphasize only the fear behind psuedonymous blogging, a fear that most if not all of us must negotiate at one point or another. Blogging with a pseudonym permits many things that a real name does not. What Jeff (rightly) notices is that it's typically those kinds of posts that IHE links to, and so if one's access to those blogs comes through that portal, I can fully see how one would conclude that there's a culture of fear and complaint operating. My own opinion is that this has to do far more with IHE's editorial decisions than with any kind of uniformity on the part of academics who blog, pseudonymous or no. My limited sense of those communities is that they're far more about support than they are about complaint.

And yet, real names also permit certain kinds of posts that pseudonyms do not. My (crusading, serious) entries on the Facebook issue last week held a certain amount of credibility, and (I hope) accomplished a little more because they were tied directly to someone with direct and proximate insight into the situation and someone who actively studies the phenomena in question. Could I have written about the episode pseudonymously? Of course, but I couldn't have written about it in the same way.

And no, I'm not trying to offer a scenario according to which pseudonymous blogs must be somehow considered "less than." My point is merely that each choice offers certain possibilities and certain constraints. The seriousness I take Jeff to be talking about, though, is a constraining force that affects us all. I don't take him to be suggesting, were all pseudonymous bloggers to start blogging under their real names, that the problem he identifies would magically be solved. Because it wouldn't. Because I'd still worry about whether or not to comment about local events, and worry about how what I write might be misread by people who can affect my future. On my best days, I push those worries aside and do what I do. I assume that's true of us all.

Bottom line is that I don't think that the problem Jeff describes is intrinsic to one or another group of bloggers. Rather, it's something that we all struggle with, and could probably all struggle against a little more often. To me, that's the broader issue that's getting lost a little bit.

That's all.

Update: New Kid and Nels have really smart followup posts that are worth looking at.

Also, for some reason, my filters are throttling attempts to leave comments--they just blocked me from posting something, too. If you want to leave a comment here, and are willing to drop it into an email to me, I'll post it. Sorry about that.

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"I don't take him to be suggesting, were all pseudonymous bloggers to start blogging under their real names, that the problem he identifies would magically be solved. Because it wouldn't."

Thanks, man. Right on the money. I should have had a line like that in there. Lost in the short space of an IHE piece is that to be or not to be was not the issue.

Collin, I think this does help a lot. Because you are completely write about how we all have an ethos in our blogs. I would get more away from self-censorship and focus more on ethos and genre and all that. My blog and my published writing are very different, where my published essays reveal much more intimate details about my life than I ever reveal in the blog because those genres in those contexts call for it.

At any rate, this is the great thing about blogging because these follow-up comments in all of these places have pointed out how I brought to Jeff's piece a very limited concept of "seriousness" and "play" that I'm not broadening.

Collin, I get your points here and I largely agree with them. I should say that I didn't come away from the article at all believing that Rice agreed with Tribble. I think that your point about predispositions is a good one, and I think it's just something that needs to be recognized here: (some) pseudonymous bloggers are going to be very predisposed to read this article in the way that I've read it precisely because it's published in the wake of Tribble's drivel and other conversations about how "bad" blogging (especially pseudonymous) is, and I don't think perhaps Rice recognized how strongly that had influenced the way that pseudonymous bloggers see what they're doing. So in that respect, I'd argue that the article doesn't quite understand its audience (or at least a large potential audience). I also agree that part of the problem is IHE's editorial policies - it did occur to me that "Around the Web" seemed to be largely his entree into pseudonymous blogging, and yeah, that's not strictly his fault (though I'd suggest he'd have done himself a favor not to rely on IHE's selection of blogs/posts as representative). I also agree that named/anonymous blogging each allow different kinds of blogging, neither better or worse, just different.

I do, however, think that the article (and some of his subsequent posts) lends itself very strongly to an interpretation that anonymous blogging is bad. I recognize that this may not have been Rice's intended point, but at a certain point he gives up control over how his audience will read what he says (she says with trepidation, borrowing rhetoric speak when commenting to a rhetorician!). And in the context of the debate about anonymous blogging, yeah, some of us get upset.

As for your point about getting defensive about your friends - I'd just like to respond that the same thing happens in the anonymous blogosphere as well, and my pseudonym gets defensive about attacks on other pseudonyms she considers friends, and I think some of Rice's past posts about the pseudonymous blogs that IHE has highlighted are in the same vein as currently bloggers calling Rice pretentious, an asshat, etc.

Finally, I guess the real point I'm making here is that personally, I'd agree with how you characterize the article, and I suspect many other pseudonymous bloggers would too; I think where we differ is the weight that we give to what you characterize as a mistake in the article, emphasizing only the fear behind pseudonymous blogging. I think, actually, that everyone agrees that this is the mistake in the article; the difference is only in how strongly you believe that this mistake mitigates any of the rest of the points that the article is making. It can't be all that surprising that pseudonymous bloggers react more strongly to this than people blogging under their own name, as we're extremely invested in the value and potential that pseudonymous blogging holds.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on February 24, 2006 12:15 AM.

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