Friday, December 21, 2007

Scholarship and blogs, part 54756

I've just finished with the page proofs for "Inventing with Animals in the Middle Ages," an essay I wrote for this forthcoming book. Like much of what I have composed recently, the piece thanks and cites this blog. The essay joins the just-out short piece "Afterward: Intertemporality" (in Eileen et al.'s Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages) and "An Unfinished Conversation about Glowing Green Bunnies" (the foreword to Noreen Giffney and Myra J. Hird's Queering the Non/Human soon to be out at Ashgate) -- along with the eventually-to-be published Weight of the Past (someday to be seen in Desiring Historicism: The Post Historical Middle Ages, ed. Sylvia Federico and Elizabeth Scala) -- as yet another product of the collaborative space In the Middle offers.

That's all very personal, I realize. Does anyone have any other tales to tell about the impact of blogs on medieval studies? [Other than SEK sending around emails about manuscript marginalia with the subject line monkey butt trumpet]


Mary Kate Hurley said...

I'm actually very glad you've brought this up, JJC. I'm in the midst of writing a short piece for the Old English Newsletter on just this topic -- well, actually, I'm more specifically talking about Old English and blogs -- but it has been something that's crossed my mind quite a bit in the last few weeks, as I've written and revised (more times than I can count -- last shot this afternoon!) my dissertation prospectus, the talk I gave at WFU, and my paper for a class I took on Time.

In terms of sheer bibligraphy, I've noticed that ITM has been crucial for me. A lot of the suggestions you, Eileen, and Karl made on my last Fragments post were things that had been lurking in the back of my mind (some of them were even lurking at the end of my orals list, and the mention of the name made me suddenly realize "Oh, wait -- that was related").

I'd also note a comment I received after the lecture at Wake from one of Dr. Overing's undergrads -- that my work for the blog seems to inform the type of scholarship I want to do. I think this is due in no small part to the role the blog has in keeping my brain working, and not simply on my dissertation. Even when I don't have anything to say about, for example, "Perceforet" or Saint Guthlac -- or when my response is muddled to the point that I feel writing things down would be near useless toward the project of expressing myself...these ideas "infect" me, I think, or at the very least, linger in my thoughts. I wonder if a part of what's really useful about the blog atmosphere is it allows for a more dynamic approach to scholarship: because I am consistently reading about things that are not only fascinating but also thought provoking, I'm pushed to make connections I might not have tried to make before.

It seems like a lot of what we do is based on a "hunch" we have, or something we notice and then track down in minute detail before we attempt to theorize. The blog and the blog world offers (and I seem to remember either you, Eileen, or Karl -- maybe all three! -- telling me this at some point) a chance to let our nascent ideas come out into the open before we've "finished" with them -- before we've made all the connections that could be made and before we've made the ideal "bulletproof". It feels counterintuitive when the "common sense" approach is that you have to protect your baby ideas until they're ready to be shown to other people in journals and the like. What's missed, then, is the opportunity for those ideas to benefit from the comments of other thinkers -- a chance to let newer perspectives influence thought from the very beginning.

It's a bit like a class, really: except with everyone taking responsibility for having something to present occasionally, food for thought for a wider community. I've always valued the "thinking on your feet" aspect of the classroom -- I actively miss it when I'm not there. I'd imagine that in the coming semester (when I'm not in any courses whatsoever, for the first time in years!), the blog-world will end up playing the role that classroom discussions have for me in the past. And like those classroom discussions, which taught me to have confidence in my ability to think out loud about texts, the blog-world will help me continue to gain confidence in my written voice, and my ability to partake in discussions in the field.

That's all a bit ephemeral, perhaps (or maybe I just feel like the dissertation still is at this point). To be refined, then, and no doubt posted here in draft form, before the deadline for the essay I'll be writing.

Eileen Joy said...

I like very much MKH's idea of this weblog as a sort of class; I would say it is also like one of those intense yet random-associative discussions a small group of people will have late at night when they are not over-worrying their citations [although, the nature of a written forum such as this means one *can* over-worry a post or a response to one--god knows I have plenty of time, but I still allow myself to mainly write without too much forethought or editing afterwards, except for typos]. I like, in other words, the "rambler" quality of this forum.

I can't even begin to acknowledge my debt to this blog as regards pretty much all of my work in the past year and plans for future work. The Palgrave book, just out ["Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages"] thanks the writers and readers of In The Middle in the Acknowledgements, and in the Intro. essay for BABEL's special issue of the "Journal of Narrative Theory," a special debt of gratitude is included in the footnotes that lists more than several of ITM's writers and readers by specific name or pseudonym. I honestly do not think that BABEL, for instance, would have the current direction it has in its projects [which includes the NEH Faculty Humanities Workshop grant as well as the recently composed proposal for the new volume, "Fragments for a History of a Vanishing Humanism"] without the input and contributions of the writers and readers of this blog who have continually helped us to be more focused and, I guess, "honest" with what it is we are attempting to do vis-a-vis a "new humanism." Likewise, my new Guthlac project, although only in a very incipient stage, has already benefited immeasurably by responses here to my Midwest MLA paper by Karl, Michael Moore, Sara Rees Jones, and Adam Roberts. There are new books on my desk thanks to recommendations from the writers and readers of this blog, all of which have profoundly affected my current research. Because of this blog, I have either read for the first time or revisited work by a wide variety of theorists who now perform crucial roles in my thinking. Well, I can't say enough about what I think is the immense value of this and other weblogs for providing a space within which ideas [for essays, for books, for dissertations, etc.] can germinate, circulate, be revised and strengthened, etc. Scholarship can often be a very lonely business, especially once our so-called "classroom" time [as a student] is over, and since we might only attend 1-2 conferences a year [and these can often be stultifyingly anti-exciting as regards new intellectual developments--it depends, of course]. Without conversation, especially among those who seek, not to tear down your ideas, but to help you make them better and more theoretically rigorous, I really don't believe there is much traction for really good work to develop its highest potential, or else whatever "victory" you do achieve with your work is, again, kind of lonely, maybe even empty. As E.M. Forster and, I believe, MKH, once said, "Only connect."