Academic Blogging — A meta post

I started this blog for several reasons (though I suppose these could all be after-the-fact rationalizations):

  1. Given how slowly essays submitted to academic journals appear in print, I wanted a site to share work in progress and link to already published pieces. Using a free blogging service seemed like the best and easiest way to create a decent looking webpage.
  2. Blogs lend themselves to posting partially formed ideas that could be improved or tested through quick exchange with interlocutors.

Point 1 reflects the ways that Internet-based communication can emulate print publication. Online repositories of journal articles like JSTOR and Project Muse already take the obvious step of making their content available as PDFs, and the Open Humanities Press is doing the same for book-length publications. I suspect almost all the journals included in those archives typeset their publications digitally with InDesign, Quark, or some other desktop publishing software. Committing the toner or ink to the cellulose fiber page is merely a reflex conditioned over centuries of producing and consuming printed material. Several pioneering online journals have already shaken free of some of those customs, such as the Electronic Book Review, Fibreculture, and Vectors. These journals are still islands, and the humanities need a larger space in which pre-print and works-in-progress can receive a hearing from the larger scholarly community—something like the arXiv used to great effect by the sciences and mathematics. Levi Bryant has blogged some thoughtful comments about the lower barriers to access and faster dissemination such open systems allow.

Point 2, however, is where things get more complicated. Ray Brassier has famously (at least in academic blogging circles) quipped that the Internet is no place for serious philosophical debate: “I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students.” Perhaps by impressionable, he means open to new ideas but unable to judge them properly (i.e., as he would). In an email exchange that Ross Wolfe published on his blog, The Charnel-Hose, Brassier clarified that by “Internet” in the above quotation, he meant blogging and other social media specifically. This raises the more interesting question that neither Brassier, Bryant, nor the swirl of interlocutors around them mention (as far as I know): whether writing and print are the technologies that helped create and refine philosophical discourse.

Scholars like Jack Goody, Walter Ong, and, later, Vilém Flusser indeed argue that the transition from an oral to a literate culture makes philosophical argument possible. By philosophy, they mean the exchange and skeptical critique of ideas—an exchange and critique that the limits of human memory make exceedingly difficult to do for oral discourse. Given how generally irrational we humans are, we need some recording technology to store ideas, so that we can consider and analysis them more thoroughly. When Brassier later admits that one can indeed exchange valuable research online, he is referring to digital simulations of the print culture that make philosophy (and all criticism) tenable. For him, blogging “is essentially a journalistic medium, but philosophy is not journalism” but whether or not that assessment is true (I wonder what he thinks of the New York Times “The Stone” philosophy blog—I won’t bother calling it a “column,” since it will never be printed in one) misses the larger point. Blogs and other digital media are not simply emulating print journalism—or at least they need not do so.

If blogs and other digital media are antithetical to philosophy, it is not because they are journalistic, but because they are not print. In addition to being sequences of letters laid out in lines, the words on any blog or digital platform are also computer codes. They are more like atoms that software algorithms can pull apart and recombine in ways not possible on the printed page—the cut up method notwithstanding. Internet search services like Google and Bing already do this, and I suspect it is precisely through that method that many people will find their way to this blog and others like it. It is certainly the method JSTOR and Project Muse use for presenting visitors with the most relevant search results, which we used to call journal articles. New media artwork like Listening Post and Moveable Type create aesthetic objects from it.

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2 comments

  1. […] poison and/or cure. NB: An interesting take on the potentialities of academic blogging can be found here at FRACTAL […]

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