Saturday, December 30, 2006

Blog People

This morning's MLA session on "Where the Bloggers Are" featured literary academics with some of the more widely read blogs reflecting about the cultural implications of the form for both university environments and the mainstream. It started with Scott Kaufman of Acephalous, which often devotes itself to relatively abstruse literary and philosophical reflections, although the writer did achieved his fifteen minutes of fame for a posting about walking in on two students having sex in his office. Scott is also a blogger from U.C. Irvine, although we had never talked until after the session. As a blogger on the job market, he was particularly concerned with the discouraging news from Ivan Tribble's article in The Chronicle of Higher Education "Bloggers Need Not Apply," and the recent report from the MLA Taskforce on Tenure and Promotion, which indicates that even electronic publication with demonstrable institutional value continues to be undervalued by the academy.

John Holbo of The Valve has posted the draft of his paper, "Form Follows the Function of the Little Magazine," which argues that the real "vanity presses" are academic publications designed only to fill curriculum vitae for tenure and promotion, because they lack broader circulation among the general public. He proposed a different publishing model with Looking for a Fight: Is There a Republican War on Science? as an exemplar. (Holbo also writes for the political blog Crooked Timber.)

Tedra Osell of Bitch Ph.D. compared her own offerings to the blog genre to noncanonical pseudonomynous eighteenth century periodicals like The Female Tatler. It was interesting to hear how her "bitch" persona had a genealogy that went back to being pregnant and her earlier participation in informal Internet advice-sharing culture among moms. I also thought her case that blogs that use pen names and fictionalized personae to develop identity positions that were genuinely reflective of the real writers' marginalized status was provocative, and certainly true in the case of an online personality like Twisty Faster, although it's trickier to make that claim if you are talking about something like Libertarian Girl, which was actually written by a guy. I would have liked to have heard more about her survey in which 95% of female bloggers were conscious of how their writing was gendered, but only 60% of male bloggers were.

Michael Bérubé finished up the session by discussing "blogspats" and how learning the norms of taking sides could be important in academia as well, particularly when some particularly contentious long-running online battles can involve, as he said, "thirty years of feminist theory." Given my interest in how images can be arguments, I thought that there was probably more to be said about the second blogspat he mentioned, "Burqa-gate" on Pandagon. (The first concerned academic power relations and a comment he posted on Scott's blog.) If you look at the debate about the Lieberman blackface image from Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher that was posted on the Huffington post, I think that images seem to function as particularly powerful arguments in online communities. (As I've said before, I also think that part of the reason that so much of the user-generated content on the web is composed of parody material may be due to the widely-shared intuition that there is less risk of prosecutable violation of copyright law involved. ) I periodically have quibbles with Bérubé's arguments, but I was sorry to hear that he's talking about cutting back on blogging because I count on his sports prognostications to amaze my friends and family with my abilities to predict the outcomes of games.

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Blogger bitchphd said...

Yeah, but Libertarian Girl is the exception that proves the rule: it was pretty much in the vein of "using a female persona in order to satirize something." And even at the time, a lot of people saw through it. If I'd had time, I'd have talked about that and some other interesting cases of (attempted) gender obfuscation....

7:34 PM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

That's probably true, but it didn't seem to be a case that you really had time to make, which I noticed was true of most of the cyberculture panels, so I certainly wouldn't fault you for it.

Perhaps, so much background context is necessary for these papers -- on the assumption of dealing with a diverse and often print-centric MLA audience -- that speakers inevitably ran out of time.

8:15 PM  
Blogger bitchphd said...

True. I tended to assume (as did the other speakers, I think) that the audience was broadly familiar with blogging and the blog "canon." Which I think is fairly standard academic practice at any MLA panel.

12:00 PM  

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