Thursday, November 01, 2007

What If the Teacher Has to Sit in the Corner?

Yesterday's panel of faculty bloggers should be available as a podcast and YouTube video webcastrelatively soon. It was a lively discussion with four very different perspectives on the relationship between blogging and the academy. Sadly, given the number of speakers, we ran out of time for audience questions. Also, Catherine Liu of Higher Yearning, who had won top honors for "rogue thought" at the MLA last year (my favorite scholarly prize), couldn't make it because of illness. We also learned that she'll be taking a hiatus from blogging as she moves into an administrative role leading the campus's Humanities Center this year. But Virtualpolitik readers will probably enjoy this panel's afterlife anyway, as soon as it is available online.

Our first speaker was Shakespeare scholar and director of the Humanities Core Course Julia Lupton of Design Your Life and D.I.Y. Kids. She described her labor of digital love with various samples of her digital personae as "not an academic blog," but an essential part of her new trade publishing enterprises that with her sister Ellen Lupton that are intended to bring principles of design, branding, and participatory culture to a broader audience. Lupton talked about the contemporary advent of media hybridity as key to her efforts to publicize her theoretical and practical materials through what she called "Printernet" ventures.

Continuing the "Printernet" theme was Scott Kaufman of Acephalous. Although he is still a graduate student working on his dissertation, Kaufman is the author of what is probably the most widely read UCI academic blog represented on our panel, with fifteen hundred readers of Acephalous and five thousand of the collaboratively written The Valve, a blog which was much-discussed at the MLA as a mode for getting academic books reviewed and marketed more successfully. Kaufman showed a primer about New Historicism from his own blog and a posting about death in Dickens from The Valve to make the point that this type of blogging was very different from the lowbrow flavor-of-the-minute likes of Boing Boing. He also discussed how these blogs relate to scholarly books from university presses like A Novel of Purpose and to online journalism, such as an abecedarium from Kaufman's blog that was republished by Inside Higher Education. (You can see a "best of" list of Kaufman's offerings here.)

The most contentious and attention-getting participant was perhaps Peter Krapp of Distraction Economy, who told the story of how his blog was born in early 2001, with the birth of a child, as a way to privately share family photos and information but quickly evolved into an academic blog about mobile media, polar media, gaming, and machinima that could serve as a "sandbox" and noteboard for ideas. In the question-and-answer session Krapp captivated students with a narrative about his dramatic show-down with a former dean after he had revealed that the university was suing the widow of famed deconstructionist philosopher and former UCI faculty member Jacques Derrida on his blog (which later evolved into a range of stories in the mainstream press about a tangentially connected sexual harassment scandal in the distant past that involved a Derrida protégé).

Since Krapp's site is momentarily down, I want to make his interesting anti-blogging text available in toto here.

top 10 reasons I don't blog anymore

thinking about what to say and show for liz losh's panel discussion on blogs at UCI today, I decided to pull together a few of the major reasons that led to the end of this blog, distraction economy. (add to this list that I thought I'd blog this list before going into the lecture hall, and then tech glitches prevented that and I got to the panel late...)

10. stats: I had been blogging here since March 2004, and elsewhere before that. but then I gave my wife a couple of domain names and hosted her blog on my server, and while my blog gets decent statistics, her blog outdoes me on all metrics by a factor of 4 to 10...

9. writing quality: how can I expect good writing from students, or for that matter from newspapers and websites, I don't practice it myself? blogs, organized about regular fast updates and quirky (or snarky) comments, are not conducive to well-wrought phrasing. prose suffers. I need to work on my prose.

8. africa: as I blogged just recently, I spent two months in africa, and it would have been both pretentious and technically challenging to try and keep up a daily post from there. the digital divide, here and abroad, is quite real still.

7. planet update: that dreaded and yet desired question, "so what are you working on now?" - I realized that even though a lot of the stuff I posted about here was directly related to my teaching and writing, there was also a lot of my work that does not show up on this blog. it started as a repository for fun facts and interesting academic stuff, and at some point I knew I was going to write this stuff up more seriously.

6. citizen journalism: when, for once, I had something newsworthy on my blog, I was actually yelled at by my (former) dean. it was a post related to my work on derrida and archives, and the derrida archives. it made national newspapers. it made colleagues mad. it made me want to stop blogging, since I learned a hard lesson about the reality of academic freedom, censorship, and self-censorship. of course I also went ahead and published my stuff on the derrida archive in an academic venue.

5. crackberry style: much of my academic administrative work is done with the aid of this gadget, and much of my non-academic life also flows through it. as a consequence, I no longer carry my laptop everywhere. (I also re-learned how to keep the gadget in a pocket and just listen to people, whether in class, at conferences, or while travelling). I don't like to blog on the blackberry. it's great for quick email and text messaging, for updating and checking my calendar. it's not a good writing instrument.

4. henry jenkins: among my many disagreements with what his work on fans, gamers, and bloggers stands for, my dissatisfaction with the "user-generated content" paradigm is by far the biggest bone to pick.

3. monobrow: by contrast with jenkins, the most recent book by geert lovink takes aim at the blogosphere, and I should copy page after page from his book "zero comment" into this post. well, blogs don't do that. one of their problematic symptoms: not enough time and space for real sustained argument. at least some other so-called "web 2.0" formats are somewhat less reductive.

2. oINK oINK: as I blogged here long ago, I really kind of hate bOiNG bOiNG, the bloggingest of all blogs. you might argue that blog criticism must join the ranks of bloggers if it hopes to reach bloggers, but I am ready to explore other means.

1. and finally, and most emphatically, top 10 lists suck. most blogs are merely listing the cool obscure. the lossy compression of thoughts and reactions to lists and rankings is one of the primary faults of blog culture: every good text is a list, but not every list is a good text.

My own presentation looked at a specific issue: how photographs function in my blog and in blogs more generally 1) to authenticate authority as a credible witness, 2) to solicit critical scrutiny from others in the name of collective intelligence, and 3) to editorialize by transforming the digital file with Photoshop. I noticed that a number of the entries now classified as "Classic Virtualpolitik," because they were more likely to be linked to by others, use Photoshop rhetorically in this way to make visual arguments.

In addition to familiar territory about how blogs subvert institutional authority, there was also some talk about how faculty blogging raises anxieties for students as well as administrators. Krapp mentioned Rate Your Students, and Kaufman's discussed the controversy over reprinting of an embarrassing e-mail from a student, even with the writer's permission.

Update: There is some legitimate criticism of the panel over at pilgrimgirl that is worth reading. In my own defense, I was moderating three panels during a two-week period in HIB 135, during a month that I added four articles to my c.v. Nonetheless, I probably could have done more to make this more of an opportunity for public interchange if I hadn't let myself be distracted by technical issues with the podcast and videotaping and had made more of an investment in publicizing a great group of bloggers. Apologies again for not making the most of the potential for audience participation.

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Blogger jana said...

Thank you for taking my comments seriously. I hope that they won't discourage you from holding future panels about academic blogging.

12:28 PM  

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