Monday, January 22, 2007

Why I Do This and Whom I'm Doing It For

So a few days ago undine at Not of General Interest asked:

How much information is too much information? What kind of information wouldn't you post on a blog?

Does an academic blog have a natural starting and ending point?

[A]re "academic bloggers" (often those who perform as, or are, male and write under their own names) all about the display--scholarship by another means, as another way to impress the masses and climb the academic ladder--and "academics who blog" (often those who perform as, or are, female) all about continuing community and supporting each other in all those trivial, TMI details?

I'll use these questions to help focus my thus far rather disparate set of musings on Why CitizenSE? and what Hawthorne might say about Blogging While Academic.

Second question first: This blog has a natural end point. Since I started it to kick-start my writing process on my book manuscript, American Studies and the Race for Hawthorne, I'll end it when the book is out and the first run of reviews seems to have run its course. Unless at some point during that period of time other folks want to join in and turn it into a "chiefly about Hawthorne matters" group blog, in which case it will become something very different than it is now. But as long as CitizenSE stays mine alone, by its end its categories and archives will provide various points of entry into the virtual version of my book for anyone who happens to drop by.

I'm definitely with Berube, Kaufman, and others who argue that blogs can be a way of making academic work both more visible and more accessible to a wider variety of people, and perhaps even of changing the nature as well as the image of academic work and institutions themselves. The kind of academic work I want to make more visible and accessible on this blog is the work of turning a dissertation into a book manuscript, something I've obviously struggled with for a long time (I started the race and Hawthorne project about 14 years ago and finished the dissertation, The Race for Hawthorne, 8 and a half years ago!), given the other kinds of work I've prioritized in my career thus far (check out the teaching and service parts of my c.v. if you don't believe me).

Since I was fortunate enough to get hired at one of the majority of universities in the U.S. that don't require a book for tenure, I am in my second academic year of actually being a tenured radical. So this blog is really just for me (establishing a daily writing schedule for myself and trying to stick to it; brainstorming, developing, and refining arguments; working with quotations and intertextualities that I might use in the new chapters, which build on stuff that never made it into the dissertation as well as incorporate brand new material; pursuing tangents that don't fit my manuscript chapter breakdown as it stands today but which might end up not being tangential at all; connecting Hawthorne matters to the present; building an audience who might actually decide to buy the book when it comes out; learning to write for specialists in multiple specialties and non-specialists at the same time; etc.) and my readers (whose view of Hawthorne and his works I hope to change; to whom I want to introduce his less-often-read works, debates among Hawthorne scholars, ways of seeing his works in multiple contexts, fields, and literary and cultural dialogues; to whom I want to provide ideas for research and teaching that they can run with on their own, and hopefully report back to me with their results; etc.). I don't foresee building a regular readership with this blog--what could be more boring than checking in every day to see how much closer my dissertation is to a book? But even if all I get are random hits from search engines and the occasional visit from friends, family, and colleagues, it'll still be worth doing.

Now on to the first question. Some things you won't see on this blog: anything to do with my wife or my current students or internal politics at my university; responses to memes or headlines; stuff that can't easily be related to Hawthorne in some way that I really really want to blog on (I created Mostly Harmless, which all of a sudden has become a group blog, for that purpose). I'll continue to blog about my kids when I feel like it here, at least until they're old enough to read about themselves on-line, at which point I'll bow to their wishes--no, check that, the damn manuscript better be done before that happens!

Which leads me to the third question: I'm male and tenured but I'm writing what I've called a "professional/personal blog" under a pseudonym so thin one search or two clicks can blow it away; I limit my links to literary/cultural studies bloggers and group blogs I enjoy reading and whom I'd be flattered to find out are reading this; I've already set up a summer book event with a fellow antebellum lit-alluder, so I'm all about the virtual community building (in fact, my latest analogy for blogoramaville is the now-outdated practice of "calling on" one's friends, acquaintances, allies, and enemies and either leaving a visiting card [sitemeter does it for us] or dropping in for a spot of tea and conversation [leaving a comment]); I'm making public my writing process in hopes of providing support to those trying to finish papers, theses, dissertations, or books (my annoying comments on other people's blogs are aimed at the same target, perhaps); I'm at a stage in my life and career where my "actual" research productivity is going to determine whether another institution would want to try to hire me away from a department I'm very happy to be an active part of and which from the start has welcomed the "new" faculty as equal members of the community (a tradition I look forward to continuing when I return from my Fulbright leave, particularly because we're hiring another pre-20th C Americanist for the first time since my colleagues George Sebouhian and Jim Huffman retired!), so CitizenSE in itself is not going to do much if anything to help me climb any academic ladders (and given the reception of my political blog in its first months, where I played the ineffectual reasonable liberal to my conservative libertarian bomb-throwing friend and co-blogger, may do more harm than good); I'm writing "teh obscurest blog on the intertubes," so to the extent that masses of people are impressed by anything I might write here, all power to them.

Let's see, did I leave anything out? Have I procrastinated long enough?

Yes, and yes. Too long, in fact--my older daughter's been home three hours now from her second day at "school" (a hoikuen is a school-like day care establishment; although no one in our family is a Christian, she's going to a Baptist one b/c the people seemed nice and they're one of the few around that take children before the academic year officially begins in Japan, in April), and I have about 45 emails to get out to my students before the end of the day tomorrow. Tomorrow's close reading will have to be particularly bad!


undine said...

Great post and great answers, Constructivist. I like the focus of the blog and what you're doing with the Hawthorne schedule & the posts, too; having different blogs for professional and personal matters might be the best solution.

Are you finding that it's working pretty well? I keep fearing that if I were to blog about my scholarship, I'd spend all the energy writing on the blog and not on the writing itself. That's why any posts about writing are all about the mechanics: how much gets written, how I'm avoiding (or giving in to) procrastination, and so on.

What's the Reynolds project that BikeProf talks about in another post (if it wouldn't reveal your identity to talk about it)?

The Constructivist said...

Hey undine, BikeProf and I are going to spend some time this summer discussing Philip McFarland's Hawthorne in Concord (big oops--based on an essay by Larry Reynolds, I thought he wrote the book), on our respective blogs, given his Emerson allusion and my Hawthorne allusion in our blog names. We could call it Carnival of 1840s Concord or something and open it up to interested bloggers. I have to check in with him to see if he's still interested if it's not Reynolds we'd be blogging on.

Yeah, the writing energy thing is a big and open question with this little experiment. Right now I'm finding the quick hit and free writing nature of the blogging quite freeing, in that I put pressure too much on myself to cite extensively in my academic writing and have always had a tendency to escape writing issues with further research. And I'm coming up with new ideas here that will likely make it into the book somehow--either within the current chapter plan, or in a reorganization or simply in opening and closing moves.

But at some point I have to turn to bringing my citations and arguments on, say, my "Old News" chapter up to date, at which point you'll see me doing really crappy posts for a while. Or maybe posts on new chapters that I don't already have loads of crappy drafts and halfway decent talks to cannibalize. Maybe combining the excitement of working with new materials with the rather different excitement of seeing how my original arguments on racial aesthetics stand up to the work of people who've published on similar topics in other literatures and periods and places in the past 5 years will be energizing or dispiriting.

So check back on my tone here in April when the new academic year begins--if I sound frustrated, the book itself isn't going well!

Oh, and I have as little anonymity as possible (next to none) and am not trying to keep it from the curious, so no worries for me on that score.

undine said...

I'll check back and look forward to the Hawthorne/McFarland discussion.