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Going out with a whimper

Although I still use them from time to time, as their affordances are useful for a particular context, I don't spend much time anymore on listservs. And today, I unsubbed from my last holdout, a disciplinary listserv ostensibly devoted to my specialty. As with the blog, I go through phases of listserv fatigue, but over the last few years, the fatigue periods seem to grow longer and longer, punctuated more by silence than by activity.

My unsubscription was prompted by a message today which, under the auspices of continuing a discussion from earlier this week, launched into what, as best as I can tell, was a largely unprompted invective against blogging. I won't repeat it here, both because I'm not sure the list is public and because I'm not interested in dignifying it. Long and short, though: blogging, the message suggests, "atomizes, isolates, and individualizes knowledge." A few more sweeping generalizations, and a strange fascination with the idea that blogs are assholes, or like assholes, or bloggers are assholes. I don't know.

And honestly, I don't really care. My experience with blogging is so different--of course, it could matter that I actually maintain a blog--that the message could have been in another language for all the sense that it made to me. I was sitting in Panera today, reading Amanda Anderson's The Way We Argue Now (Amazon), and in it, she has a chapter on ethos in the Foucault/Habermas debate. Anderson is accounting for a comment from Foucault that he is "a little more in agreement" with Habermas than Habermas is with him. By saying this, Anderson explains:

Foucault implies that there is no external perspective from which one might adjudicate their differences or agreements, precisely because one essential element of agreement stems from the attitude of the thinker towards the other's work.

This stuck with me, because it fits nicely into the network-y/visualization thinking I've been doing, particularly when it comes to thinking about ways to map conversations and/or disciplines, and to chart changes. One of the things that Anderson's doing in that chapter is shifting the relationship between Foucault and Habermas, undoing the knee-jerk binary through which that relationship is frequently viewed. The link between the two is still there, but its character is altered, assuming that Anderson's various interpretations are persuasive.

It sticks with me not because I can really disagree with the specific charges leveled against blogging in that message, because I'm sure that there are plenty of examples that anyone could trot out to validate them. What irked me most is the foreclosure of any sort of conversation; it was almost beside the point that it was initiated by someone with little to no direct experience of our community. Almost. Anderson explains that this comment from Foucault is consistent with his "dislike of polemic":

The polemicist...proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue.

There's something to this for me, not the least reason for which is my own general avoidance of confrontation. And it's also not to say that I don't fall back into polemic myself. I do. But I've got a lot more interest in figuring out how my ideas connect to, diverge from, and/or relate to someone else's than I do in waging a polemic/war. Even though, I suppose, it could be argued that my entry is doing just that.

Or it would be, were I to do two things, both of which are equally tempting. I'm tempted to refute those claims, drawing on my own experiences, talking about all of the collaboration, networking, and working-with that maintaining a blog has prompted in my academic life for the past three years. I'm also tempted to critique the listserv post, and perhaps even the list itself.

But I think I'll refrain. Which isn't to say that my entry here is snark-free--that'd be some sort of record, I think. It is to say, rather, that a community where someone feels comfortable (much less justified) in making those sorts of comments is not the kind of community I have any interest in being a part of.

That's all.


Your experience on that listserve reminds me of this article from The Chronicle where someone basically suggested that they don't think bloggers would make good colleagues, because, well, i couldn't exactly make out what the author's point was other than that they were convinced that blogging was bad for one's candidacy. To be perfectly honest, the criticism he raised that best "stuck" was in that blogs too often reveal the *gasp* humanity of the blogger - something the author then goes onto suggest should be hidden at all costs in an interview.

I know what you're talking about, and I found it a pretty bizarre utterance -- not an attitude I would have expected from that person.

I'll echo Clancy's sentiment: I was especially puzzled given the source. I get the posts in digest form, so I'm betting there might be an interesting torrent of responses tomorrow morning.

I will always be fond of TechRhet, and I'm no blogger (which, actually, always strikes me as kind of strange--why *don't* I love to blog when it seems exactly the sort of thing I *ought* to love?), but it does seem as though taking your ball and going home sort of makes the point--one little cave for everyone, connections among the caves for those devoted to the burrowing, stop signs at the door. It is simply a different feel, all around. To me, it's fine that not everyone prefers it, and that many do. I rather like writing as a phenomenon wherever it transpires. But I'm constitutionally incapable of writing a blog that I sign my name to--or even one, I found out, that is pseudonymous. It's too bossy and contextless a thing *for me.* Case in point--here I go reading this and responding to it so far after the fact that it's hardly worth it. Ah, well, whatever becomes of lists, they have moved me to write, now and then, which is a good thing, because is so painfully hard for me. Plus, I *named* TechRhet, so . . .I'm not objective.


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