Monday, March 17, 2008

pseudonymity and disciplinarity

In conversation with Mike Shapiro, the question came up as to whether I'd ever considered writing a non-pseudonymous academic blog. Like Mike, I admit to being deeply curious about what would happen if a modernist blogging community were to get started (as distinct, perhaps, from a more general literary theory/philosophy blog community that I'm not really invested in). So I've been thinking about his question from two directions, the academic one and the pseudonymous one.

First, pseudonymity. The reason I don't use my real name is first and foremost self-protective non-Googleability, both for employment reasons but also because my department has, in the past, not been particularly kind to grad students with blogs. One could pretty easily make the case, I think, that this is related to the content of those blogs, but the climate as a whole doesn't currently seem like a welcoming one. Finally, I can't quite remember, but it may be that when I started blogging I had been reading only pseudonymous academic blogs. That is, it wasn't clear to me there was any alternative, and I haven't found a pressing reason to switch.

That being said, I don't really care if people who first encounter me as Kermit find out my real name, where I go to school, etc. I figure if they're reading academic blogs in the first place, they're probably not about to point and laugh mockingly. (I think Dr. Crazy has managed a good balance here, in that it's not impossible to figure out what/who she works on, but it's not at the forefront.)

Second, topicality/academicity/what have you. Again, I think this has a lot to do with models: many of the blogs I was reading, and the bloggers I wanted to interact with, when I began to blog were a mixture of personal observations and discussions of work -- the process, rather than the subject matter, of teaching and writing. Now, this clearly has something to do with pseudonymity, as some people are very careful not even to reveal their discipline, much less their sub-field, online. For me, however, it had to do primarily with the fact that I wanted to join already-existing conversations that seemed trans-disciplinary. I wasn't inspired to blog by the desire to start a new conversation, in other words, and until now I wasn't sure how large the audience would be for more specifically topical writings. It may now be time for a modernist blog upsurge, in which case I'll gladly help get the party started. But I'm also reluctant to lose touch with the more generalized blog community I've felt connected to over the years with material that could be seen as overly-specialized, so I don't think I'd plan to turn this into an all-academic blog all the time.

Also, if I had to analyze my reaction to tights woman in an academical fashion, my head might explode.


Mike Shapiro said...


I've been watching my blog stats—being honest here—obsessively, and let me tell you: the audience for specifically topical writings is minute.

My biggest day of readership ever was yesterday: 70 hits, and I suspect that even though Wordpress claims it doesn't count my own visits to my blog I made so many visits it probably overwhelmed Wordpress and it stopped discerning.

If we can find the right shape for blog-based discourse, and if we can put together even a tiny community of modbloggers, then I think that will change.

That said, I wholly appreciate the value of pseudonymous blogging: I did it for about a decade, and loved it until just a year or so ago.

Perhaps you could have two identities? By day, an innocent frog on a log; by night, a daring super-analyst, defying the forces of evil and poststructuralism to keep Metropolis safe from unsound readings of 20th century literature!

Sisyphus said...

Hmm, I'd love to hear what happened with your department and the students who blogged, but then again, I like gossip.

I agree about being ungoogleable; I have to work so hard at maintaining any semblance of dignity in real life that I don't want something silly to come up when you search for my "real" academic work. So if I blogged my "work" stuff I'd have to cut back on the silliness, which seems depressing.

And, thinking about this more ---- right now people can't really call me out for talking about my experiences --- I guess they could call me a bad teacher --- but if I wrote about actual content-based stuff I'd have to, you know, bring it every time I wrote. Complete with looking stuff up and checking to make sure I'm not sounding like an idiot or being too irreverent or mocking some big name in my field and having it get back to them. (Now, I do all my mocking in hallways --- only use this on scholars who are not at your institution, btw.)

And Mike, if you come back and read this comment: I probably had 100 hits my first month of blogging. You are new, ---- new new new like a shiny penny ---- and you need to just post for a while, or whore yourself out to other bloggers for attention, before you start to get even somewhat of an audience.

kermitthefrog said...

Mmm, there's not that much gossip -- only the statement "Hey, do you know that [student X]/[student in other closely related department Y] has a blog? Have you read it? Don't you think it's strange?" And truth be told, neither is a straight-up academic blog, so I wouldn't be worried about that reaction were I to academicize, but I don't necessarily see the climate in the department as primed for seriousness.

And I do think what's giving me pause here has something to do with the seriousness issue Sisyphus brings up. Not that the tone of the writing itself would have to be serious, but there'd be an intellectual pressure that is completely lacking from my site now. On the other hand, that could be an ultimately productive thing for me. In the meantime, though, I may experiment with a few vaguely disciplinary posts -- in other words, instead of jumping into a phone booth to change my costume, I'd just put on a funny hat with a feather.

Although I can't promise you I'll defy the forces of poststructuralism any time soon. They are mighty and potent indeed. And I kind of like unsound readings.

Mike Shapiro said...

Kermit, I'd love to see you in a feathered cap!

And Sisyphus, I'm willing to wager 1¢ that even when my penny-site becomes all oxidized and crusty that there won't be mad gobs of readers rushing to read my thoughts on Kazuo Ishiguro.