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A Blog v.s. A Book, or Why I was Loath to Blog

As I was cleaning up my digital archives the other day, I saw many snippets lying around in a folder called “DH Blogging.” All of them are proto-blogs; ideas I started, but never ended up posting to a blog. I suddenly realized that ever since my PhD “career” at GC, I have been resistant to the idea of blogging.

Time and time again I started typing down thoughts for a blog; time and time again I stopped and thought, “Nah, these ideas are not in good shape yet…. The research is not in-depth as it should be…. It is not academic enough for publishing online…. Forget it.”

“Not academic enough”—that’s what has been preventing me from doing it. My rigorous academic training turned me into an equally rigorous judge of my scholarly output. Whatever I write has to be original, thoroughly researched, substantively thought through, carefully developed, well-polished until it is close to “publication level.” Anything lesser than that should present itself to the public. (Other than that, my Eastern Asian upbringing that deprecates communicating ideas before they are well-formed is not a great help.)

Yes, evidently, I’ve been TRAINED to resist blogging.

And I’m not alone.

The education I received has prepared me to write academic BOOKS—a twentieth-century way to evaluate scholarly accomplishment, though I started my PhD in 2009. And I was totally incognizant of it until I read Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s amazing book Planned Obsolescence. In the book she argues that blogging, or writing that is open rather than closed, is equally powerful and valuable—if not more so—than writing a book.

A book is a self-contained product; a blog reflects an on-going open conversation.

A book focuses on the moment of completion, whereas blogging emphasizes the process of writing, discussing, revision, and updates.

A book suggests originality and individual intelligence; blogging represents collaborative effort.

The fixation on originality of the text has been attacked by poststructuralist thinkers since as early as the 1960s. Roland Barthes, famous for his “Death of the Author” aphorism, argues that nothing is ever original, and the text is merely “a fabric of quotations, resulting from a thousand sources of culture.” (1967) Julia Kristeva advocates for “intertextuality” and suggests that even the most ostensibly “original” of texts is in fact filled with references to other texts. (1986) In the same vein, Fitzpatrick argues that the academic voices are never fully individual and scholarship has always been collaborative, as authors have always been in an ongoing conversation. She posits that in a highly interconnected world, a higher value should be placed on the sharing of information than on the individual authorship or ownership of particular texts. She suggests that we will need to let go of what we have come to understand as the individual voice, and to “remix,” “mashup,” and “curate” significant ideas that are already in the existent texts, instead of remaining focused on the illusion of originality of texts.

Blogging is therefore one of the most efficient ways to disseminate knowledge, as it produces texts that are no longer static, but fluid, alive, and contributing to a network of texts that enables ideas to flow.

In a recent conversation with an older friend of mine, who never published a single blog his entire life, raised another key issue: “Books last long. Websites get defunct God knows when.” He is not entirely wrong. In the chapter “Preservation” Fitzpatrick addresses the misconception that digital preservation has to do with the ephemeral quality of digital products, and points out that digital artifacts actually tend to last much longer than books. She astutely argues that digital text preservation requires the development of socially organized preservation systems, because the problems we encounter in the digital preservation are caused by our social practices and social understanding of the use of digital artifacts, rather than technical issues.

Moreover, Fitzpatrick points out the future of the book probably lies in what she calls “multimodal texts,” a mixture of images, audio, video, and other forms of data, which will enable the “author” and the “reader” to interact in new ways.

Highly informed and inspired by her book, I do buy into her conceptualization of the future scholarship as an ongoing conversation that is collaborative and open-ended. However, I can’t help but be a little dubious about the limitation of this paradigm. She successfully used MediaCommons, a community-filtered web platform, to invite comments on Planned Obsolescence, which became a part of her ongoing drafting and revising process.  However, at least part of the reason why participants of the conversation had the means to contribute, is probably because the subject matter “publishing, technology and the future of the academy” constitutes a metatopic—a critique on the academia per se. A less “meta,” lesser known and researched topic, such as the oft-neglected theoretical writings of Giovanni Maria Artusi (Italian composer, 1540-1613)—most famous for his polemic against the music of Claudio Monteverdi, would probably not work well in a community-filtered web platform.

Anyway. Here you go. Hello first blog. Not much scholarly contribution, but an effort to at least partly fulfill what Fitzpatrick summarizes as the three features of blogging: “commenting, linking, and versioning.” Comments, links, “versions” are all welcome!

6 thoughts on “A Blog v.s. A Book, or Why I was Loath to Blog

  1. (Martha) Joy Rose

    Good summary of Fitzpatrick. Congrats on the blog. I tend to think of blogging as more conversational and process oriented. It IS a more mutable (easily editable) source, and it is somewhat ephemeral (no one knows exactly how long it will last) – yes technology changes– It also edits, and erases itself sometimes. The book is tried and true. Lasting and strong. I could easily argue for both, and respect each outcome. But, for this class its awesome you decided to blog. Welcome!

  2. Renzo Adler

    I understand your apprehension. This is the first time I’ve ever “blogged” for a class, and most of my past blogging was done under the liberating guise of a username on a community elsewhere. Sometimes I feel like these are little weekly papers you’d do for a class, but they just happen to be online. The blogging I’m used to tends to be like a side hobby. For my blog I collect old pages from magazines from the 70’s and 80’s and whatever other ephemera I can get my hands on. It’s a bit like tending a garden. Even though the blog itself is online for all to see, there’s an element to it that makes it feel private.

  3. Mary Catherine Kinniburgh

    Sissi,

    I really appreciate your thoughts here. One of the reasons I felt Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescene was such a compelling book was that she didn’t advocate for the typical “overthrow the system!” approach that academia often receives, but rather acknowledged that there could be a middle ground that accommodates both approaches. I mean, I love the conversation about remixing a dissertation, but am also deeply skeptical of the rhetoric that suggests bravery alone should compel us to risk-take on professional choices in a dangerously competitive market–unless we want to take those choices, and deeply believe in them. Fitzpatrick addressed this in such an understanding and approachable way. It seems insensitive, sometimes, to suggest everyone get on board the blog train when there are hiring committees that will ding you for it–and this class has anticipated that by offering participation at whatever level feels comfortable. I appreciate that!

    I might be erring in only addressing the tenure-track hiring process here, but like the book, it’s a process in academia that’s under a lot of scrutiny, and yet remains an essential aspect of the university. Your post makes me think that tenure track and books, which have always been entwined, might be almost identical topics at the root of it all.

    Still, I believe that embracing new technology is a way academics can be a part of the worlds they study, which is so, so important. I’m pro-blog, pro-book, and pro-digital—with the right documentation, which I think tends to be a gap in DH pedagogy.

    There’s a lot of trickiness and nuance here, and thank you for sharing your (rather well-developed!) perspective.

  4. Sissi Liu Post author

    Dear Mary Catherine,

    Thank you SO MUCH for your very eloquent comment here! And I apologize for being a bad procrastinator and not replying sooner. (See? Another trait of someone who is apparently not digital enough. I did the calculation: For the past month or so, I read/skimmed through about 50 books, and maybe only 10 blogs…. Just so you know, I don’t normally read that many books—it’s for my dissertation proposal defense, which is scheduled to take place tomorrow!)

    I truly agree with everything you say here. And I especially like the you’re looking for a balance, a “middle ground,” which is exactly what a mature scholar should do. We should all be pro-blog, pro-book, pro-digital! (and maybe pro-traditions that are truly productive and self-sustaining.)

    About to defend my dissertation proposal (which unfortunately is not a remix), I wonder what my dissertation would be like if I had taken this course when I first entered the doctoral program five years ago. I would be using very different tools to perceive the world now. And I certainly would not be so bad with keeping up with blog posts (rather than books) and not getting back in time!

    Anyway, thanks again, and best of luck with everything!

    (Btw, I’m quite impressed with your ice-landic saga project and your use of digital resources. Would love to read more about it!)

    Sissi

  5. Sissi Liu Post author

    Dear Renzo,

    Thanks for your reply! I tried to search your blog, but couldn’t find it. Would love to take a look at your collection of 70’s and 80’s ephemera! I like that you compare blogging to tending a private garden of your own.

    Good luck with wrapping up the semester!

    ~Sissi

  6. Sissi Liu Post author

    Hi Martha,

    Thank you for those kind words! Apparently I am still loath to blog (and replying to blogs), but have gotten much better now than ever.

    Congrats on finishing your project and claiming to be a true digital humanist! 🙂

    Best wishes,
    Sissi

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