Saturday, January 20, 2007

What Would Hawthorne Say About Gender and BWA?

Well, as someone infamous for his "damned mob of scribbling women" jab, Hawthorne might not be the best person to ask about the gender politics of Blogging While Academic (a kind of "old is the new new" blogologue, as I discovered when I googled "academic blogging"). But this is too easy an out, as the decades of debates over Hawthorne and women, gender, and sex might be deployed to show.

Perhaps, going off my earlier Hawthorne and blogging post, he would have been a low-traffic male blogger using the pen name Oberon, somewhat bitter at the popularity of high-traffic blogs by Lydia Maria Child, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, among others, yet constantly experimenting with various methods of reaching their audiences (might he even have posted some of his love letters to Sophia or thoughts on parenting under the cover of his pseudonym?). Or maybe he would have joined a group blog for a time and then started an individual blog satirizing it. Who knows?

What we do know is that at the very least, Hawthorne created a narrator in "Old News" who opened the sketch with the observation:

Here is a volume of what were once newspapers--each on a small half-sheet, yellow and time-stained, of a coarse fabric, and imprinted with a rude old type. Their aspect conveys a singular impression of antiquity, in a species of literature which we are accustomed to consider as connected only with the present moment. Ephemeral as they were intended and supposed to be, they have long outlived the printer and his whole subscription list, and have proved more durable, as to their physical existence, than most of the timber, bricks, and stone, of the town where they were issued. These are but the least of their triumphs. The government, the interests, the opinions--in short, all the moral circumstances that were contemporary with their publication, have passed away, and left no better record of what they were, than may be found in these frail leaves. Happy are the editors of newspapers! Their productions excel all others in immediate popularity, and are certain to acquire another sort of value with the lapse of time. They scatter their leaves to the wind, as the sibyl did, and posterity collects them, to be treasured up among the best materials of its wisdom. With hasty pens, they write for immortality.

and who ended it with the lament:

the old newspapers had an indescribable picturesqueness, not to be found in the later ones. Whether it be something in the literary execution, or the ancient print and paper, and the idea, that those same musty pages have been handled by people--once alive and bustling amid the scenes there recorded, yet now in their graves beyond the memory of man--so it is, that in those elder volumes, we seem to find the life of a past age preserved between the leaves, like a dry specimen of foliage. It is so difficult to discover what touches are really picturesque, that we doubt whether our attempts have produced any similar effect.

Change newspapers to academic blogs, and the survey of 18th-century Anglo-American new media to a survey of, say, the course of 21st-century academic blogging, and Hawthorne's narrator's observations and laments seem quite current. Given that much 18th-century new media was pseudonymously written, those who diss pseudonymous academic bloggers today may not be being Hawthornesque enough. (If you don't believe me, check out New Media, Old Media, edited by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan: it doesn't specifically address blogging, much less Blogging While Academic, but it does put our latest new media revolution/bubble in historical context and think through the implications.)

And yet those who diss female bloggers in particular seem to be repeating the sentiments of the narrator of "Mrs. Hutchinson," with his dismissive comments about "public women" and "ink-stained Amazons"--or at least enacting his observation:

Fame does not increase the peculiar respect which men pay to female excellence, and there is a delicacy, (even in rude bosoms, where few would think to find it) that perceives, or fancies, a sort of impropriety in the display of woman's naked mind to the gaze of the world, with indications by which its inmost secrets may be searched out.

We sure have come a long way, baby! (Just look at the comments on McLemee's IHE piece....)

But enough history (repeating itself). Here are some predictions: as more Blogging While Academic happens, as more young female bloggers get academic jobs and tenure, and as more untenured radicals start families, Berube's "raw/cooked" or Kaufman's "academic blogging/academics who blog" binaries will become less identifiably gendered; we'll start seeing more full-blown structuralist analyses of Blogging While Academic and stop relying so much on such binaries; and Blogging While Academic will become as normal (in the sense of unremarkable yet not as prevalent as you might expect) as putting your syllabi online.

This is as good a place as any to stop--to be continued Monday, on a more personal tangent.

No comments: