Scott McLemee ’s new column at Inside Higher Ed. The ethics and aesthetics of kettle chopping. Plus this bit about our kind:
For every scholar wondering how to make blogging an institutionally accredited form of professional activity, there must be several entertaining the vague hopes that it never will.
I am the former sort. But let’s consider. The concern might be that blogging will drag down the tone of scholarship. But clearly Scott has in mind the reverse concern that scholarship will drag down the tone of blogging. It is clear enough how the dynamics of obligatory overproduction – among other common, cruel disfigurements – can produce hollow but noisome artifacts such as Scott laments:
And so the implicit content of many a conference paper is not, as one
might think, "Here is my research." Rather, it is: "Here am I,
qualified and capable, performing this role, which all of us here
share, and none of us want to question too closely. So let’s get it
over with, then go out for a drink afterwards."
Let’s grant the problem (I do.) The question is whether serious, dedicated scholarly blogging – if it became the sort of thing for which one claimed a sort of steady, low-grade service credit – could avoid slipping down the same slope. The old evil: to reward x is to teach the art of simulating x. Still, I think blogging could hold its not terribly elevated ground pretty well; this is a major point in its favor.
Yes, a stampede of accredited newbie blogscholars padding CV’s with daily posts might be an unseemly spectacle. In many ways it would inevitably recapitulate all the old routines of academic comedy. Certainly there is nothing about blogging that prevents stupidity, ignorance, bad argument, inanity, bullshit (via Matt). But I think the bloggish compulsion to win and hold an audience – an audience that is presumptively a mix of academic and non – would almost inevitably breed healthy respect for teleology. And this would be likely to rub off on scholarship. (Perhaps with other bad habits to go with it, but life is complicated that way.)
Not that blogging can be scholarship, let alone supplant it. (Parellel to a popular fallacy about the capacity of blogging to replace journalism as we know it. If you’ve got no facts, the ass you check may be your own.) And, admittedly, if it became the norm for all scholarship to be shaken in brisk, brusque, bloggy fashion all manner of bruises might be inflicted on sensitive, slow scholarly growth. But I think individual injuries would heal. I think in general scholarship would not respond by studying the black arts of infotainment. No, it would go off into a huddle with itself, find something to be the point – several somethings: no doubt there would be lively disagreement – and report back to the toe-tapping bloggers.
What do you think? Would accredited scholarblogging enliven the life of the mind, saving civilization; or just spread the stain of misery, as twilight engulfs the West?
A passage from Nietzsche’s essay, "Schopenhauer as Educator" – which I taught today – seems vaguely relevant. Whatever can be the motivation for academic life?
It can hardly originate in any supposed ‘desire for truth’: for how could there exist any desire at all for cold, pure, inconsequential knowledge! What it really is that impels the servants of science is only too obvious to the unprejudiced eye: and it is very advisable to prove and dissect the men of learning themselves for once, since they for their part are quite accustomed to laying bold hands on everything in the world, even the most venerable things, and taking them to pieces. If I am to speak out, I would say this: the man of learning consists of a confused network of very various impulses and stimuli, he is an altogether impure metal. First of all there is a strong and ever more intense curiosity, the search for adventures in the domain of knowlege, the constant stimulation exercised by thte new and rare in contrast to the old and tedious. Then there is a certain drive to dialectical investigation, the huntsman’s joy in following the sly fox’s path in the realm of thought, so that it is not really truth that is sought but the seeking itself, and the main pleasure consists in the cunning tracking, encircling and correct killing. Now add to this the impulse to contradiction, the personality wanting to be aware of itself and to make itself felt in opposition to all others; the stuggle becomes a pleasure and the goal is personal victory, the struggle for truth being only a pretext. Then, the man of learning is to a great extent also motivated to the discovery of certain ‘truths’, motivated that is by his subjection to certain ruling persons, castes, opinions, churches, governments: he feels it is to his advantage to bring ‘truth’ over to their side.
What follows is a list of less essential but still frequent characteristics. ‘Eleventh, the scholar from vanity,’ so forth. Most edifying, this chemical demonstration in which a cocktail of several colorful ingredients is stirred and shaken – and the product appears so deceptively transparent!
I love that bit about the huntsman’s joy. (Scott concludes his piece with a line from a friend: "Do you think
there’s any way that intellectual life in America could become less
lonely?" Ah, perhaps the brain is always a lonely hunter.) Adapting Isaiah Berlin, it seems to me some scholar-huntsmen are fox hunters, others hedgehog hunters. That is, there are some who delight in showing the many things their prey do not know; and others who delight in showing the one big thing the prey does not know. Each method has its agonic satisfactions. (At Berkeley when I was in grad school Sam Scheffler and Barry Stroud used to do a sort of fox-hedgehog tagteam thing to any visiting speaker. Thing of beauty.)