Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Isn't It Ironic? Don't Ya Think?

Edited to change opening of post because a kind reader alerted me to the fact that he figured out who I was from googling related to the opening. Not to be a bitch, but why do people even care who I am? I never google to try to figure out who people are. I thought about just leaving things as they were - I feel like everybody in the free world knows who I am anyway at this point, but I suppose an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure or something. And I, no, I'm not sure what I mean by that. But so here's the post with basically no introduction....

Why do we choose pseudonyms? What do they give us? What kinds of anxieties can they cause? How does one manage two identities - one "real" and one invented? (Or is all identity invented, blah blah blah, but I'm not talking about that right now.)

I suppose this brought me back to thinking about how 19th century novelists like Charlotte Bronte or George Eliot (whom we still know by the pseudonym, which I think is incredibly interesting, especially since we "know" it's not a man, except for I didn't know it was a woman when I had to do a book report on The Mill on the Floss as a senior in high school and, whoa, was I surprised when I found out I wasn't reading a male author) used pseudonyms.

Why choose to take a male name?
Why choose to take a name like Dr. Crazy or Bitch, Ph.D. or New Kid or Profgrrrl or Bardiac or Anastasia, or Horace, or Scrivener?

What do the names that we choose say about us? Why do we choose them? Why do we work to protect them? What power is there in a pseudonym, and what weakness?

Many have written about bloggers who use pseudonyms as doing so out of fear. Many have also noted that many bloggers (though not all) who use pseudonyms are women.

To counter this, many who use pseudonyms (including me) have talked about doing so in order to gain a certain kind of "freedom" in their writing.

Isn't this juxtaposition of fear and freedom exactly the same juxtaposition that we see with writers like Charlotte Bronte? We have Jane and we have Bertha - the good girl with some rebellious tendencies that must be mastered and the madwoman who must remain behind closed doors. Isn't this exactly what a pseudonym offers? The ability both to be good and to be mad (or bad)?

I've written about choosing this pseudonym in terms of feminism just recently. And I know I've written, whether on this blog or my previous one about pseudonyms generally. I suppose what's interesting to me in light of my recent gaffe, in light of my recent talk, is the ways in which pseudonyms allow us to move inside of certain kinds of discourse without certain kinds of repercussions. And yet, we're never without repercussions, right? We're never, ultimately, outside of power. So why even bother?

Clearly we all get something out of the pseudonym. But what, ultimately, do we get? On the one hand there is a constant fear of detection. If one, in fact, expects that one can get away without being detected. On the other, we get a certain kind of freedom to say whatever we want. Except for that's not quite right, either, since of course, once we build an online identity, it's as constraining as a real life one. As Dr. Crazy, I can't really say anything. I can say some things. Within the confines of this persona. Yes, this persona evolved when I moved addresses. Yet, just as Dr. Realname "means" something to people, so, too, does Dr. Crazy. Is there really more "freedom" with the pseudonym? Probably not. So then why? What is the payoff? Is it just a game? Is fear of getting caught part of the fun? Or is it something else that motivates us?

I don't have the answers here. I do know that I'm careless when it comes to protecting my real life identity. I have been since I started blogging. It's never been tremendously difficult for people to figure out who I am. I cared in my former space, about this carelessness; I don't really care about it at reassignedtime.blogspot.com. Carelessness, I know, from things I do in my real life, is to some extent a part of who I am. Part of what that means is that I need to deal with the consequences of my carelessness, but it also means that I have a certain fearlessness, which doesn't really go with the "I'm not blogging under my own name" profile. So if I'm not afraid, why be Dr. Crazy? If I'm not hiding something, why bother with the facade?

Maybe this has been the question for all writers who've written pseudonymously. Or maybe it's just my question. But at the end of the day, I think that maybe all of the anxiety over naming doesn't really mean much. Maybe we all exaggerate the importance of our "real" identities, or of our "pseudonymous" identities or of both in conjunction.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. :) It's fun meeting the people behind the pseudonym. Reading and discovering who that person is and looking for clues to why hey chose the nic or how the person's personality emerges. Would it be as fun if we all used conventional names (though, what's the defination of conventional?)...Sue or Anne or Kevin or Steve? Hmmmm Yes! But the nics sure would be missed. (of course there are Steves' and Sues' nics etc I'm sure!)

Ah, this topic is interesting...I'm going to continue my thoughts at my blog.

Thanks Dr. Crazy!

Nik said...

I like Joy's comment that some of the purpose behind pseudonymity is the adventure of detection.
Yesterday, when I saw the Dean Dad had linked to my blog, I was excited to be invited into the club. But then I got nervous that I'd be revealed because I'm not at all careful--in fact, I don't think I am anonymous at all. But your post made me ask "And so what if the connections are made?" What do I have to say as Otterbutt that I wouldn't say as me? At this point, even if my students discovered who I was, I wouldn't be too distressed.

ceresina said...

"On the other, we get a certain kind of freedom to say whatever we want."
Maybe it's that it's a different kind of freedom, to say something else? That is, we're free to say A but not B as Realperson, but as Pseudonym, we can say B -- but not A. (I thought Mortimer Brezny had a useful take on pseudonyms, in his comment on the post you linked to.)

Hilaire said...

Dunno what to say beyond, "I love this post." Such good questions to think about.

prefer not to say said...

You get the freedom to say whatever you want, but not the power to claim it.

In that light, psuedonymous blogging is an extraordinarily generous undertaking -- giving your thoughts to the world, and yet not getting back anything that a traditionally constructed author might give.

This allows for a meditative space in which you work to recognize what you "get back" (encouragement from your commenters, a discovery of your "own" voice -- or *A* voice at any rate, freedom to say all kinds of things we never can say in academic writing, a warm-up exercise [at least I think once New Kid OTH described this as one reward of blogging]) -- a space in which things that don't traditionally "count" as rewards get to count.

But remember -- behind namelessness isn't just fear or freedom, but also extraordinary generosity. Without a name, you don't have to keep showing up for us every day, but you still do. Without a name you could put up half-baked boring posts, but you don't.

All this talk about freedom and fear and women and powerlessness never seems to take into account the fundamental generosity of pseudonymous blogging. We can account for all the negative, self-protective factors. What we can't account for is why you keep doing this in a way that significantly benefits us.

Dr. Virago said...

What a great post, Dr. C. And it might interest you to know, on topic, that Berube just refered to you in his latest post as the blogger *formerly* known as Dr. Crazy (perhaps because he doesn't know you've only moved, not retired). So clearly, your secret is so safe with him he didn't even know you're still Crazy after all this time! (Hee!)

And I loved Prefer Not to Say's response, too. It *is* generous, isn't it? And you're one of the most generous bloggers out there.

On that note, sorry I haven't been around in the comments lately! So much good stuff to catch up on!

New Kid on the Hallway said...

prefer not to say's comment is really lovely - in itself a generous reading of blogging, focusing on what it brings to others instead of the fundamentally selfish reasons why I do it!

And I'll add another reason why I chose a pseudonym: to fit into a community that I wanted to join. It just seemed to me a norm of that community. (Okay, we can tell that I'm a conformist, right?)

Dr. Crazy said...

PNTS - Thank you so much for that lovely comment. It's so funny, I don't usually think of it as being generous because I get so much out of it. But I'm so glad others get something out of it, too.

Dr. V - I actually kind of like being the blogger formerly known as Crazy - it makes me more like Prince :) But I saw that you alerted him in the comments, and that was cool of you - I'd never have done it myself.

NK - That's one of the reasons I started with a pseudonym, too! All the cool kids were doing it!

Anonymous said...

Nik said:

"I like Joy's comment that some of the purpose behind pseudonymity is the adventure of detection."

I wasn't specifically meaning detection of the real life identity in my comment. I really mean, it's fun to learn about that person. It's like making your own impression beyond the normal face to face interactions we have with people in person. It's an adventure in it's own right.

I wrote more about my own nickname/ ideas (I'm sorry, I don't know how to do the back link thing..)

http://clearingthemist.blogspot.com/2006/11/pseudomyms-nicknames.html

Anonymous said...

Or just click on my name and follow to my blog.

grrrrr to the cut and pasting of the url above....!

Professor Zero said...

"2. I don't want to feel like this needs to be a space on which I write only "professional" material. I know - male academics write blogs under their own names and they don't stick only to "professional" topics. But let me tell you: I've got no model for that in terms of a woman doing it, and so until I become brave enough to be a pioneer in this regard, well, I will continue to stay Crazy."

This is interesting and true, and it is why I wouldn't blog under my own name, either, even if I wanted to. I have the distinct feeling I wouldn't get away with it ... even if I didn't change my content, which is not particularly libelous or anything, at all.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I blog under a pseudonym so my cats don't know what I'm up to. On a more serious note, though, I've never tried to figure our who any of my pseudonymous blog colleagues are. I'm not as careful as I could be, but it just seems to me that, if a person uses a pseudonym, it's just good manners to treat that as a boundary.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I've outed myself to a couple of other bloggers, because I saw they were coming here, and a couple have done the same to me. Otherwise: the point of a pseudonym is, it's a persona. It can be fun to meet the person behind it if that happens, but what I'm interested in is the writing itself, and the writing persona, not in "figuring out who it is."

I've got commentators b****ing about the fact that I have a pseudonym and do not say exactly where I am. (Come on, most don't reveal.) They say, how can anyone take an opinion of mine, expressed on the blog, seriously, if I won't say where I really am? !!! The funny thing is that, although I don't really want everyone to know I have the blog, my MAIN reason for having the pseudonym is to develop a certain voice, NOT to talk as just me. I'm not hiding, I'm just ... developing.

kgkgub said...

The most Irony I find in pseudonyms is the fear people use to create an outlet, and a justification of such an acquired fear. Maybe the people these people treasure the most, are the ones who know truth in its entirety of the individual, and truth can not be defined through our small conscious efforts to obtain such beyond ourselves and our own beliefs... I would say if we were to personally write an opinion in a public location under a pseudonym, it would be much easier, what’s truly easy, are we making it too easy for our own personal potential?
Irony I find is the fact that as our bodies grow we find insecurity and instability in our beliefs stemmed from fear of societies inability to accept us, yet we continue to justify such and we await to one day when ..”if only I wasn’t such a coward”. Are we purely talking from our hearts or heads? Does not ones actions remain stronger. Are we not all a bundling ball of rage, it’s the humanity and humility another appreciates, because we all know it is so hard to tell the complete and utterly painful truth.

It would be a much easier to here a truth in its entirety, yet not all is easy. We can’t control others, only ourselves. How much do we want to look back at and say I wish I had done it differently? I understand using a pseudonym for a means of self protection, While a logical sense of fear need be in place, we need not fret over such small issues as whether so and so, could connect such dots leading to our “true identity”. If we are to write something publicly behind a keyboard is that not a sense of fear itself? Fearless is the blogger who posts so much personal information openly and willingly? Rather Na├»ve, trusting of a much crueler and harsher society in which ended in initial prediction of where fears be placed by those a victim to such insignificant definitions.. Why is it so difficult to hold not a definition of someone, we define everything by shallow little letters, when can we define something out of a sense of compassion instead, and fear not our own sense of compassion? We all seem to walk our own understanding of the rough and troublous road, whether anyone’s is greater or lesser makes no difference to a character, it the idea behind the point. We are what we eat though and everything seems to be sour in society when we fear opinions and do not realize they are as we.

In case the point is not clear, it seems falling outside such a comfort zone enables a possibility for learning. Although the lesson may have its positives and negatives, it’s a lesson all the same, maybe a progressive continuous lesson, yet a fearless and fearful lesson, we must be fearful of our previous choices, in a sense that we choose to lower our pride and question ourselves, learning. This occurs for everyone before we can act upon appropriate correction to those affected by such. To say an individual should hold fear from such a situation may be accurate, yet to assume the negatives of the individuals own situation in another public situation is an attempt to redeem a sense of lost power, and self identity behind a discovered identity.

Where is the maturity in intellect, with no regards to what the fear of time has lead us to, and a strength to over come such a heightening hurdle to such things, we continue our strife to extend? People are patterns, it takes a self conscious effort for change. Strength is not defined by other opinions, maybe a egotistic sense of strength. Strength is defined through the people who willingly choose too support us and raise our tattered hopes, acquiring a lesson of strength in belief.

Something important to consider, the irrelevant reasons of why someone would choose to consider our feelings. What’s the reason? Assuming an initial impersonal stance, I do believe is fearful, yet a strong stance at that. Not a single wicked or warped person to pick the pieces of such precious thought, or to get behind deceiving wall. This must be fear.

Change is initial shock, what understanding follows such a shock, except that derived from whatever firmest of beliefs are?


Are we confined to patterns that we choose to acquire at such a young age? The age where we are taught what we believe the rest of our lives, after shock, (occurring in all our lives), which qualities do we find worthy of expressing in a public place? And if we so boldly express such an opinion to acquire a voice (strongly agree with the poster of comment subject), but why not use the voice to its complete and total ends of honesty if we have confidence in the words we write?

I aquire a voice when I write, but one I can use as a peice of thought to build off of... much as developing, yet for me to meet my ends of correct humility it must be an an honest writting.


I Appreciated this blog post, no b****ing intended, just a thought to a thought.