Monday, November 13, 2006

Straight Outta Chicago: Streisand Meets Berube On the Way to the Blogosphere

I am just returned from the annual meeting of the Midwest MLA [Palmer House Hilton, Chicago], where Michael Berube gave the "President's Keynote Address" on Friday evening, entitled "Professors at Work." We had no idea what this was going to be about, and as it turns out, we're not entirely sure Prof. Berube knew either, but some of what he had to say will interest readers of this blog, I think.

The first half of Berube's talk appeared to be a mainly humorous riff on popular culture representations of professors, during which he showed clips of Streisand leading a class discussion on the mythology of love in The Mirror Has Two Faces [during which scene, the medievalish words "Chretien de Troyes" and "Lancelot" are clearly visible on the blackboard] and of Professor Snape [played by Alan Rickman] terrorizing Harry Potter in the classroom [Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone]. Berube then switched gears, without much of a transition, to the subject of the inhumanity of the humanities [i.e., all the ways in which universities seem to be designed to maximize cruelty to others, especially during job searches], and to illustrate this point we got clips from Babe and Toy Story [please don't ask which ones: suffice to say, that one clip involved a wild dog trying to tear a toy apart with his gnashing teeth]. All of this, as it turned out, did not really have much to do with what the REAL topic of his talk turned out to be: academic blogs.

Yes, that's right, the main topic of Berube's M/MLA keynote address was academic blogs and how, if you really want to see "professors at work," you've got to travel to the wild and wonderful world of the academic blogosphere, the production of and traffic in which Berube compared to the emergence of print culture in the late medieval/early modern period. So, number one point: it's possible that, historically, and in relation to issues of cultural literacy in general and public intellectual blathering more particularly, blogs could be very very important, indeed. But Prof. Berube also did not want, I think, to make too much of academic blogs, in the sense that--at least for now--they may not count for much in the way of publishing-toward-tenure, although he did take great pains to point out how much intellectual discussion & important critical debate is happening on blogs that isn't happening anywhere else. By way of example, Prof. Berube shared that, in one case, a scientist whom he had been criticizing on his blog [can't recall name] actually joined in the discussion at one point and that the comment thread on that discussion exceeded 150 posts. I, myself, have also noted that, just this past Friday [Nov. 10], Berube's blog, Le Blogue Berube [haha], had its five millionth visitor [yes, that's impressive]. Five million. Wow. Berube mentioned that he himself spends about two hours each day writing for his blog, although he readily admits that as a tenured, advanced professor, he has the luxury of choosing to do so.

By way of classifying academic blogs, Berube said there are two kinds: the "raw" and the "cooked." "Cooked" blogs are highly sophisticated and have posts that are much like polished, full-length essays [the best of these, according to Berube, are blogs such as Crooked Timber and The Valve]. "Raw" blogs mainly focus on random personal musings and, in Berube's mind, often aren't worth the trouble [examples of these, according to Berube, are . . . guess what? I'm not going to mention them because I don't believe in repeating that kind of negative critique--let's just say that the blogs we link to here at In The Middle provide a good sampling of both types, if we follow Berube's lead on this]. In The Middle wasn't mentioned at all: damn! Berube thinks blogs provide excellent professionalization venues for especiallly smart and talented graduate students [his favorite is Eric Scott Kaufmann, who participates on The Valve and also has his own blog, Acephalous]. Finally, Berube has no problem with anonymous blogging, especially for graduate students and the untenured: if it was good enough for classical authors, it should be good enough for all of us.

So, there you have it. I'm sure I left some things out--if anyone else was there with me in the audience and remembers something I haven't, please jump in and add, emend, and criticize! The upshot of the whole talk seemed to be something along the lines of "blogs are extremely important venues for intellectual work, and are even generating audiences regular academic publishing does not generate, yet are still not taken seriously enough by some, and who really has the time?" Who, indeed?


Michael Bérubé said...

Hi! Dang these "in the middle" blogs, moving at the lightning speed of . . . um . . . blogs. Thanks for coming to my talk! One quick thing, though: I actually didn't say that "raw" blogs aren't worth the trouble. I thought I was saying they were. In fact, I said (and this is from the text of the talk, right here on my hard drive): "I don’t think that raw blogs are any less substantial or important than cooked blogs when it comes to demonstrating what professors do. On the contrary. They combine serious reflections on teaching and writing with questions about how to cope with academe, with being single (male or female) in a small town, with having a stack of papers at one’s elbow, with juggling conference presentations and committee assignments and complicated families and vaguely unsettling department chairs. The early blog by the professor known only as the Invisible Adjunct was a pioneer in this genre, and she inspired literally hundreds if not thousands of professors to follow in her bloggy footsteps. As a result, many young scholars and graduate students have established online networks and clusters of virtual friends with whom they exchange career advice, teaching suggestions, and sympathetic commentary on how to balance one’s life and work in a profession that usually keeps one well off balance. About those blogs all I can say is: boy, am I jealous. We never had anything like that when we were the new kids on the hallway."

And I did too know what my talk was about. Did, did, did.

Eileen Joy said...

Wow--not only are you probably the most prolific blogger in the universe, but you are also an omnivorous reader [but we knew that about you, by the way]. Thank you thank you [immensely--seriously] for the correction regarding "raw" blogs. One of the dangers is trying to rehash a talk you heard Friday evening on Monday morning [with many beers and other chores inbetween] is that you're certain to get something wrong. I, too, was a great fan of the Invisible Adjunct and actually presented a paper at a medieval studies conference a couple of years ago about how post-feminist critique was not paying enough attention to her [and others like her]. And okay, of course you knew what your talk was about: I mainly meant to imply that, as someone in the audience, I wasn't entirely sure that all parts of the talk fit together [perhaps they don't need to, or they DO, and I just didn't "get it"], and that the main purpose seemed to be to highlight the very real and important academic work happening on blogs [which I couldn't agree with more]. Cheers, Eileen

Karl Steel said...

Thanks Eileen for posting this! And MB (who already knows I'm a huge fan), thanks for stopping by.

Another huge advantage of academic blogs is to keep up our contacts within the profession between conferences. If you're the only medievalist in the department--JJC, Dr Virago, and, maybe, Eileen (I'm guessing so), or, if you're like me, a grad student who's so far out the door that he virtually never sees any of his colleagues--a blog's of enormous value, both to see what's new in the profession and, perhaps most importantly, to diminish our sense of isolation.

I suppose I want to know about the "anti-academic-blogging" contingent. Is there such a thing? What are their complaints?

(decided to go with a new picture. I wanted "sardonic." "Sleepy" might be what that is, though)

Eileen Joy said...

All I can say [for now] about anti-academic blogging contingent [at least, among group I hung out with at M/MLA] is that their complaints mainly have to do with time--who really has time to either write or read blogs, or post to them, keep up with various comment threads, etc., and who is going to care if you do or don't? I must admit, about a year ago, I felt the same [and for similar reasons, I did not possess a cell phone]--there are occasions when I think the greatest burden of modernity is information overload: I'm jittery and anxious with all the cool stuff out there I need to keep up with and sometimes I just want a quiet space and some relic of classical beauty to calm my nerves and clear out my head. But Prof. Berube's points last Friday regarding the growing readership for blogs--especially the good ones--should give us pause. We Literary critics/historians, especially, are always whining about wanting our work to be "relevant," but what's the typical audience of an article published in "Speculum," and how often do you really get to meet and chat with your so-called readership? Blogs very frutifully cut through much of the deadening [and I would argue, misanthropic] isolation of academic life--I kept thinking, while listening to Berube on Friday, that another apt analogy for blogs [in addition to the emergence of print culture in early modern period] is the coffee-house & broadsheet culture of 18th-century England [only, their overall historical impact was less and they were, perhaps, too "clubby"]. In any case, if it's tenure we're worried about [and I ain't and I never will be], then right now, blogs may not help us much, but if it's an authentic intellectual life you're after, one that includes real fellowship and amity and invigorating debate and possibly even cultural "relevance," then blogs, in my opinion, are definitely where it's at.

Karl Steel said...

Eileen, yes, yes, I agree absolutely. The give and take on blogs is so much more flexible and, yes, generous than it has been on, say, listservs.

You know, there is at least a latent professional value to academic blogging. If we know what our colleagues are doing, and vice versa, and we get a sense of what they're like in a more informal setting than, say, a Speculum article, we're not only going to be able to pass work on to them, but we're also going to know whether or not we want to pass work onto them. That, at any rate, is an advantage to blogging under one's proper name (which I almost do).
An aside: This sentence just jumped out at me:
to the subject of the inhumanity of the humanities

Can't quite recall, but doesn't Ruth Mazo Karras, in her chapter on student culture in From boys to men : formations of masculinity in late medieval Europe, talk about humiliation rituals of students in which beginning students suffer costumes of 'animal' horns that they lose as they advance in study/reputation? Book's at home on the shelf, but if I'm right, we have a rather literal, systemic figuring of students as inhuman.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

since I've been blogging for over 5 years and am still very 'raw' more often than 'cooked', I'm glad Michael B. didn't say stuff like mine wasn't worth the time. Otherwise I'd be seriously bummed out.

Michael Bérubé said...

I wasn't entirely sure that all parts of the talk fit together [perhaps they don't need to, or they DO, and I just didn't "get it"], and that the main purpose seemed to be to highlight the very real and important academic work happening on blogs.

No, they didn't really fit together in any argumentative way. Here's what I was thinking: the first twenty minutes were dinner-hour amusement (because the keynote was scheduled for the awkward time of 6:30 - 8 pm), facetiously arguing that because there are no remotely realistic portrayals of the lives of professors and graduate students in American film, we have to turn to scenes in Babe and Toy Story as oblique allegories instead. The second twenty minutes were about the way professors and graduate students represent themselves on blogs, be they raw, cooked, and half-baked.

Oh, and Scott Eric Kaufmann spells his name with three n's. Just so you know.

Eileen Joy said...

Okay; I see now that Scott Eric Kaufman spells his name with four, I mean, one "n". You were, Prof. Berube, amusing, and it *was* appreciated, being so near the dinner hour. As to my somewhat faulty memory, I blame Stella Artois.

Scott Eric Kaufman said...

I knew there was some reason my nose (or that of someone very much like me) was itching. First, I should thank Michael for the compliment. Second, I wanted to address another point, but in such a way that I don't divulge everything I plan on saying when Michael and I rock the MLA. So:

We Literary critics/historians, especially, are always whining about wanting our work to be "relevant," but what's the typical audience of an article published in "Speculum," and how often do you really get to meet and chat with your so-called readership? Blogs very frutifully cut through much of the deadening [and I would argue, misanthropic] isolation of academic life...

You know, every time I've written about an academic article, I've eventually heard from its author. (Unless they're dead, of course.) This has helped me create a large network of contacts both within my field and in a number of others, all of whom are interested and invested in my work. This isn't a function of co-blogging at a high profile blog, either, what with Google Blog Search out there. Any time you write about anyone, you create the possibility of entering a dialog with them. (Even if, as recently happened to a friend of mine, that person is a "name" like Stanley Fish.)

While this could be a horrifying situation--you vent, the author arrives, reads, is furious, &c.--for the most part even when I criticize someone harshly, so long as I do it fairly, they're likely to respond with enthusiasm:

"Someone thinks enough of the thing they toiled over to criticize it? Awesome! Let's argue!"

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Wow! You spend a day writing letters of recommendation, consoling a student who'd come out to parents only to have tuition yanked, evaluating job applications, designing a new course, ameliorating a mutiny in a colleague's class ... and then coming home to find your daughter dressed as a dinosaur and unwilling to remove the costume ... and WHAM while all this is going on Michael Berube stops by In the Middle.

Who is this Michael Berube? Is he a medievalist? Is he French? Actually, it's great that someone who has so inspired us Little Bloggers descends from the empyrean every now and then to mingle. And I must ask: where was Sean Connery in your clips of professors on film? He was cruel (made baby Indie count to ten in Greek to clam his anger) but also cool. Plus he found the Holy Grail.

Since we're talking about the use of blogs, it seems to me that they are mainly the preserve of the young. Senior faculty like Professor Berube and, um, me -- one foot in the grave and months away from the drool bucket -- aren't all that typical. What I like about the blogs I read is that they provide perspectives on what is emergent, exciting, the future of the discipline. They're good reminders too of how much struggle it takes to reach a place in your academic life when you actually feel secure.

As to Eileen dissing Speculum: hey, lady, let's not forget that the first time we ever corresponded was not over blogging, but over a certain Speculum article many moons ago. You may have cancelled your subscription but I think the future is bright for this journal of OB/GYNs. That is where it gets its title, right? (See April 1993 issue for complete examination of this fascinating topic).

Karl: your new picture is too realistic and therefore too creepy. Please replace it.

Scott: if you want to see a senior scholar who has Googled himself and gotten cranky on In the Middle, check this out.

One question: is In the Middle the raw or the cooked? Or simply half baked?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

PS Sean Connery did not force clams upon Little Indie (River Phoenix, RIP). He CALMED him via recitation of Greek, he did not mollusk him.

Scott Eric Kaufman said...

The "serious" answer would be, well, I think most blogs move between raw, rare, medium and well done. I mean, sometimes I even talk about myself, and I'm usually completely baked. (Joke? What joke?) But the point I made in that post--that I'm not an online diarist, and that even when I appear to be, I want to be sure the post is formally interesting in some way--applies here, too. Even when one of you writes about yourself, you do so with an eye to the audience, not confessionally.

On the subject of confessions, one reason I wrote that post up there was because I wanted to tell The Story of the Time I Went to Lunch with Kevin Drum and Was Seated Next to Danny Bonaduce. I couldn't figure out any compelling way to tell that story, so I played it straight. Which (maybe) worked because at this point people expect the twist I didn't provide. So you see, it's all about expectations and genre.

That story, by the way, isn't academic per se, but I write the occasional post like it to assuage, indirectly, the people who email me mid-nervous-breakdowns because they think I wrote something smart or read as widely as Michael. Sometimes a little public self-deprecation can save your readers some pain--because one thing they don't often consider is that when you write about your research, well, you're going to sound like you know what you're talking about. This is partly the inspiration behind my Keats initiative, all the posts of which are linked to in the introduction to that one, if you're interested. The one downside to academic blogging may be that while it humanizes other people in the field, reading "cooked" sites can exacerbate the fears that plague any first-year graduate student. Wait, am I saying we have a responsibility to seem stupid? That's absurd.

This comment is supremely raw. Consume it at your own risk.

Steve Muhlberger said...

My academic blog is not about my life as an academic, and it only has a little diary content. (Google "Blue Sunset" for an example.

I think blogs can be like the fruitful if rather short conversation that you might have with a colleague or a student, only a bit more permanent, and a lot more widely shared.

I hope that my students in particular will get a little more out of their contact with me because I've got the blog.

And at the moment it is the most rewarding part of my academic life -- a combination of spontenaity and discipline (avoiding too much me, me, me).

Eileen Joy said...

Scott--thanks for joining the discussion, and I apologize for initially adding an "n" to your last name and also confusing your first and middle name. Whew. What else have I done to you? I agree that sometimes "cooked" sites are so good and polished [and even of published, peer-reviewed journal-like quality] that they can seem daunting to graduate students, and hell, even to professors. The Valve is a little bit like that sometimes, but they engage in silliness sometimes, too. Ultimately, I really appreciate the more "cooked" blogs' willingness and effort to create the kinds of discussion threads that can't happen anywhere else--whether in a classroom, at a conference, or in a journal [because they can be sustained over several days and be picked up on again and again in different contexts, and if the bloggers are serious enough about them, they can be very well written, indeed--in other words, comments are somewhat prepared, not just spontaneous bursts of verbiage--and all of this, nevertheless, somehow feels more "real-time" than discussions we can have in other venues, even when it's not really "real-time," but is, rather, "slo-mo real time with a working script-in-progress"]. I tire of conferences because they often feel too artificial [and are, let's face it, mainly boring as hell]--people rush into a room, talk for an hour-and-a-half, then rush out again, maybe discuss things a bit more over a beer, maybe not. I think what I am trying to say, but not very well, is that I appreciate blogs for their "curating" of sustained intellectual discussion in a format much closer to "real time" than publication in a journal, or even a newspaper.

As to what In The Middle is, JJC--raw, cooked, or half-baked--I think we skirt that "middle ground" [yes, I said that] between the raw and the cooked every day: we share stories about our personal lives, excerpts from works-in-progress, write polished mini-essays just for the blog, and occasionally engage in prolonged discussion and debate in comment threads. And I seriously cannot believe that you remember that I first contacted you because of an article you wrote for "Speculum"! Yes, it's true, dammit--I *did* do that. So yes, I am the kind of person, at least, who will write someone because of something they wrote in a more traditional venue--it's just a longer route to the kind of professional dialogue that blogs facilitate with more speed. I think Steve Muhlberger said it best:

"I think blogs can be like the fruitful if rather short conversation that you might have with a colleague or a student, only a bit more permanent, and a lot more widely shared." Exactly. Your blog rocks, by the way: I like the mix of pedagogy, reviews of scholarship, early history, and contemporary politics.

Karl Steel said...

More to say tomorrow, but I just want to torment JJC with a new picture. You want the Uncanny Vally? Okay. You got it.

(PS: was that really Haidu himself? Good lord. Even the great ones google themselves. As for the coming out story: oy. What a catastrophe.)

(PPS: I wouldn't say conferences are 'artificial'--because, you know, I'm suspicious (aren't we all) of the natural, the authentic, etc. -- as they are ineffective for doing the sort of things blogs do. And where blogs differ from Coffee Houses, is #1, blogs won't save the world (my nod to Habermas), and #2, they're more democratic (anyone can get involved in reading these or even commenting on them, so long as they have internet access. No need to live in the cultural centers with the good coffee houses), and, #3, what we do here is more or less permanent or, at least, far less effervescent than what is, after all, only conversation. I say, up with blogs, whether cooked, raw, rotten, exogamous, endogamous, or whatever structural hooha you want to stuff them with. I'm grousing, EJ, only because I've been agreeing with you non-stop all through the thread, and I thought I'd try the 'grouchy' angle.)

More tomorrow, after I follow everyone's links.

Anonymous said...

Heh, reading this post I was ready to regret being flattered by being invoked in MB's speech (one of the additional pluses of blogs is that a commenter can tell you when this happens); thankfully, reading the comments, I can be relieved!

Raw/cooked is an interesting analogy - I admire the cooked blogs immensely and secretly aspire to produce one. But honestly, I'm too lazy. While sometimes even I'm turned off by my own "me, me, me," I actually kind of agree with Scott's comment about our responsibility to look stupid. It sounds so terrible that way! But I feel like one of my goals is to be Toto pulling aside the curtain hiding the Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz - I think the raw blogs can demystify something that often seems very mysterious.

Of course, that tells you something about who I want to talk to...

And yes, Karras does make such an argument about the humanization of university students (the formation of masculinity as opposed to bestiality; in the knightly context it's about forming men as opposed to women, in the urban guild context it's forming men as opposed to boys, and in the university context, it's creating men as opposed to animals). You'd like to think things have changed...

Karl Steel said...

er. glad to see I got that Karras right. But, having just come from a spelling bee, I of course got a certain word wrong.

N50 said...

Admire cooked, mostly dish raw - but then in some ways it is better for you. Cooked stuff I can read in Speculum etc - where it is more polished and edited and generally easier on the eye - and mostly online in much the same way as a blog these days.

Raw can be penetrating, insightful and ... fluffy. The kind of thing you get in real conversation (something I think that most academics wherever they are have less of nowadays).

and hey - n50 is young is it - of course it is!

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Eileen Joy began her first email to me as follows:

something tells me you have probably already made the connection, but the news
today about the outbreak of mob violence between Albanians and Serbians in Kosovo related to the drowning deaths of three Albanian boys (supposedly chased into the water by gun-wielding Serbs) instantly made me think of your recent Speculum article, "The Flow of Blood in Norwich."

I had not drawn the connection, and the email made me think: wow! Someone actually conjoined the contemporary and the medieval through the kind of bond I was hoping to foster in that stuffy article in a stuffy journal (the essay itself is very medieval and historicist, but is also in some ways a roman à clef about the aftermath of 9/11 in the US). I also thought: that's what is great about email, it leads to interconnections that chance conference conversation and encounter might, but does so with more permanence and thoughtfulness. All praise email! (NOTE: I never say that any more. My email is a spigot that I cannot turn off. Its flood makes my shriner morose.)

Eileen's email propelled interconnection presented a realization and desire, too, that encouraged me to start this blog about a year ago.

My earliest posts were quite cooked (overdone, sometimes), but have become more tartare as sabbatical ended and chairship of a sprawling department began. I've loved having the group format because it has (1) shared the burden and (2) ensured that the blog isn't only about some absent minded professor and his obnoxious children and (3) allowed many stages of the career and several permutations of how to do medieval and literary and historical studies to be discussed. Plus Karl andf Eileen are damn smart; I enjoy their posts immensely.

I also never aspired to be a brand like Le Bérubé. He is just too cool for medievalist emulation.

So, raw and cooked: blogs must be both. Like sushi (and therefore should be avoised by the pregnant or salmonella-fearing).

Jeffrey Cohen said...

AVOIDED, not avoised. Geesh. RAW.

Karl Steel said...


Wait, am I saying we have a responsibility to seem stupid? That's absurd.

Toto pulling aside the curtain hiding the Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz - I think the raw blogs can demystify something that often seems very mysterious.

I like approach #2. Part of the value of an academic blog is being able to present work that's only 1/2 worked out. Although conferences might seem a value to try things on and to solicit expertise from the audience, in practice, I've seen (and delivered) only good papers or papers that try too hard, with not much in between. Here, we're allowed to be tentative; not to know things; not to be quite sure what our argument is. Apart from actual conversations, I can't think of any other academic venue that allows for, even encourages, that level of uncertainty. Why encourage? Because a blog isn't just an opportunity to present data, interpretations, etc. It's an opportunity to engage in conversations. Being tentative, rather than sealing the post with a neat conclusion (like my recent carrion post), is a better way to get the conversation moving.

Filmic presentations of professors. Berube included only American cinema, and I think we might limit it to professors of humanities, but I of course want to say: okay, humanities, but let's include the rest of the world. I can think of a one off hand:

Immanual Rath (played by Emile Jannings) in The Blue Angel

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

There are others I haven't seen: When Night is Falling, Possession, and, uh, I'm tapped for now. Can't think of ANY from the 70s, and all I get from the 80s, off hand, is Dead Poet's Society, which I'd rather forget.

Scott Eric Kaufman said...

So now y'all have really got me thinking. Fortunately, this counts as "work" since I'm presenting its results at the MLA. (whew) So I wanted to try and quantify my own production, since I've been trying to do things with numbers—count the number of people who read me at Acephalous, the Valve; the ratio of commenters to lurkers; the number of academic blogs out there, &c.—I decided to skim through my "Greatest Hits" post and see what the ratio of serious to silly posts. The "Yes, I'm Humoring You" category contains thirty-five posts. Of them, some are obviously cooked, like the "How to Open an Academic Essay: The Series," but others aren't obviously not, pertaining as they do to academic life, like "A Day in the Life of your Average Academic," "Acephalous' Index" and "Save Academic Freedom: Expel Hippies, Communists from UCLA." (Funny story about that last one: My wife was taking a seminar with the prominent medievalist mentioned in that post, and it made the rounds at UCLA. So there she was, sitting in class, when BAM! it dawned on her what they were talking about. Lucky for her, he got the joke, but she still didn’t want to speak up and say who wrote. I only mention this because it speaks to the outsider status of blogs, even when they're marshaled in defense of academic institutions.) And some of it is typical academic gossip about academic celebrities defacing your books, meeting people who claim not to know you, graduate students demanding fun, and undergradutates who behave abominably and write even worse. Still, mostly about academic life, with a few excursions into popular culture—twenty-six out of thirty-six, it seems, are "cooked" to one degree or another. (Sometimes that cooking is merely formal, as I discussed earlier, i.e. executed with enough of a gimmick to remove some of its rawness. The "Narcissism Unleashed" category, on the other hand, consists of twenty-three posts, only nine of which are formally interesting. The "Pedantic, But Effective" category is almost entirely "cooked," consisting of theory posts, cultural studies work on popular culture ("Comic Book Rape, "Deadwood and to whom its Dialogue is Beholden," &c.), interesting dissertation finds that don't belong in the dissertation and my various hobbyhorses (Gene Wolfe, Don DeLillo, psychoanalysis, identity politics, &c.). All in all then, if my blog has professionalized me, it's done so in ways that somewhat mirror the typical graduate school experience:

1. The gentle mockery of undergraduates.

2. The gentle mockery of graduate students.

3. Self-immolation. (Talk about pulling the curtain aside...)

4. The development of thought. (From rabidly to mildly anti-psychoanalysis, &c.)

5. The writing of the dissertation and concomitant frustrations.

Only, instead of these ventings being unthinking and ephemeral, they were the product of sustained thought. Without tooting my own horn too loudly, I think that distinction important. Who puts thought into an exhalation about student writing in the graduate reading room? No one. That also means they don't probe their complaints, don't toss them around, try to do justice before savaging them, &c. Because I'm cognizant of the potential permanence of what I've write, I'm careful about making sure that my complaints have justice—that they're more substantial than the average ventilation. This means that I do think about certain aspects of academic life more than my fellow graduate students; but it does not mean I make more of it than they do, just that I spend more time than I would otherwise. Some of my compatriots accomplish far more in a far shorter period of time, but I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them were it not for the blogging. So, maybe, mostly cooked blogging is a self-conscious, self-critical crutch for middling graduate students? In short, then, I absolutely agree with Eileen:

I really appreciate the more "cooked" blogs' willingness and effort to create the kinds of discussion threads that can't happen anywhere else--whether in a classroom, at a conference, or in a journal [because they can be sustained over several days and be picked up on again and again in different contexts, and if the bloggers are serious enough about them, they can be very well written, indeed--in other words, comments are somewhat prepared, not just spontaneous bursts of verbiage--and all of this, nevertheless, somehow feels more "real-time" than discussions we can have in other venues, even when it's not really "real-time," but is, rather, "slo-mo real time with a working script-in-progress"]

That said, I agree with Karl:

Being tentative, rather than sealing the post with a neat conclusion (like my recent carrion post), is a better way to get the conversation moving.

Blogging allows us to test fields which may otherwise have remained fallow. I know that some of the conversations I've had with tenured faculty members from other institutions are utterly unlike those I'd carry on with people here at UCI. Not because people at UCI aren't good people—they certainly are—but the bureaucracy always gets in the way. There's a professional barrier between people at your home institutions and those at others. Not to mention that speaking to people elsewhere avoids the whole problem of negotiating interdepartmental feuds. I can talk to Scholar X, an expert on Y, in Wisconsin in a way that I can't talk to Scholar A, also an expert on Y, at UCI because my advisor and/or committee member has a poor working relationship with him or her. (This isn't actually a problem for me, but I know it's something that's arisen with other students and could be a potential benefit of increasing the size of one's personal academic community.)

I hope that my students in particular will get a little more out of their contact with me because I've got the blog.

Steve, I wonder if you could expand on this. I haven't taught a course in my field since I've been blogging, so I'm not sure what the interactive dynamics would be there. (I started blogging long after becoming semi-permanently affiliated with the literary journalism department, so my students were invested in the writing exercises and formal experiments, but not the content of, say, my dissertation.)

P.S. I apologize for the egregious linking. I'm simultaneously writing this here and as a (future) post for my place—not to mention an MLA presentation—and I'm trying to be efficient for once. I'll stop, or link to my post itself if the links offend. (And if they do, feel free to delete the comment.)

N50 said...

I think there is more cooked blogging from US than UK academics (and I mean place of work not nationality). I suspect this is explained by three letters: RAE

Anonymous said...

OK, way to much homework for my class in a few hours to really respond with my own bloggish musings, but I have to say, quickly -- Karl, the uncanny valley link is seriously great. Seems one can graph anything these days! Thanks for it!

More later, I hope ...

Jeffrey Cohen said...

The linking is good, SEK, it brings more readers into the conversation, and takes this blog out of the medieval ghetto. You've done a good job of outlining what is valuable about blogs, especially because they do bring a fuller picture of the academic world to those who might not otherwise see its tribulations and minor triumphs, and they do allow a space for experimenting with a research agenda. If there is a pitfall it is the tendency to preach to the converted.

Liza, I second the motion on thanks to Karl for the Uncanny Valley reference. I love the crazy graph that goes with the wikipedia article. Any graph that includes "zombies" is OK by me.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Oh, and N50, could you say a bit more about how the RAE inhibits cooked blogs? By demanding so much time be placed in conventional publication?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Lastly, a warm WELCOME to all who followed Le Bérubé's link. Please look around.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion. I was going to contribute something of substance, but have been completely derailed by seething resentment that Karl still gets to go to a spelling bee, whereas the one I was going to in Raleigh, NC was canceled on account of grad school. The organizer, that is, was about to begin it and decided she didn't have time to organize it. They asked me to keep it running, but I declined on account of visiting assistant professorship. Darn you, academe!

I want my spelling bee back. I have no interest in organizing one, anyway: what I want is to KICK BUTT.


--Amanda French

A. G. Rud said...

My good friend Corax here showed clips from Mirror Has Two Faces for a talk on professors on film, where Queen Bee goes over the top about love to the lecture hall, contrasting it to the cardboardy stiff style of Bridges in an earlier clip. I read a summary of the film, and "romantic comedy" put me on alert, and as I suspected, little does the film have to do with higher education, though that teaching clip is fun, if you can shade your eyes from too much Barbra.

But I wonder about this in MB's comment: "...facetiously arguing that because there are no remotely realistic portrayals of the lives of professors and graduate students in American film, we have to turn to scenes in Babe and Toy Story as oblique allegories instead."

Is it just impossible to do a realistic portrayal on film? Moo and Straight Man come pretty close to realism for me as I sit here in ye olde land grant. Why can't such be done on screen?

PS: This is a cool blog, the medievalists can be fun here at Purdue too.

Eileen Joy said...

A.G. Rud--thanks for joining this discussion. Yes, I think portrayals of professors [and/or teachers more generally] can be done well on screen; we just have to search a bit harder [for my money, the best yet are the creative writer and literature professors porytrayed by Peter Krause and Mark Ruffalo, respectively, in the searingly tragic "We Don't Live Here Anymore"; I also love Matthew Broderick's hapless high school teacher in the very dark comedy with Reese Witherspoon "Election"; Berube mentioned the short-lived television series, with Richard Dreyfus, "The Education of Max Bickford" as coming closest to reality--I agree, with a nomination for Christine Lahti's history professor on the WB's "Jack and Bobby" as maybe the most ridiculous ever--let's just say that having sex with her teaching assistant on her dining room table when her teenage son walks in represented a real low point for me]. The most ridiculous recent portrayal, as Marty Shichtman pointed out on our panel at the Midwest MLA meeting in Chicago, would have to be Tom Hanks as a professor of a discipline that doesn't even exist--symbology--in "The Davinci Code."

But here's another thing about that Streisand film [and I am not making this up], when I was going through orientation as a new faculty member here at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, a representative of the Office for Excellence in Undergraduate Education showed us the very same clip from "The Mirror Has Two Faces" [of Streisand waxing poetic on the mythology of romantic love]. His purpose in showing us this clip was to get us to understand that the kind of charismatic teaching represented by her performance doesn't really exist, and even if it did, we should be on our guard against it as ultimately ineffective and un-measurable [in terms of evaluating learning]. "Do not be charismatic," I wrote in my notes [haha, and again, ha]. Someone should have told Leo Strauss.

Karl Steel said...

Do not be charismatic? Oh boy. I wish. I can't imagine teaching without building up a little cult of Karl personality (and somehow, Eileen, I have a hard time imagining that your classrooms don't have an Eileen cult....). Although sometimes I get very direct questions from my students ("Where do you live?" "Uh....Park Slope." "Oh. Are you Jewish?"), and so would rather have done it, I dunno, Bynum-style (not imperious, but certainly no nonsence): yet I find that keeping them interested in me helps me hold their interest in Chaucer, Dante, the Madame de Lafeyette, whatever. The thing is, I've always wanted to be on stage in some capacity. When I was a kid, I wanted to a preacher (since preachers were what I saw on stage most often); then a rock star; then a trial lawyer; I was a dj for a while; and now, an academic.

That said, I didn't want to do research and make arguments really until I hit college. My motives for being a teacher--which, however much I like getting conversation going, largely derive from not quite latent drama geekdom--don't have much to do with my motives for being a writer/researcher. The two elements of being an academic aren't incommensurable, but they're hardly homologous either, at least for me.

Amanda: if you're ever in Brooklyn on a Monday, I'll let you know where the bee is. Or, rather, bees are, as we have two. As this Times article states in some poorly selected quotes, I'm a terrible speller, but my wife is grand. So you two can go head to head into the deep rounds.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I always liked the professors in "Ball of Fire" myself ...

Eileen Joy said...

Yes, Karl, there actually are several Eileen cults, and they include the occasional animal [uh, I mean, mineral] sacrifice. Okay, that's a lie; there are no sacrificial rites, per se, but there are some shamanistic rituals that involve Hello Kitty talismans--seriously.

ADM--"Ball of Fire," yes! I actually took a class as an undergraduate in the films of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges, where I watched that film. Is anything hotter than the young Barbara Stanwyck? I don't think so [an often overlooked academic fact, by the way].

N50 said...

RAE: - criteria vary between subject panels (great!).

There is a category for electronic product - not highly rated - seems to be more about datasets than blogs which I suspect 'they' have not imagined.

So yes - mainly print media - and as a general rule...

Scholarly monographs much better than textbooks or unnoted books).

Articles in refereed journals much better than articles in collections of essays.

Editing collections of essays counts as admin not research (unless editor has a substantial authored research contribution in the volume).

... and so on

Others welcome to chip and correct this over simplification of labyrinthine rules.

Good thing? It makes people more productive? Bad thing? For all this kind of stuff see debate in Times Higher Ed Supplement - available online - free trial subscriptions. (and no i am not advertising)

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Hey what about The Squid and the Whale? Aren't academic couples always composed of one genius-in-his-own-mind and one much smarter and *actually* superior person? Aren't relationships between academics built upon noncommunication, fraught dialogue, over-reading of everything, obliviousness to imperilled families that are your own, and atrocious metaphors? Isn't it necessary to gaze upon the squid and the whale in their primal fight for life, without the mediation of literature (how that gets in the way!) and say: ick, my dad the English professor is really an asshole?


Well, I'm not married to an academic, so I wouldn't know.

As to cults, I got JKW. I inducted him into a secret society so, um, secret that all I can say is that it revolves around the veneration of Chester A. Arthur. That's about it.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

PS On the Uncanny Valley, cited in Karl's comments above, see this commercial. It came on TV this morning when I was at the gym and five hours later it is still creeping me out.

Karl Steel said...

I didn't find that commercial creepy at all, JJC, until the bobbing head at the beauty shop. I don't know why, but then it hit me.

Quoting from Berube's place:

On another note and contra Karl the Grouchy Medievalist: blogs are hip, yes they are. You heard me, Karl. Meet me over at In The Middle for fisticuffs, if you dare.

I dare! Blogs are not hip, because hip is exclusionary. Something is hip in an inverse ratio to the number of non-initiates who know about it. My favorite graffito in Olympia back in, say, 1991 was "I liked Nirvana before you did." Blogs are available easily to anyone with an internet connection, and, now with blogger, it takes no special skill to do one. The only skill it requires is the writing itself. And I say: yay. (note the lack of an exclamation mark)

Eileen Joy said...

JJC-I'm glad you mentioned "The Squid and the Whale," as I had forgotten that one. It's an awfully depressing movie, for all the reasons you mention.

Karl--I'm not sure I agree with your definition of hip, which [perhaps] I think I see as different from "cool," which is the more exclusionary term in the sense you give it. "Cool" is not something everyone can do together; it's always avant-garde and doesn't follow anyone or anything. "Hip" to me is just what's "in" and/or popular at any given moment, like YouTube or Facebook or blogs in general or Justin Timberlake [who, thank god, brought sexy back], etc. Hipness, though, like cool, I would admit, has a limited shelf life and once absolutely everyone is on board, perhaps it loses its edge? But that's also like saying something that has broad appeal at any given moment cannot be hip, and I don't think hip has the subersive edge that "cool" does.

By the way, at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Medieval Association held recently in Oxford, MS, Robert Frank gave an amazing talk, "The Hip Factor in Anglo-Scandinavian England" that was absolutely amazing. She did, I have to admit, conflate the terms "hip" and "cool" as essentially being the same thing, and she drew out this elaborate analogy between Viking culture [and its hybridizing effects] in Anglo-Saxon England and black culture in America, from the blues to jazz, etc. that was really ingenius [basically showing how, even if the early English Christian elites put down the Vikings as "savage," many Anglo-Saxons still aped their dress, customs, etc., in much the same way black Americans have been treated in our own culture as half-human while, at the same time, they are viewed as progenitors of "cool" in the arts, and then ripped off, etc.].

To me, blogging is hip precisely because everyone wants to do it--"hip" always draws followers; but only a very few blogs are "cool." Of course, I may be trying to differentiate two terms that are hopelessly collapsed together as meaning the same damn thing. I only do things that are hip, Karl--can you just please accept this? [haha]

Debbie Reese said...

Though I'm on tenure track, I'm much more invested in getting my work to teachers and librarians who actually work with children and children's books, specifically those about American Indians. Traffic to the blog has increased a lot this month, given it is "Native American Month" and Thanksgiving, too, when all things Indian are on the store shelves and the lesson plans in schools everywhere.

Reviewing data of those who come to the site helps me create additional posts for the blog. In October, when people dress up as Indians for Halloween, the number of people who found my blog using phrases like "Indian face paint" was amazing. Hopefully they read what they found... I push people to think critically about that activity----dressing up as Indians, for Halloween, or Thanksgiving reenactments...

I get flamed for these remarks. You can see that in the comments section. But, I also get a lot of private email from people thankful for the perspective.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Debbie Reese: great site! My son is researching "the first marylanders" right now so you send the link at just the right time. My neighbor also happens to be the education director at the National Museum of the American Indian, so I'll share your blog with her.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

On hip and cool: I believe that In the Middle is stuck in that impossible place where objects like plastic pink flamingos for lawns used to reside, til ubiquity re-ruined them: we are so uncool that we are hip.

People who quote Latin, ruminate over temporallty and carrion and fairy mounds and whether the past can kill can never be cool, and can only accidentally and for a brief time be hip. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

Karl Steel said...

Of course, I may be trying to differentiate two terms that are hopelessly collapsed together as meaning the same damn thing.

Maybe we need more terms. "Happening" (as an adjective); "popular." I'm approaching hipness from the concept of being a "hipster" (or ex hipster in my case), and the community of hipsters is nothing if not arty (and necessarily disenchanted), but it's also simultaneously community focused and exclusionary. It's the last bit that blogs lack. When I think "cool" I think "kind of blue." We could go round and round on this, I think.

PS Squid and the Whale. I'm inclined to disqualify this one (and Todd Solondz's Storytelling) because I think creative writing teachers don't have the same cultural value as humanities teachers. That said, hurrah for Ball of Fire. Love it. What about Jimmy Stewart in Rope? And ALK reminds me of the medievalist played by Robin Williams in The Fisher King.


JJC: so In the Middle is like a hipster mustache, but more circa 2001 then circa now?

Karl Steel said...

I should also say that discussion of the hipness of blogs has to do only with small potatoes blogs like this one. In comparison to Daily Kos -- which is read by tens of thousands daily (at least), raises millions of $$ for GOTV efforts and specific candidates, has been (grudgingly) granted space in the corporate media, and was a major mover in the success of John Tester and Jim Webb (and, er, Ned Lamont) -- questions of hipness give way to questions of effectiveness. Clearly its got that, in spades. But of course our goals here are a lot different, and Berube likely wasn't thinking political/journalism/activist blogs when he borrowed the raw/cooked analogy.