More of what I’ve been doing

I’m so sorry to have been absent. For the past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over some very non-eighteenth-century related ideas that started cropping up during MLA. In the long run, I think they will wind their way back home to our period, but in the meanwhile, I’ve posted the first of the fruits over at the Valve. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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9 responses to “More of what I’ve been doing

  1. David Mazella

    Hey Carrie,

    Liked the post a great deal, which is a very substantive post with a lot to consider. For now, though, I’ll just comment on this portion:

    But with all this metablogular talk, I haven’t seen much in the way of a real, useful rhetorical analysis of academic blogging that could be accessed and understood by those who have experience with blogs and by those who need to be convinced that “the internet” is the present of academic discourse, not just the future. Many of the anxieties that beginning bloggers (and non-bloggers) have about subject matter (How much should I write about my personal life?), audience (How do I attract readers who will argue with me just enough?), and purpose (What the hell am I blogging to achieve?) are, when they apply to other media, addressed by rhetorical theory. The process required to answer these questions has been developed by individual bloggers, seemingly in isolation.

    To frame the discussion as a “rhetoric” of blogging is appropriate, because what we’re dealing with is the disuption of a lot of assumptions about the transparency of print and print communications, and a new, more stratified, but also more dynamic model of communications.

    I’ve been thinking about this in relation to Wellbery’s and Bender’s essay about “Rhetoricality,” which has really interesting things to say about the dissolution of rhetorical culture under the paradigm shifts of Enlightenment and Romanticism, but I think that certain aspects of rhetorical culture may be reactivated again, with the problemization of print that’s taking place right now.

    And yes, it is taking place in the present, whether we understand or acknowledge it, or not.

    Best wishes,

    DM

  2. Laura Rosenthal

    Hi Carrie and Dave,
    I also found your post interesting and found Dave’s isolation of that particular paragraph helpful in bringing together my scattered responses.

    In a nutshell, blogging, as you describe its complexities and the questions it raises, reminds me of performance art. In performance art (which probably still exists but one doesn’t hear much about it anymore), performances could appear out of nowhere, anywhere. One could look at them or not. They were often either political or personal expressions. But the key factor that they have in common with blogs, it seems to me, is their status as non-commercial. Performers didn’t charge for them, and it was unclear whether or not the performances went on CVs (the issue of “credit” raised in the post), and yet people put tremendous effort into them and often took great risks in their execution. Blogging raises these questions of audience and purpose because academic blogs at least are not paid writing and are not in any clear way for professional advancement either (although I imagine if they are good enough they can lead to these things). The rhetorical analysis of blogs, however, sounds like something that could become an academic project (as did the analysis of performance art) and probably will if it hasn’t already, don’t you think?

    LR

  3. Laura,

    I think your performance art/”artist” comparison works well, because it raises the question of the social institutions that are enforcing access to a particular activity: e.g., why should art only be found in museums, especially when the stuff found there was not intended for such displays? etc. etc.

    I’ve been following the debates between professional journalists and bloggers pretty carefully, and there’s an interesting anti-expert dimension to much of the best stuff, which runs rings around the conventional products of journalism. And yet, as Carrie points out, we don’t want an “anything goes” atmosphere.

    But blogging interests me because it’s an aggressively communal discursive space, and much of the excitement involves the fact that it resists the usual strategies of commodification or professionalization.

  4. Laura Rosenthal

    I’m sure this has been theorized somewhere in more sophisticated ways than I can do here. I agree that blogs in some ways avoid commodification and professionalization, but at the same time a blog that is not anonymous will surely shape one’s professional profile, although maybe in very small ways. There was a spate of articles a while back in the Chronicle about job candidates and the danger of blogging.

    Yet I think lack of anonymity and an exterior professional context curtail the “anything goes” possibility in a good way. At the same time, there is, as you point out Dave, more space for communal thought and experimentation. It also, as this blog has shown, can be a good place to think about teaching and about new work that comes out in a more free-flowing atmosphere.

  5. David Mazella

    I agree about the push-pull of professionalization and anonymity, Laura. I’ll have more to say about this shortly in a separate post.

    I’m also curious about the strong presence of teaching and pedagogy on our blog. It’s been one of the most interesting things about how the blog has developed since we began. Any ideas why it seems safe to discuss here?

    Dave

  6. Laura Rosenthal

    Looking forward to your post on professionalism and anonymity. But the blog does seem to be particularly suited for talking about teaching, partly because there are so few other places to discuss teaching. Also because teaching is such a trial and error process that its always helpful to hear other other people’s successes, failures, and new ideas. There are no proprietary issues: it is not a problem to adopt someone else’s technique. A really optimistic explanation might also be that we all have a stake in the 18th century being taught well.

  7. “Proprietary issues” is exactly right. Somehow, research is about one’s individual contributions and innovations (though these take place within existing collective understandings), while teaching generally escapes that anxiety about one’s “creativity.” There’s less at stake. That, at least, has been my experience of teaching in universities since I was a TA.

    I remember that my TA program had a huge file of past assignments that we were encouraged to “borrow” from. I think every comp program I know of encourages TAs to swap assignments and not try too hard to invent everything they do.

    The openness of blogs to the daily or subjective experience of the blogger/scholar/instructor also makes one’s workday a natural source for one’s topics–how was class today? how did this material work with these students? etc. etc. It’s an extension, I think, of the essay-form.

    Dave

  8. In response to Laura R’s comment about how blogs shape our professional profile:

    If you do a google search on yourself, you will find the old long-18th blogs listed. I’ve found most of the comments I wrote (and at least one person I knew from long ago referenced the blog when “getting back in touch”). There has been quite a bit of dicussion about the ways in which online activity affects perceptions of job candidates, etc. But something that I’ve been thinking about after reading my old comments is precisely that “proprietary” aspect discussed thus far. It seems to me that as more academics begin or contribute to blogs devoted to their research interests, the more we can claim them as academic discourse.

    But it’s also a place to discuss teaching strategies (like Carrie’s on the wikis), engage in convivial discussion (like the book discussions) and chat about mutually shared research interests that make blogs more open communities than other discursive spheres.

    Anway, take my comments FWIW–I’ve been gone from the blog far too long and have much catching up to do.

  9. David Mazella

    Sharlene, welcome back!

    Re your point: our latest eruption of trolls (carried, as far as I can tell, from The Valve, since no one here has mentioned Barthelme) reminded me how important civility can be on blogs like this one, since everything is offered voluntarily, and no one seriously expects monetary or professional returns for their efforts beyond the publicity. But the prospect of unencumbered specialist discussion is tempting for those of us who work in far-flung institutions without a lot of other colleagues in our fields.

    Best,

    DM