I agree with Brian about the specific utility of blogging for academic philosophy. The form is manifestly efficient (nay, superlative) for batting around ideas in the development stage. As such, it is to be encouraged – as is drinking in bars with philosophers. Which is to say: you should, but maybe not put it on your CV. Just yet. But I would go further. I think Brian is too modest when he neglects to come right out and declare that academic blogging, such as is found at TAR and here at CT and many other fine places, is not infrequently higher quality than a lot of pretty high level seminar and conference talk, just because the latter is genuinely off-the-cuff. It really does make a huge difference that even off-the-cuff posts really aren’t off-the-cuff, despite typos. You read, reread, think – tweak, reword, rethink – then post. Yep, obvious. But seriously. Think what a difference it makes. I think we are sometimes overly modest about the virtues of blogging because we are leery of looking like cranks, foisting our hobby on bemused colleagues. Or maybe we are conscious of having used our blogs for distinctly non-academic purposes, and do not wish to appear as though we are ridiculously trying to get academic credit for that. That’s me. But we ought to just separate out any concerns about the propriety of mixing academic and non-academic productions.
Every class ought to have a blog. Every professor ought to have a convenient way to share brief thoughts about his/her work with colleagues and students, who might be interested in leaving comments, so forth. Not that it needs to be mandatory or anything – I’m not crazy – but it is hard to believe that if what I just said came true, it would be a bad thing. Blogging is like email. It’s a useful utility for intellectual work and we ought to just say so.
Think about the gap between a published paper and some verbal comment, tossed out in seminar. Both are useful, but the one is solid, the other gas. The gap between is so wide it would be crazy not to strive to plug it with something a bit more liquid – and not just at the bar: to wit, blogging.
What really interests and excites me personally is not academic philosophy blogging, however – although I am an academic philosopher blogger – but encouraging blogging about academic literary studies and cultural criticism. (Some handier handle is needed.) This is not just because I’m a compulsive, voracious consumer of literary and cultural criticism, in case you hadn’t noticed. It’s also because – you may say I’m a fool – I see the genuine prospect for making things much better in academic literary studies. A really big literary studies group blog that generated some interest and excitement – i.e. found ways to do so – would be a huge boon to the field. And isn’t it obvious such a thing is possible? And also that literary studies needs it more than maybe any other field right now? Needs to snap out of its shame-spiral of doubt and anxiety? (NO, not EVERYBODY, Chun. Not you. But lots of folks.) And there is a dire publishing crisis to boot. Yeah, that’s the humanities and social sciences all over. But the lit studies people really have got it bad, if I make no mistake. It seems to me quite unnecessary for things to be in this bad state. Seriously.
I’m pretty much going to leave it there tonight. I would like to hear from literary studies bloggers – everyone else, too – about what they think the role of blogging could be in making things better. And what they think about the state of literary studies generally. I’m also hereby resolving that this will be the first of several posts, in which I will actually make arguments and offer evidence and so forth, not just wave my hands in dramatic ‘j’accuse, but the internet will heal all wounds’ fashion. Since this is the first time I’ve raised the topic at CT, I thought it might be nice to start with an almost open-thread: blogging and academic literary studies and its/their discontents. So what about it?
The posts that I’m planning to follow this up are really follow ups to the likes of my ‘How bad is the PMLA?’ post. You can dig back from there, if interested. For example, my Just Being Difficult? post. Oh, and the safety valve knows the worst truth about the engine. And you can read my long mock-Platonic dialogue which I’m constantly flogging in public because it’s damn good and I crave attention – “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Theory For Life” (PDF). Hopefully coming out in Arion in a modified form in the not too distant future.
I’m promising to keep things positive and upbeat and constructive in future posts. Don’t smash more than two things for every one thing you build. That sort of thing.
Let me then conclude positively by acknowledging and helpfully advertising that there are, in fact, a wide variety of really great literary blogs for you to enjoy out there. Most of them are not written by academics – although many are: see CT blogroll – but it seems to me academic literary studies folks would be doing themselves a huge favor by meditating long and hard on the question: why are our journals not as exciting as these non-academic literary blogs, day after day. (Hint: the answer is NOT ‘because the journals are so much more rigorous and concerned with constructing sophisticated arguments and so forth.’ Because that answer wouldn’t be true.)
Well, here are a few of my favorites. If you have any interest in lit blogging these deserve your regular custom. And there have been mutterings lately in this crowd about where they want to take the whole thing next. So maybe they’ll humor me by offering up two-cents worth about academic literary studies.
Clearly my notion of “real scholarship” is as one with my notion of good fannishness. Again, I think of the amateurish era of Joyce studies, when the bulk of a journal could be taken up by “Notes” – aperçus, speculations, elucidations, emendations, and jokes – and its later aridity, talking long and saying little.
Grad school can’t alone be responsible for thinning that fannish energy. As proven by the tender verdancy of academic weblogs, the joy of shared discovery continues ready to burst out, given half an opportunity. There’s something herbicidal about professional academic publishing itself.
And he’s right. And that’s the sort of thing we need to discuss.
And Scott McLemee is great.
Maud Newton. She’s sort of queen bee of the bonnet. If you have any interest in this stuff, you know her already.
The Reading Experience. I have had a truly great time reading Daniel Green’s stuff for the last few weeks. Check out his open letter to Sven Birkerts. And then read the Book Forum piece by Birkerts he links to. Interesting thoughts on snark and the decline and fall of Partisan Review. And Dale Peck. And you should probably read the latest from Dale Peck on Birkerts for the full picture. Birkerts comes off smelling better. But he isn’t always right, lord knows. (Sometimes you start with “I am going to stick my neck out and just say it,” And then, at the end of paragraph one, you don’t have anything above your neck.)
That last link via the Old Hag. Who is funny.
Lat but not least: The Literary Saloon.
That should do for now. There are lots of others. Good stuff out there.