Blogging: the evolving art. This blog recently and quietly celebrated its one-year anniversary. I have written before on blogging, but one thing that always strikes me about it is that is a Darwinian, inchoate genre, all over the map yet somehow, inexplicably, also instantly recognisable, at least for a certain cognoscenti. Perhaps this is because it is also, on many levels, a deeply intimate practice that has become, for better or worse, a genre with certain free-flowing conventions but remains idiosyncratic, tempestuous, slippery. This is of course what drives people absolutely mad about it, in both the good and bad senses of the term “mad.”
Today, in a preemptory birthday phone call with Philosopher Mom, who is turning 60 years old on Sunday (When did that happen?!), we talked a bit about blogging, this blog, and the developing genre, among a myriad of other topics in our quarterly telephonic catch-up. As the year has passed, and this blog has gone through several different incarnations of interest, passion, and topic, back and forth and away again, an interesting aspect of the practice has been its rigour. Critics, of course, in their snark, claim the genre is glorified electronic navel-gazing, a self-involvement that is dangerous, or at the very least a waste of time. Certainly, this is true for some, perhaps most blogs. But as I have argued before and will continue to argue, firstly the genre of weblogging is so hard to pin down it resists any clear identification (and therefore, classification), and secondly, academic blogging tends to be different in specific ways. Partly this is due to the intellectual craft we academics bring to the genre, our way with words and ideas, our familiarity and comfort with the extended idea, that adds to the weblog, expands it, and in some senses challenges it as well.
It is also, quite frankly, work. Today, in fact, Mr. Gordo shuttered his playful and literate blog, with nary a goodbye. The reasons as to why are his to comment on or ignore, however, suffice it to say that actively blogging is in fact thinking work: how to attract a readership, how to engage others in conversation, how to spark ideas (sometimes controversies), what to write about and how, as well as how to exist electronically across time and space with others (readers, comrades, friends, lovers, colleagues), who in some cases you will never meet.
I was pleased and honoured to be named by Dean Dad as one of his five “Thinking Bloggers,” a meme circulating slowly through the blogosphere. My blog, a minor star in a distant arm of the Milky Way that is the Blogosphere! Confessions of a Community College Dean was one of the first blogs I started reading when I was thinking again of approaching the genre, and has, of course, remained a stop along the primrose path of my blogging. So, following convention, I too am pleased now to name 5 other bloggers whose work challenges me, entertains me, and sparks thought, commentary, and connection. I, of course, have no idea what these bloggers look like (sauf one case), but I have appended images to their descriptions that strike me as my fantasy image-text projection of their actual physicality, in a fun and playful way. After all, we never look as good (or bad) as our best photo, in a mimetic sense (or the old adage, know the mirror you’re looking in).
What would the academic web be without Margaret Soltan? Her site is the very first bookmark on my Safari blog page, so I must have run into her early on, and have remained engaged and drawn by her fanciful, literary, and sophisticated takes on the follies and foibles of academia and the world around her. Her blog tends more to genre conventions, with short or mid-length entries often linked to current absurdities (in particular a Sporty Spice focus on the scandals, social and otherwise, of college sports), and her deliciously tart and witty commentary is never ad hominem, never gratuitous, always rightly deserved, as parsed as a masterful apple pie. As you can imagine, the salty tone agrees with me. Her commentators seem to draw from different corners of the blogosphere, which lends the conversation a unique tone. Also, she writes limericks!
Well, OK, I’ve actually on occasion seen parts of Flavia, but never the whole package, in her mysterious and fleeting photo posts. She remains a mystery, of sorts. As contrasted with the elegant razor-wire sophistication of UD, and my own rather cynical take on academia, what I always find refreshing and wonderful about F&F is the optimism. Yes, world weary like all of us at times, but F&F seems sometimes like my strange junior faculty alter-ego: Not sunny in an obsequious way, but thoughtful, positive, helpful, concerned with community and dialogue. We, of course, are connected through our pedigrees at Prestigious Eastern U (although F&F has not adopted my peculiar nomenclature for that dusty old bin, and we were there at different times: she a young lass while I was slogging through graduate school), and it was for her, in honour of discovering that connection randomly, that I wrote some of my most inspired writing last year. I consider her an interlocutor and the better part of my own dark Scorpio soul, as well as a skilled and thoughtful colleague.
I can’t remember what brought me to Sfrajett’s blog, a link someplace, one of those little mysterious random connections one can have on the Internet, that mostly lead nowhere. But perusing her posts, I became positively fascinated, and over the course of a day basically read all of her entries in her archives like Rush Limbaugh needs a Doll. Sfrajett is truly a sister in the struggle, not the least of which are our parallel lives and experiences at different institutions (i.e., trauma), which is what drew me to her in the first place, but for the beauty and introspection, at times deeply painful, that characterised her examination of the end of it all, and the beginning of the now/new: an online re-birth, the charitable not Christian kind. Currently at law school, she posts sometimes only occasionally, but remains compelling and cogent on the transformations and challenges of her life returning to the other side of the teaching proscenium as a student autre fois. Also, she’s a fabulous Sapphic Sister!
A blogging soul sister in the initial phases of this blog, it has been interesting to see the transformations of CoG over the course of the year. His blog balances camp and sobriety in a manner which is at times exhilarating and at others historian-like (well, he is an historian, so I guess it's allowed), but he never lacks for spirited commentary from his myriad (and surprisingly non-academic) readership. His audience is different, and that means on some level his blog is also different. The device of the annotated list is one of CoG’s most prominent fixtures, typically used in a clever and comic way to either comment on himself or on (especially funny) the ridiculousness of others. In fact, this blog is most of the time really funny. The blog also features extended and engaged discussions of the issues and concerns of LGBT America. CoG was one of the first bloggers to contact me offline, and although I actually know what he looks like, I prefer my private vision above (as I have a feeling he does as well). CoG will always be, on some level, my blogging soul sister, not the least of which is for his love of Tab, this post on disappointment in academia, and this other post in particular, which captures some essential being of blogging.
This blog is the most like poetry than any of the others here, a sometimes idiosyncratic combination of verse, music, politics, and prose that can deeply attract, as well as on occasion confuse, just like, in fact, a good poem. But that is part of its power. Again, I can’t remember how I came upon the blog, but reading it can sometimes feel like trying to put together a puzzle. Only after reading for awhile and putting some of the pieces together did I begin to sketch out a picture of who and what this blogger was about, and even then it is only schematic, of course. How we create image-texts in our minds is one of the more interesting aspects of Internet phenomenon, and Professor Zero combines beauty and politics in a way that is forceful but not sloganeering, a difficult balance.
Having written this list, I am struck by how difficult it is to describe why one is drawn to one blog over another, one set of thoughts over a different set of thoughts. I think Dean Dad was much more articulate than I am here. And of course, this is an incomplete list, an exercise not meant to devalue or undercut any of the other excellent blogs I read. Some of those blogs have already been mentioned/nominated, so why double-dip? I will hasten to add that a new dark horse in the Blogosphere that has me intrigued, but not familiar enough to list it above, is Not So Different, a blog about gay life and academia and, well, all sorts of things. Combat Philosopher and Tenured Radical have also been drawing more of my interest of late. Spicy! I guess that’s part of it, right? A constant shuffling and curiosity that keeps us coming back to some blogs like a homing instinct, a connection however intellectual or electronic, as well as new frontiers always presenting themselves, new communities just over the horizon. Perhaps the critics of the blog genre and of the Internet in general just cannot keep up with this promising indeterminacy.
One of the most compelling things about this list for me is that we all have, in some cases, radically different readerships and focal points. But that we would and could come together electronically is fascinating, and speaks to the connective yet elusive nature of the Internet. One thing is for sure, once you’ve crossed that particular Rubicon, you begin, as Apple once famously intoned, to Think Different.