Friday, March 16, 2007

Has ITM gone stodgy?

Lunch with JKW today provokes me to ask: are we becoming a scholarly journal manqué? By that I mean: lots of long and probably interesting pieces to read when there is time ... only there never is time.

Has In the Middle lost the insouciant spirit of being a blog?

What would you like to see more of? Less of? Speak up! We want to know.


Anonymous said...

lots of long and probably interesting pieces to read when there is time ... only there never is time.

exactly me - as I have often said before. But I do like the long posts as well - I know I can go back to them for reference - for my course on utopias for example - I have just decided that I don't have to comment on them.

The child human future thing is fascinating though - my utopias course will be running a year from now - maybe then my comments will suddenly flower into full bloom.


Gabriele Campbell said...

The problem is to come up with long, well thought and meaninful replies. :)

Eileen Joy said...

Is it that we've gone stodgy, or too *serious*? I'd like to think we can, and have been, silly and serious, blithely brief and long-winded, by turns. I was actually worrying earlier if we weren't "medieval enough." I was wondering if anyone had been musing on that as well.

RaeRae said...

the only thing that gets me in the long discussions is the theory that gets thrown around, I don't know half the people you are throwing around so I tend to get a little lost... then decide to come back when there is time to reread it and figure out where I got confused only to discover there is no time to do so... however the fact that you are using theorists I don't know helps me learn to know them so it's a wonderful catch-22... thank the powers that be that summer is coming up and I'm only planning on taking three classes I can catch up on my reading here and on the books all my wonderful professors have been suggesting to me all semester that seem interesting...

Rachel Roberts said...

We have this problem at the Valve. Well, to be more precise, I have this problem at the Valve. I have been known to go on and on and on and on in my posts. Thing is, I like writing posts that are more like papers; it's a better way of airing ideas and getting useful and interesting feedback than either conventional publication or conference. And nobody's obligated to read them.

My trick, I'd say, is to have a sense of the seasonal cycles of your target audience. There are times when Academics have lots of time on their hands (for reading long posts, composing long comments-replies and so on). Then again, there are times, which can last for weeks, when marking, teaching, examining, admin and so on squee-eezes Academic time, and makes it hard to read anything except the briefest and hopefully funniest, mood-lightening posts. My point is that the latter tends to come upon us at predictable times of year.

theswain said...

Well, I'm a pretty recent reader of this blog and have had to try and catch up with 6 weeks worth of posts. With Eileen, I'd have to say I wonder if it is "medieval" enough, and I also feel a bit lost not having read or even being able to read a thumbnail of the works y'all seem to have mastered. Nonetheless, I find your comments of interest though and try and cull what I can from what I don't understand.

The recent post and comments on the Irish werwolves is an interesting case--the discussion quickly moved from a 13th century poem into theory: what does the theory say about this poem as a question of race? of humanity? and what does it say about the medieval in this situation?

You might consider moving to a disscussion board and thereby get more discussion from more participants than the comments section allows.

Karl Steel said...

You might consider moving to a disscussion board and thereby get more discussion from more participants than the comments section allows.

Not sure I follow you?


I'd like to see more questions directed at our audience. Drag them into the discussion in a guided way.

Karl Steel said...

Okay, another thing, although since I'm borrowing space on the blog, it's not necessarily my place to recommend blog directions (i.e., it's my place to implement directions).

What I like and want to see more of should be clear from the kinds of posts I do (/are capable of). I like short, obscure medieval texts--the Testamentum porcelli (admittedly only medieval in transmission and audience), a 13th-century carrion law, Anglo-Norman versifications of resurrection doctrine, 13th-century Hiberno-Latin poems on wonder--and invitations to interpretation. In other words, I like the seminar provocation model rather than the conference paper model,* particularly if we're introducing a text that virtually no one knows about. I want to keep dispersing the canon, and I think this blog, however humbly, can do that.

* Which is not to say I don't like the conference paper or even the fetal article model (i.e., the O'Rourke/Joy/or when he was here Williams model): it's just that I: a) can't do it, not yet at any rate; b) I often don't have the vim to make the time to read those long posts with what I think they deserve.


what else I want is a more vibrant commenting community. Not sure how to get that. Unfortunately, the longest comments threads on any blog tend to be those with (violent) disagreements: this is true at my favorite blogs (Pandagon and the to-be-mourned Bérubé blog) and true, well, virtually everywhere (for example: the Hobbit house, Kaufman, or Futurity/Queer theory threads here). Now the aforementioned blogs can.could sometimes push the 150-comment limit, but they could do so only by: a) giving directive questions (Bérubé's arbitrary but fun Fridays); b) not expecting such long or involved comments (cf the annoying comments threads at Eschaton). a) we can do, but b) would be something I don't necessarily want. Maybe I can ask for pithy?

abby said...

I think a major element of this query is trying to come to an understanding of the ITM audience and why we come here to read your writing. Maybe more of us should “de-lurk” and reveal ourselves.

I am a rhet/comp graduate student who is an avid reader of ITM and other blogs that take me out of the context of my own life and work. What I really appreciate about Jeffrey Cohen’s posts are the insights into how his professional work on medieval literature, theory, and so forth are intertwined with reflections on his own life as a teacher/scholar, his children, observations of “everyday life,” etc. My favorite entries are those like the ones on the passing of the goldfish, the Disney cruise, the Cohen family’s hybrid Christian-Jewish holidays, and the god question. Similarly, I’m a vegetarian and an environmentalist so I appreciate the posts on medieval animals and the politics of meat throughout history.

Thanks for writing.

Eileen Joy said...

Here's what I want: more really long posts on string. Not string theory. Just string. If it turns out people don't like string very much, what about string cheese? Or stringiness in general? Indeed, stringiness *in general* could open up some interesting cross-disciplinary avenues for discussion, whereas something like string cheese or string beans could only ever be about one thing. Yes, I am sure that some certain persons supple and sleek in their thinking could make string beans be about everything, but if that is the case, please don't post here. How about a weekly post from me written late at night after I have drunk at least two bottles of wine? [Wait a minute; I do that already.] How about really short posts in which the thinking is so densely packed it takes longer to read and understand them than really long posts about nothing? How about posts that could only be in the form of terrible haikus but which would always be medieval and queer, like,

So much rime and mortar there
where stones lie in ruins
and sea-birds inhumanly shriek.


Why won't Lee Patterson stop
writing essays that can't be bested
but are still wrong?

What if the primary bloggers agreed to put steadi-cams in the nibs of their pens and we could watch as the words flowed across the page and became thoughts. No, that won't work. No one uses pens anymore and only the CIA has cameras that small. So it needs to be string. Or stringiness. One of the two, for sure.

Anonymous said...

I'm an occasional (@once-a-month) visitor, and the one thing that keeps me from coming back more frequently is the length (ie word count) of posts on the main page. I'd like to see more and shorter posts, some in the snarky/gossipy vein that Eileen Joy suggests, with the always excellent longer ones present on the main page as just one paragraph with a "more" tag to follow if you're interested, as on eg dailykos. I often come to the page, see a 2000-word post, and my eyes glaze over regardless of its content. Shorter posts, punchier, like the ones JJC sometimes does to plug books that look interesting. Invite medievalist cfps, with related propaganda by conference organizers, or link to buzzworthy smackdown book reviews you've read (or, for that matter, glowing ones).

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Sounds like ITM needs to learn to better manage its lengthiest posts, probably through a combination of keeping an eye on the academic season; laying some groundwork for them so they don't come across as mighty fortresses; and perhaps by instituting a front page that gives a few paragraphs a link for the rest (though I have NO idea of how to do this with Blogger). And we need to remind ourselves every now and then of our medium.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Keep them coming!

Anonymous said...

Further to Karl's comments - I would add that a lot of the conversation seems quite 'closed'. The three of you are interested in particular things and talk to and reinforce each other's approaches. That can make it hard for an 'outsider' to comment in ways which you find useful or respond to.

This might sound negative - but it is actually good that the blog has a clear and distinctive identity - I know what good things I will get out of it. I enjoy eavesdropping - when I have the time.

There are other, less focussed, blogs providing general medieval studies information of the cfp type. Not sure we need another one of those. Intellectual argument is the good USP about ITM!


Jeffrey Cohen said...

By the way: thank you, Abby, for de-lurking. The majority of our readership is silent ... it's good to hear that quite broken every now and then!

Karl Steel said...

three of you


Anonymous said...

what makes ITM a blog rather than a website with articles and discussions? does it matter?

Karl Steel said...

Anon: depends on what you're driving at with the question...

hough I have NO idea of how to do this with Blogger

There's this and this here.

The immediate downside of both, so far as I can see, is that there's no (immediately apparent) way to make this happen automatically if posts pass a certain number of lines in length. Maybe I'm missing something though.

Anonymous said...

so - I can't count - also just catching up after weeks too busy to count!


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Karl: The modification would allow the person posting to decide what part of the post to frontpage and what to place behind the link. It requires some serious template tampering, though, and a time investment to get it to work correctly.

Karl Steel said...

re: template tampering. Both of those points do recommend against it until, say, your children are old enough to do the blog maintenance for us.

josh said...

There's a lot i could respond to from the accumulated's what i hope will be a brief summary (preceded by a big fat IMHO):

sometimes i do get lost in the long posts, esp. the ones that invoke Derrida and his ilk--sorry Michael. (My dirty little secret - josh:derrida :: jjc:chaucer's relation to lollardy.) I am a lowly MA student, and still rather poorly read (a fact i am often reminded of when I visit ITM). But one of the reasons I enjoy the blog so much is that it makes me read things that i otherwise might not...

...A perfect example of this is the recent 2000 word paper i wrote for my Beowulf module entitled 'Queering Grendel...Not That There's Anything Wrong With That'. (I think I should get extra points because I went with the title despite the fact that I am studying across the pond and know the reference will be lost on my professor.)

Not only did I venture into heretofore unfamiliar (i.e. queer) territory, I also made use of a study recommended to me by eileen a while ago...Oliver Emerson's 'Legends of Cain in Old and Middle English'. So thank you Michael and Eileen for that.

RE: Eileen's "medieval enough"...I have to agree with Abby:

"What I really appreciate about Jeffrey Cohen’s posts are the insights into how his professional work on medieval literature, theory, and so forth are intertwined with reflections on his own life as a teacher/scholar, his children, observations of 'everyday life,' etc."

I think this kind of thoughtful relevance is what i like most about the blog. Both jjc and eileen have a knack for it, and i find it most welcome.

p.s. anyone coming to Leeds in July?? let me know...i'll buy you a pint at my local and we can talk about how wrong Lee Patterson is.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks, Josh, for that response. If ITM has encouraged new ventures (and Seinfeld-inspired titles) then it has fulfilled its blogular purpose. Let us know if you'd like to post anything from your paper.

josh said...

maybe just a couple of general questions that have arisen from my cursory introduction to queering. I will try to couch them in language that won't make me look too out of my league. this weekend is a bit mad, but maybe by mon... thanks for the offer.