On the 28th, when I was at MLA, I found my way into the first of the two blogging panels on which Michael Berube spoke (also with Amardeep Singh and, in a kind of "one of these things is not like the others" twist, one of my absolute favorite critics, Rita Felski, who talked about phenomenology and the role of pleasure in reading and not at all about blogging). First of all, I felt very (privately) fancy because Berube mentioned me, or, rather, Dr. Crazy. (By the way, I've been pronouncing Berube's name incorrectly in my head for years - burr-OOH-bay instead of BEAR-ooh-BAY - and yes I realize the accents -which of course I don't reproduce here because I'm too lazy - tell you how to pronounce it, but, well, all I can say in my defense is that his name was a word I'd never had cause to say except for in my head, so I didn't pay attention to the accents. Also, related to this digression, it turns out everybody pronounces "pseudonymously" as sood-AH-nihm-uhs-lee (like anonymously, I suppose) but all this time I've been pronouncing it SOO-dough-NIHM-uhs-lee, and I've got to say, while the other way does make a kind of sense, I like my way better :)
OK, that was a hugely long digression. Where was I? Oh, yes, Berube. (And should I call him Michael now? Since we've met? Probably should - and thanks again for dinner, Michael Berube! - but somehow it feels pompous to talk about him as "Michael" on the blog - like I'm trying to seem like I'm in some sort of inner circle when I'm totally not - it's just that once you meet people you generally don't call them by their last names.... Anyway for the purposes of this post, I'm going to stick with Berube, because I didn't know him when I went to the talk, and in some respects I'm using him like a critical source, so it feels more natural. I don't want to be one of those people who starts talking about critics like they're their old friends from summer camp. I hate when people do that.) Berube's paper was a version of the paper that he gave at MMLA, and so very early on, he talked about Dr. Crazy. (And how weird is it to talk about myself in the third person? All of this is really confusing.) Now, first of all, I felt really gratified by being "cited" at MLA, even if it wasn't "me" being cited but rather my blogging persona. Also, I liked the reaction Berube got when he mentioned me. But after the initial laugh-line, Berube went on to talk for a second about the title of my blog in the context of how he perceives his blogging - he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that blogging for him is reassigned time - he does not perceive it as being part of his job in a formal way, as writing books or teaching or serving on committees are.
But then, during the Q & A, a woman asked, "How do we make this (blogging) count? You know, for things like tenure?" I've got to say, when she asked the question, I thought to myself, "you just don't get it," even though I know that a lot of people are considering this question seriously and are talking about the transformative power that blogging might have in terms of what counts as scholarship. For me, though, I love that I have a public writing space that doesn't quite count - and Berube's response to the questioner was similar. He said that he doesn't at all see his blog as scholarship - if anything it would be service and public outreach - and that he's not sure that faculty members should invite administrators and those higher up in the chain of command into everything that they do. I agree with this.
The fact of the matter is that I think that my blogging would potentially be a positive if I revealed that I do so to my university (which is VERY focused on public engagement activities) but it would change the blog if I did so. As it is, this version of the blog is very toned down since the days of the Chronicles, when I really believed that people wouldn't care who I was and try to ferret out my "true" identity. Once I realized that a lot of people really do care what my "true" identity is, I did change the tone of my writing on my blog. Still, though, how much more would I have to change the blog if it was - or had to be - a professional document?
I've got to admit that I often wonder about these people who push for blogs to count as scholarship (or even for them to count in some other area of their promotion and review). Is it that they don't have enough traditional scholarship going on that they want to pad the cv with blog writing? As Berube said (either socially or at one of the panels, I'm not sure), his posts are not revised, polished pieces of academic prose, unless of course he's re-publishing his own writing that was originally produced in an academic context. The stuff that he writes for the blog might become a draft of something that he will write for academic consumption, but it's not, in itself, "finished" in the way that writing in another venue has to be. That doesn't mean that his blog is without value (some might say it has even more value, as it's not for such a specialized audience), but it does mean that it has a different kind of value than does, say, a journal article or a book.
To me, that is a good thing. I'm active in traditional scholarship, and I don't need my blog to be a vehicle for professional advancement nor do I want it to be. I like that I can put whatever I want on the blog - from silly memes and quizzes, to pics of my cat (and yes, I'll post some more of those soon), to long considerations about teaching or the profession or whatever. Perhaps the distinction between the professional me and Dr. Crazy is artificial, but I think that it helps me to feel that I have a writing space in which I'm both accountable (to readers) and in which I can play a bit (because those readers won't be evaluating my tenure file).
In thinking about it, I believe that one of the reasons that blogging is most gratifying to me is because it is "service" that is actually voluntary. I remember in a post a while ago a few people commented about the generosity of blogging, and at the time I felt sort of sheepish, like people didn't realize that I'm totally a selfish person and that I don't feel like I'm blogging for "others" in the sense of being some kind of do-gooder. But then I realized when at MLA and while talking to the bloggers I met that in fact my blog counts as the purest service I do. In my job, I've come to equate service with the following: obligation, bureaucracy, tedium, feeling burdened, pressure, and a slew of other pretty negative things. Service is the part of my job that I most resent, mainly because I feel like service at my institution is compulsory, which pretty much goes against what I think "service" is supposed to mean. Now, I'm not such a brat that I don't realize that one has to perform service activities to keep universities running, but I think that when junior faculty aren't protected from certain kinds of service and when service is construed as something that has nothing to do with one's passions and interests, that it becomes less and less likely that individuals will find "service" gratifying. In contrast, what I do on this blog? I think this is what service is supposed to feel like. I'm doing something that doesn't "count" - that isn't intended as a line on a cv and that isn't conceived as something about which I have no passion, a compulsory activity. At the same time, though, I am being a "public intellectual" - I'm putting a face on this profession (even if, ironically, that face is something most readers have to imagine), and that is a good thing for undergraduates, graduate students, non-academics, or even people higher up on the academic food chain who don't know what working conditions are for junior professors at certain kinds of institutions.
My blogging "counts" in really important ways, even if it doesn't "count" for the academic me that stands behind the pseudonym in terms of professional advancement. I suppose the fact that Berube mentioned Dr. Crazy was a testament to just how much it counts - as was the excitement that people to whom I revealed my identity expressed when they found out that I am not just a literary scholar and a professor and a teacher but also that I am "Dr. Crazy."
Will I ever blog under my own name, the name by which students and colleagues know me professionally? I think a lot about that. I suspect that when I get tenure, I might make the choice to reveal publicly who "Dr. Crazy" is. But will I give up the moniker? I don't think so. Not to give too much importance to the identity of "Dr. Crazy," but I think that "Dr. Crazy" is an important figure for a lot of people, and I think if I took away the Crazy and replaced it with my actual name that something would be lost. I think that this blog might become the kind of service that I despise rather than the kind that I seek out. That said, it was nice to let some people know who Dr. Crazy is - to be able to talk about what I'm doing as Dr. Crazy openly - if only for a few days. It was nice to be part of a community of people who are doing the same thing, in person and as people rather than as disembodied voices.
Should everybody run out and start a blog? Not necessarily. For some, the genre is constraining and creates unnecessary pressure, making them feel more pressure to write (and not a good kind) and pressure to acquire more readers, etc. For me, though, the genre has been freeing. It's taught me to write in ways that are accessible (and I hope smart at the same time). It's given me confidence as a thinker when I didn't used to have much confidence in myself in that regard. It's given me a community of people whom I'd never have met without this virtual identity.
I've got more to say about MLA and about blogging, but I think I'll sign off for now. I suppose my point at the end of this post is this: blogging DOES have value - precisely because it doesn't "count" in traditional ways. What I hope happens, as this genre expands and becomes more firmly entrenched in academic culture, is that we find a way to retain space for blogs that don't necessarily count in those traditional ways, while making room for blogs that do count in more traditional ways. I'm not sure why it has to be one or the other.
5 years ago