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September 9, 2003

Academic Blogging

Brian at Crooked Timber has an interesting discussion of blogging as a tool for academics developing ideas for their research. As he notes, blog entries tend to be "short and topical" (focused on the present) while academic papers are more developed and "long-term," which might seem to make them incompatible. Brian has, however, been able to use his blog to benefit from a regular audience who can respond to his ideas and quickly provide him feedback.

This is similar to my experience (one reader even read a complete draft of a paper I'm submitting ASAP for publication). I've also arranged conference panels using my blog, and I'm curently working on the blogging article (too lazy to link to those entries). I've also had the chance to reflect more carefully on the profession itself, and it has permitted me the opportunity to take more chances with my writing (you might've guessed by now that I'm a bit cautious) and to indulge my tendency to explore an idea from many different directions, from many perspectives (Side note: I've been wanting to write an entry about blogs as "travel narratives," allowing bloggers to explore things for some time now). All of these experiences have been incredibly positive.

I'm not very good at being critical of blogging as a "writing machine", but I think Jason's right to be just a little suspicious here. I'd like to believe that comments and trackbacks actually diminish the egocentrism he describes among "high-profile" bloggers, but I'm not sure they do. I'm not sure that I have any real conclusions here--I'm just posing the question, in part as a means of preserving it in my "external memory." Then again, I'm not sure that a few bad bloggers spoil the lot.

I have found it to be a useful tool in improving my writing, and I think my experiences as a blogger actually provided me with a slightly clearer understanding of Benjamin's "The Storyteller," which I discussed with my students today (they did a bang-up job in class discussion, by the way).

I introduce Benjamin here at the end of the entry because I find that, rather than isolating us as Benjamin feared print culture might (novels and newspapers, especially), blogs have the potential to create connections. I realize that this isn't the face-to-face conversation that Benjamin privileges, but I feel connected to many of the bloggers I read. George has even met a few bloggers in his many travels (makes me want to travel just so I can meet another blogger--of course now I'm privileging f2f).

Now I've wandered a bit too far. Perhaps I'll camp here for the night and return to this thread tomorrow.

Posted by chuck at September 9, 2003 12:08 AM

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I'm trying to relate Jason's meditations on the "egocentricity" of certain bloggers with the questions of temporality that prompted the drift in that direction.

I made need to reread the posts cited by Jason

The theme of participation takes me into the territory of the "aura". Participation is a key element of Benjamin's concept and so too in how Chuck's posts figure the temporality of blogging. Benjamin's concept of the aura certainly is infused with the patina of the archeological. (Retracing its emergence in his oeuvre one comes to work about artifacts being unearthed.) The blog is a sense a time-machine that permits the reader, a day later, a week later, a month later to have a sensation of unearthing a vibrant textual artefact. For the "immediate" reader, the one who reads the entry in its daily or hourly freshness a similar sacremental economy is at work: the fragment just might prove to be a holy key, a messianic moment. In contemplating the religious tones (over and under) what is written here, one must remember that for Benjamin breaking the "aura" was an act of reflective virture. The temporality of the blog may be projected upon it by the cultural adherents of a "jetztheit" and those adherents made be of Buddhist as much as Hassidic ilk.

And the ego may flutter away and through the dance...

Posted by: Francois Lachance at September 9, 2003 2:07 PM

Thanks for the comments, Francois. I certainly like the idea of the blog as a "time machine," especially given that film theorists have seen cinema as a time machine almost since its invention (or even "before" its invention, if you look at the chrono-photography of Marey from the right angle). No doubt cinematic time and bloggy time inform each other, although there are certainly differences.

And blogs do have that artifactual quality as well. I can see the connection between blogging and the dialectical image that you're describing here, where the entry is "blasted" out of its historical continuum. Are blog archives the "ruins" of contemporary culture? With their (sometimes) dead links to then contemporary news stories, blog archives might be understood as privileging the transitoriness of digital culture, even when the archives themselves may be "permanently" preserved.

In general, shattering the aura seems like a positive term in Benjamin. It certainly is in "Work of Art," but he seems much more ambivalent in his later essays, including "The Storyteller." I'm not quite sure how you're reading Jetztzeit, the Now-time that Benjamin sees as disrupting (and redeeming history), so I'm not quite sure how to tie these ideas together just yet.

Posted by: chuck at September 9, 2003 5:36 PM

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