Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Blogging

Just In Time

I have a specific order of attack when I encounter a new blog. I’m generally drawn there by a link from somewhere or other, so I’ll start wherever that link lands me. If something about the voice of that post piques my interest, I’ll then go back to the beginning – to the very first post in the archive – to see how and why the blog started. If that beginning is intriguing, promising, or puzzling, I’ll then work my way forward through the archives from there, trying to capture a sense of the milestones through which that blog author discovered their “voice”. Sometimes, of course, this voice is there from the beginning – as seems to be the case for a blog I stumbled across today: Doing Justice, whose first post captures several issues I think are important, not just in relation to blogging, but in relation to critical theory:

Many people who blog on law-related topics are quick and smart (and, I’m guessing, male). I am smart, but I am not quick. By the time I’m aware that an issue is “hot” it has been so thoroughly examined by all the usual suspects that there seems nothing left to say about it. And yet, as I rattle through the archives trying to catch up with what was said last week, I’m often left feeling that discussions crystalize prematurely. Issues become defined and sides are taken before some important or, at least, peculiar, facets have been allowed to emerge. My comment that might have sent the conversation in an interesting (to me) direction after the first hour or two no longer seems to have any relevance by the end of the day. Maybe I never understood what the conversation was about, but maybe I did and my failure to speak up allowed a door to be shut that would have been better left open.

The post concludes: “So, this blog. I’ll go ahead and comment, secure in the knowledge that no one will hear me.” Since I read new blogs backwards, I have no idea whether the author still feels this way. But the juxtaposition of the post content, with the way in which the post resonated for me when I read it today, caused me to think about how, for all the speed and rapid shifts of attention that get so much attention in analyses of the blogosphere, what is perhaps most striking about the medium is actually the way in which it sediments these rapidfire discursive movements, ossifying discussions after history has left them behind, and preserving ephemeral thoughts for future reflection. If by chance the tumult prevents you from being heard when the topic was fresh, the thought remains, ready to be recaptured when, perhaps, it is no longer too new to hear…

Delay and Delurk

LMagee and I are currently competing to see who can read Hegel most slowly. We have a side bet going on how much of our other work can be derailed by our attempt to make the least progress in this regard… I think, though, that LM might be cheating in our little competition. In our most recent round of emails, I commented:

I was just looking over some of the Hegel, and thinking how much clearer the text seems, when I’m not actually reading it at the time…

And LM responded:

Hegel seems clearest to me when it’s back on the bookshelf, frankly…

I call foul: eyes must actually have been on text for it to count as reading Hegel slowly!!! Also, you seem to be getting a suspicious amount of other work done!!!

At any rate, while I’m getting nothing done slowly, I thought I might as well draw attention to an interesting concept over at Acephalous, where, in honour of “National De-Lurking Week”, Scott has offered to answer any* question from lurkers who will delurk for the occasion. I’m not sure I’m quite so brave, but I still wouldn’t mind hearing from lurkers around these parts – that, or you can all just go ask Scott a question, but mention that you lurk here too… ;-P

*terms and conditions apply.

Blogging Terminable and Interminable

Lots of discussions around and about relating to the temporalities of academic blogging – both in a general sense, in terms of whether overarching trends within the broader field of academic blogging might be normalising some of the diversity of early academic blogs, and in a specific sense, in terms of whether a particular life cycle might be characteristic of academic blogs – whether, for example, individual blogs tend to have a certain lifespan before they close or transform into something more professionalised.

I’ve been involved in discussions at Acephalous and The Kugelmass Episodes, and have been lurking bits and pieces of the discussion surrounding Michael Bérubé’s decision to cease blogging, which extends, as you would expect, across a number of blogs.

It’s a funny thing, the issue of ending a blog. It’s honestly something I didn’t think about, when I started one – not that I assumed I’d keep blogging forever: I just literally didn’t think about the issue. (Nor, to be honest, did I think at the time about the relationship of an individual blog to an overarching context of academic blogs, nor – ironically enough, given that I spend most of my time thinking about other kinds of historical trends – historical trends affecting blogging as a medium.) I have thought of course about taking this blog down on a number of occasions, but I’ve generally perceived my impulses to do this as personal ones. I’ve never related these personal impulses to more general trends – a position on which, of course, I could be mistaken even in relation to my own site, and which I certainly would never assume applies to others, whose blogs could easily be more centrally positioned to be caught up in general trends than mine would ever be, or whose authors might have purposes that depend on specific overarching trends…

Still, I’m hesitant about the various sociology-style theories floating through some of the current discussions (although I’ll confess to offering some of my own from time to time…). My main reaction, I think, is to worry that many discussions reflect the tendency to overgeneralisation that has been so characteristic of analyses of blogging since its advent – blogging as revolutionary, blogging as detrimental, blogging as a fad, blogging as the new mainstream, etc. I guess my question is: why are we so tempted to generalise this medium? Does it need to be one thing? Do its mechanics really dictate a strong and pregiven trajectory for the realisation of its potentials? Do we need a consensus on where “we” are going, with our writing in this form?

These questions probably come across more critically than I mean them. I think what I’m trying to do is just draw attention to the potential that there might be something “sociological” about the tendency to discuss the medium in such generalised terms – to extrapolate so strongly from what the medium might mean to us, or to our small corner of the blogosphere, or to prominent people with whom we have some identification. This sociological phenomenon is potentially worth analysing in its own right – not to criticise or refute it, but just to understand the temptation to engage in it… I don’t have such an analysis ready to hand… I just keep finding myself struck and slightly confused by the search for generality that surfaces periodically in bursts of collective wondering about what “we” mean, engaged in a practice some of us seem very much to want to perceive as possessing shared and essential dynamics… Perhaps such dynamics do exist – this is worth exploring, but I’d like also to suspend alongside this exploration the issue of how our articulations of those dynamics (narratives of decline, professionalisation, structural transformation, etc.) are themselves shaping the dynamics we happen to find…

But it’s been a very long day for me, so I’m probably not writing this in any particularly useful way. Perhaps others will be able to say something more useful – likely are saying things more useful in some of the discussions linked above.

Unusual Literacies: Scott Eric Kaufman’s MLA Talk Online

For those who participated in – or at least followed – Scott Eric Kaufman’s preparations for his MLA presentation, just a note that Scott has now posted his talk to Acephalous. Aside from posting the talk itself, Scott also provides a lovely introductory discussion about the process of preparing for an academic presentation (hint: Scott is a bit more prepared, and a bit less neurotic, about the whole process of converting an academic concept into a talk than I tend to be… ;-P).

Given how many links I’ve scattered in the paragraph above, I’ll provide the direct link to Scott’s talk here, for those seeking to avoid the backstory… ;-P

I particularly love Scott’s description of the original theme of his talk:

the role blogs could play as virtual parlors devoted to the professionalization of sharp minds with rodential social instincts.

(People who know me in person will probably guess why this line might appeal… ;-P)

More seriously, the post contains some very good reflections on the distinction between written and oral presentations, while the talk captures particularly well some key elements of what I agree is a strange confusion over academic blogging, even amongst those who participate in the medium. Trying to slice through some of this confusion, Scott invites us to set aside our technophobia, distinguish professional blogs from more confessional online diaries, and recognise when objections commonly framed as specific to blogging boil down, on reflection, to criticisms of fairly garden-variety violations of professional conduct that could arise in other forms of communication. Scott challenges us to think seriously about what blogging contributes as a distinctive mode of professional practice – and puts forward the recommendation that blogging may provide a particularly important means of overcoming the forms of disciplinary hyper-specialisation encouraged by other forms of academic writing.

Or, in Scott’s own words:

Perhaps reading academic journals at 8 p.m., after having worked since on my dissertation since 8 a.m., strikes some as indulgent (insane, even); and perhaps trying to reformulate that into something a genuinely educated audience can understand, strikes some as a waste—but to me, the former indicates that I list “literary theory” among my hobbies, the latter that I’m interested in processing it Cornell-style and communicating it to those outside not only my increasingly specialized sub-discipline but my profession, so that I might better understand it myself. Consolidating what I’ve learned and rethinking what I’ve written occupy large chunks of my evening and are, I believe, essential to my intellectual and professional development.

But you really should go read the talk for yourself… ;-P

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

My attempt to place public pressure on myself not to blog during the holidays appears to be failing miserably. This failure places me, I think, in a particularly hopeless subset of resolution renegers: where most people will make new year’s resolutions, only to see their resolve falter at some point during the new year, I have now twice broken my resolution – and have yet to reach New Year’s Day…

I have, of course, been sorely tempted (surely everyone else who breaks a resolution does so willfully and in the complete absence of provocation… ;-P). But I ask you: who could maintain a vow of even temporary silence with LMagee in the background, lobbing provocative emails that positively beg to be publicly acknowledged and addressed.

First there was the labour of love involved in assembling the list of all the works we’ve read and discussed together this past year. What an appropriate thing for a period of year-end reflection! How could I not post it to the blog? And besides, that post required no new thinking, no novel problem-solving, no creativity on my part – surely that post didn’t count? So I posted – my rationalisations at the ready: see, even the title suggests that, in spite of appearances, this isn’t really a post – not deep down where it counts. In the text, I suggest that the entry should be interpreted, not as a post, but merely as an organisational update – oh, and don’t mind that bit of anecdotal window-dressing, which was simply tossed in for a bit of local colour, so the entry wouldn’t be so dry… I then use some sleight of hand to qualify my original resolution – ex post facto, one might say – suggesting that I had only ever intended to declare a hiatus on something I now called “serious blogging”…

But now I must surrender even this pretence. And, once again, LM is to blame. Last night LM sent me the most extraordinary email – all innocence and light:

Hope you have a lovely new year’s eve, with as little distraction from Hegel as possible (although it will be the bicentennial of the Phenomenology, as far as I can tell).

What a deliciously underhanded, self-undermining directive – evoking such flagrant historical symbolism (of which I otherwise would have been completely unaware) in the guise of insisting that I ignore it and enjoy my break. By this morning, my resolution reduced to a mere flinch of embarrassment, I suggested to LM that perhaps serious blogging wasn’t completely ruled out during this period – although this would, of course, break with the established order in which we had agreed to conduct our online reading group discussions. Scenting weakness, and not willing to let me off so lightly, LM followed up with:

And of course, with the sounds of fireworks vaguely reminiscent of Napoleon’s cannons at the battle of Jena, just as the Phenomenology was being completed, what time could be more apposite than New Year’s Eve for posting on Hegel?

How delightful – and, whether intended this way or not, what a lovely tacit critique of the comparative comfort in which we currently reflect on these issues.

In any event: in honour of LM’s self-deprecating (and, often, just plain deprecating… ;-P) sense of irony, I’ll write something on the preface to the Phenomenology today – and queue the post to appear at the stroke of midnight, Melbourne time… My post, I should flag, will likely be rather bad: there is a reason I had originally not intended to write on Phenomenology until late January… Hegel tells us:

We may rest assured that it is the nature of truth to force its way to recognition when the time comes, and that it only appears when its time has come, and hence never appears too soon, and never finds a public that is not ripe to receive it. And, further, we may be sure that the individual thinker requires this result to take place, in order to give him confidence in regard to what is no more as yet than a matter for himself singly and alone, and in order to find his assurance, which in the first instance merely belongs to a particular individual, realized as something universal.

If we are to take this seriously at all, I fear we’re forced to suspect that – with no truth I can identify attempting to force its way into my recognition at the moment – my midnight mutterings might best be drowned out by the Melbourne firework displays… It’s not for the symbolism alone that I’ll schedule the post to go up at a delay… ;-P

Still, regardless of the actual value of its content, LM might still be well-advised to savour this post. For apparently our small reading group has recently garnered unexpected and august attention – attention that admires the concept, but finds our implementation to be somewhat… base and common – ripe for improvement by just the right sort… I have therefore been approached – on the sly, as it were, so do please keep this information between ourselves – to join a newly-forming Reading Supergroup (“invitation only”, I am told), in which I would apparently be exposed to heights of intellectual virtuosity without precedent in my hitherto thwarted intellectual development.

As tempting as this sounds, I find myself quite happy with my current reading group, and confused as to the benefits to be found in seeking out another. I shared my confusion with LM, who originally thought I might be worried about the perception of conflicting loyalties, and graciously gave me permission to attend as many reading groups as I like… 🙂 LM even suggested that our reading group might benefit from my participation in other groups, as a sort of double agent or reading group sleeper:

You have my consent and blessings to participate in a rival reading group. In fact I think this would be useful as an effort to conduct a form of reading group espionage. I am concerned of course that our reading group efforts could be plagiarised by what could eventually be numerous other […] reading groups (all so-called “invitation only”). I can foresee that, left unchecked, there will also be many parasitic blogs developed, leeching the content from our primordial foundry of criticism. There may even eventuate reading groups for ARC projects, set up solely for the purpose of reading materials actually related to the projects themselves (although this does seem at the limits of speculative reason). I fear without proper corrective measures the pristine and pure objectives our group will thus be corrupted by these derivative organisations, which seem grow virus-like from our original cell. The possibilities for being “unpopular” only hint at what to me seem the logical organic development here: of bitter rivalries, jealousies, factionalism, vituperative cross-postings and derailments of careers, as groups compete for what scant prestige exists in the modern academic world…

In any case, I’ll see you Wednesday. Perhaps we can discuss these dire implications further then.

When I protested that I have no desire to participate in a rival reading group – whatever important intelligence I might gather – LM volunteered an analytic perspective:

I think in psychoanalytic terms it must be admitted that your desire, far from being non-existent, has been sublimated and repressed, requiring a form of coercion to encourage its realisation. Your superiors no doubt recognise this and are merely interceding on your behalf…

While it does sometimes appear that certain persons have come to such a conclusion, and oriented their actions accordingly, I must say that I find myself… resisting this interpretation… Crass attempts at coercion seem quite consistently to result in the opposite of their intended effect. No: it takes something much more nefarious to provoke me to action against my will – something, perhaps, like sly references to events that resonate with the potentials of the historical moment… Tell me how some Supergroup will be as able to satisfy that desire… ;-P

But the countdown to the new year approaches – all too soon the fireworks will begin to fall, and I have a bad post on Hegel to write! Happy New Year’s Eve to everyone! And may you all find more success in keeping your resolutions than I have done (and as much joy as I’ve found in breaking them… ;-P)!

This Is Not a Post

Magritte's PipeStill intending on maintaining my holiday blogging hiatus, but wanted to post some organisational updates for the reading group in the new year, and couldn’t resist tossing up a bit of ephemera while I was at the keyboard…

On the ephemera side of the equation: my favourite coffeeshop, where I often spend my mornings reading and writing, is blissfully empty at this time of year. I think the place is open only because the owner is remodelling the kitchen (and fretting over how to minimise the damage the remodel will inevitably wreak on the accumulated layers of informal and formal artwork that cover every surface). At least at the times I frequent the place, I seem to be their only customer (which has caused me to wonder whether they appreciate the custom, or whether it’s just a nuisance for them to have to prepare coffee for one person…).

Today, however, another hopeful soul – not a regular – happened upon the place and, since the establishment doubles as a pub, ordered a beer before absorbing that the environment presented no easy options for companionship. Forced to settle on me by default, he attempted a faux-casual approach to my table. I registered his intention out of the corner of my eye and, not desiring company, tried to make a great show of concentrating on Hegel. Alas, my tactic was unsuccessful, and I ended up having to rebuff the man explicitly, provoking some apparent confusion as to why Phenomenology should offer better company… (If you have to ask, etc…. ;-P)

The incident reminded me of when I was researching in Paris, where over time I became quite irritated at people’s tendency to assume that, because I was unaccompanied, I must necessarily want company – even when I was obviously absorbed in some task. I eventually took to carrying a copy of Durkheim’s Suicide with me any time I intended to work in a public space. I found that a prominently displayed copy of a work with that title was sufficient to deter most approaches with nary a word exchanged (although I observed some truly priceless facial expressions as people suddenly decided that they really didn’t want to initiate a conversation, after all…). The few hardy persons who persisted in approaching generally attempted to use the book as their initial point of contact: “What’s that book about?” they would ask. This opened the way for me to reply, “It’s a work that shows how social integration can cause people to kill themselves…” That response usually worked nicely to ensure my privacy. (I’m loads of fun in person, let me tell you… ;-P)

At any rate, in terms of reading group signposts for the next several weeks:

LMagee is waiting not-so-patiently for a discussion of the follow-up to the initial post on the Derrida-Searle debate. Because I’ve somewhat unilaterally called off my own serious blogging for a bit, LM is holding off publication of the piece until the middle of next week (thereby tacitly giving me a deadline for rejoining serious public discussion… ;-P).

I’ve invited a Mystery Guest Blogger to perhaps introduce a discussion on Lakoff and Pinker – no firm commitment yet, but I’m very much hoping this arrangement will work out. I’ll withhold further details until we know for certain.

Unless others are eager to step into the breach (someone? anyone?), I’ll likely write something on the preface to Phenomenology of Spirit, as the inaugural reading group post on that work, some time in mid-to-late January.

While I am looking forward to what the reading group will be reading and discussing, LM seems to be in a more nostalgic mood, and has compiled an impressive-looking bibliography documenting what we have already achieved (perhaps LM has been reading Spurious… ;-P). LM’s bibliography of works read since we formed (in case anyone was curious) is pasted below. Links to the discussions on many of these works, to the readings that are available online, and to various additional, “non-core” readings associated with the reading group discussions, can be found in the entries within the Reading Group category.

Chomsky, N., (2002), Syntactic Structures, Walter de Gruyter.

Chomsky, N., (2006), Language and Mind, Cambridge University Press.

Derrida, J., (1988), Limited Inc., Northwestern University Press Evanston, IL.

Fitch, W.T. and Hauser, M.D. and Chomsky, N., (2005), “The evolution of the language faculty: clarifications and implications”.

Hacking, I., (2002), Historical ontology, Harvard University Press Cambridge, Mass.

Hauser, M.D. and Chomsky, N. and Fitch, W., (2002), “The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?”

Jackendoff, R. and Pinker, S., (2005), “The nature of the language faculty and its implications for evolution of language (Reply to Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky)” Cognition 97.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M., (1980), Metaphors we live by, University of Chicago Press Chicago.

Pinker, S., (1995), The Language Instinct, HarperPerennial.

Pinker, S. & Jackendoff, R. (2005) “The Faculty of Language: What’s Special about It?” Cognition 95.

Saussure, F. and others, (1966), Course in general linguistics, McGraw-Hill New York.

Searle, J.R., (1977?), “Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida” Glyph II.

Weber, M., (1946), “Science as a Vocation”, Oxford University Press.

Whorf, B.L. and Carroll, J.B., (1956), Language, thought and reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, MIT Press.

Wittgenstein, L., (1999), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Dover Publications.

Wittgenstein, L., (1967), Philosophical investigations, Blackwell Oxford.

[Note: image modified from the one hosted at Wikipedia – please see the Wikipedia page for information.]

Holiday Hiatus

Taking a brief holiday break from blogging – mainly to try to consolidate some of what I’ve been thinking and writing in various contexts recently, into a less gestural and perhaps more useful form…

I couldn’t resist reproducing the recently uncovered Tennessee Williams’ poem – not as a reflection, I should stress, of my mood in any general sense, but as something that resonated a bit with my desire to withdraw – briefly – from public discussion, until I can gather a few fragmentary thoughts into a more meaningful form…

I am tired.
I am tired of speech and of action.
If you should meet me upon the
street do not question me for
I can tell you only my name
and the name of the town I was
born in-but that is enough.
It does not matter whether tomorrow
arrives anymore. If there is
only this night and after it is
morning it will not matter now.
I am tired. I am tired of speech
and of action. In the heart of me
you will find a tiny handful of
dust. Take it and blow it out
upon the wind. Let the wind have
it and it will find its way home.

Thanks to everyone who has challenged me to think more creatively and rigorously this year – it’s been an exciting and draining and incredibly productive time.

See folks again in the new year…

The Scott Heard Round the World

Most readers will already know from Acephalous, Crooked Timber, or elsewhere the fate of Scott Eric Kaufman’s meme experiment, which has been discussed here on a couple of prior occasions. The methodology slam concept seems to have become a bit of a mini-meme (counter meme?) following in Scott’s wake – an unintended experimental side effect, which Scott now apparently intends to address in his MLA presentation:

I’m happy I ran the experiment, if only because I can now cite N. Pepperell’s “methodology slam” in my talk. Because if “the new interdisciplinary” means anything, it’s that people outside your tiny corner of academia can now read, evaluate and condemn your work.

Always happy to be of service…

Blogging Identity

Over at is there no sin in it?, A White Bear has raised some interesting questions about how blogging intersects with real-world contexts. The post begins with a reflection on blogging ethics – is it problematic to blog about our lives, when it’s essentially impossible to do this without bringing in the lives of those around us? It then moves to a discussion of blogging identity: how similar is the “you” of the blog to the “you” in various real-life contexts? What happens when people who know the “you” from one context suddenly encounter the “you” from another? Specifically, A White Bear asks:

So when, if at all, do you tell people you meet that you blog? Do you like it when your new friends read it, or is that kind of creepy, for them to have so much intimate information at their fingertips when you have so little? Do people report back to you in person with their thoughts instead of commenting? Do you ever get super-paranoid that maybe it’s not okay to be talking about your life, which necessarily intersects with the life of others? Then do you get super-extra-paranoid that maybe that’s the wagging finger of the inner “you’re a bad girl!” voice talking?

Read more of this post

Methodology Slam

I’ve been watching with some amusement the evolution of Scott Eric Kaufman’s meme experiment, which I mentioned here the other day (anyone who hasn’t yet linked back will… I don’t know… have some horrible chain-lettery thing happen to you very soon…). For those following from the sidelines, Scott has posted an update on the quantitative success of his experiment. Personally, I’ve been following the unintended qualitative dimensions of the project – specifically, the number of people who’ve evidently decided to help out because, well, they’re so damned irritated about how badly they think the whole thing has been designed.

Sarapen opened with a thoughtful and even-tempered critique (including a literature review, even), but not all participants were as kind. Scrolling through the comments on Scott’s blog, you see a very large number of methodology criticisms, pointing Scott to things he hasn’t controlled for, noting problems in capturing the relevant data, criticising what he believes the data will show, complaining that he hasn’t sufficiently defined his hypothesis prior to the experiment, accusing him of stacking the experimental deck, arguing that the experiment can’t possibly be expected to follow the course of “wild” memes, contesting the finer points of whether “meme” was the right word for this – and, my personal favourite:

Based on my experience with technorati, when they pick up a link can be highly variable and not well-correlated with the actual time that link is created (to the point of being off by days). Your methodology is already crap just on technical grounds, even before taking into account all the objections above. Try using a web bug or something like it next time.

I suggested to Scott that he put all of this criticism to productive use at the MLA conference – prove the value of internet academic discussion, by challenging his panel audience to see whether they can come up with as many reasons that his methodology is “crap”. ;-P Since making this comment, though, I’ve begun to wonder: perhaps we’re looking at the birth of a new kind of PhD student performance art – the methodology slam. Someone stands up on some obscure corner of the net, calls out their research methodology, and asks a friend to tell a friend… Perhaps the results can be submitted as part of the portfolio to the committee approving candidature – a new criterion before you can call yourself ABD…