Two weeks ago, along with Floating Academy members Eddy Kent and Emily Simmons, I attended a roundtable on academic blogging at ACCUTE hosted by Rohan Maitzen, Victorian professor at Dalhousie University and academic blogger. I had the good fortune to take one of Prof. Maitzen’s classes as an undergraduate, so it was a real pleasure to see her again and hear her thoughts on this burgeoning forum for literary critics. As she explains in her blog, Novel Readings, she initially sent out a call for papers on this topic, but didn’t receive any proposals. In addition to the fact that there simply may not be many Canadian academics writing blogs, there are a number of possible reasons for this apparent lack of interest: many academic bloggers write anonymously and might be wary of mixing this more personal style of writing with their academic persona, they might be unprepared to theorize a relatively new field (to academia anyway), or they might be unwilling to bring this more personal, creative aspect of their thinking together with the institutionalized setting of a conference, since blogging offers an alternative to institutional forums such as conferences and journals.
The collegial and collaborative environment that Prof. Maitzen created, however, persuaded me that the conference environment (perhaps roundtables more than structured papers) can be very much like academic blogging. Perhaps conferences could even borrow from the style of blogging, which often poses questions rather than always presenting a structured argument, is collaborative (with comments taking up at least as much space as the original posts), and is, at least ideally, inclusive. These are all positive aspects of blogging. I touched on some of the anxieties related to blogging in my last post, and, of course, it is the very democratic aspect of blogging – the fact that, as Todd Napolitano complained in 1996, “anyone with a computer and access to the Net fancies themselves a writer who simply must be read” – that causes some people concern.* I am not one of those people. These concerns, though, that blogging is self-indulgent, amateurish, and a cop-out for people who can’t actually publish their work, are what academic bloggers have to contend with when we are making a case for blogging’s value and, perhaps, its relationship to our “real” work.
One of the issues we discussed at the ACCUTE roundtable was whether blogging was something that should be recognized by our universities. Should we announce it on our C.V.s or cover letters, as proof that we are writing consistently and engaging with academics (and/or non-academics) outside of our institutions, or should we hide it and assume that our supervisors or Chairs would read such activity as distracting and frivolous? Maitzen was optimistic about those of us who are just beginning our careers, who can continue to define what academic blogs are and what (or if) they can contribute to academia. At this stage, the academic blog is a term, as one of the participants pointed out, that still seems to be an oxymoron. In her recent post on the roundtable, Maitzen suggests that the primary value of blogging should be intrinsic, and I agree. That is, the principle benefits of blogging lie in the exercise of writing often and clarifying your own ideas, and perhaps engaging in a dialogue with interested participants. And if our “real” work or teaching benefits from the act of blogging, that seems to be one of the many bonuses that this forum makes available.
*Thanks to Gregory for this reference.