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!