Yeah, I know, I had to go with a cheesy post title. In any case, I feel I've been sucked deep into the morass of a blog debate, and I want to say a little more about it, to clarify my position and perhaps moderate the tone of my previous post on the subject. The debate, of course, is over Jeff Rice's IHE piece on "serious" blogging. As I reread my own post, I realize that in fact its tone isn't that bad; my biggest gripe is with the people who commented on the post, really, more than what Rice had to say. (Though I disagreed with some of his points, obviously.) I think my tone certainly invited certain less-than-scholarly comments, for which I take full responsibility. The debate has continued over at Dr. Crazy's, and I was perhaps less restrained in my comments there.
In any case.
To clarify: my main problem with the article is that I think it mischaracterizes pseudonymous blogging. All well and good. My problem with the debate that's arisen in the wake of the article is that it seems to me to boil down to pseudonymous bloggers saying, Hey, we don't like what you say about anonymity! We don't agree!, and Rice/those who agreed with the article saying, That's not the point! The point was about playfulness, and why are you all hung up on the anonymity comment? That's not a big deal!
What's funny is that I think that at heart, pseudonymous bloggers and the Rice camp aren't really disagreeing with what he considers his main point - that blogging has a lot of potential to open up areas of exploration into new media and genres and all sorts of cool stuff. Nor do people who generally agree with the article (my example here is Collin Brooke) necessarily agree with the specific point about pseudonymity. Even Brooke, who's defending the article, characterizes Rice's comments about the fear behind pseudonymity as a mistake. Where we seem to disagree is over the weight that should be given to the comments about anonymity. Rice and his proponents, I think, want to argue that the pseudonymity comments are perhaps tangential to the main point of the argument - that is, even if you disagree with them, that doesn't undermine his article as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, anonymous bloggers see this differently. And I just want to comment here to defend our different interpretation. While I don't in any way see Rice agreeing with Tribble, by writing in the wake of the Tribble affair, he's entering a very specific context. Perhaps he didn't realize quite how strongly pseudonymous bloggers (as well as named ones) reacted to Tribble's posts. In any case, I don't think that Rice-the-author can control his readers' responses. If anonymous bloggers see the comments about anonymity in his piece as torpedoing the rest of his argument, I don't think it's a valid response to dismiss that reaction by saying, That's not what I meant. Obviously, not all responses to a piece of writing are equally valid, but I think this is a consistent thread in pseudonymous responses to the piece, and one that needs to be taken more seriously. (And here I think the responses at IHE to his article are telling - it became an opportunity for a number of commenters, people who clearly don't blog anonymously, to say, Yeah, doesn't that anonymous blogging suck? So I don't think it's just anonymous bloggers being paranoid to react to this part of the article.)
Which is not to say that Rice isn't making other reasonable points; it's simply to say that there's a group of readers out here for whom those points are less relevant than the anonymity comments.
I'd also argue that Rice's characterization of anonymity online isn't quite accurate. Something that seems to recur in some of his blog posts is the idea that certain ideas are more valid because they have a name behind them. In some contexts, yes, absolutely. I disagree that the blogosphere is necessarily one of those contexts. My alter ego, New Kid, has been around for a little while now, and she/I has developed a reputation (whether good or bad) in certain blogging circles, and I'd argue even a degree of cultural capital. It is NOT AT ALL the same kind of cultural capital that my "real" persona, assistant professor of medieval history at college X, has developed (it's probably greater!), nor is it cultural capital that's interchangeable with that of my "real" persona. But I don't believe that just because I post under a pseudonym that I can just say whatever I want and other people be damned. There are consequences to what I write here. No, they're not the same as the consequences that Rice faces by writing under his real name, but I'd argue that I'm still constrained. (Here I also really like Brooke's point that it's not only pseudonymous bloggers who self-censor and create online personae.)
Something that occurred to me last night as some of this was whirling around my brain is that there may end up being a difference between people who see blogging as a means to an end, and those who see it as an end in and of itself. I have the impression (this may be wrong) that Rice sees blogging as an end - that the blog itself is a product, like a miscellany or a commonplace book, that deserves credit for its existence and analysis like any other kind of genre. Myself, I would argue that blogging is a means to an end - it's a way for me to connect with an extremely valuable community and to get some welcome responses to my ideas. It can also be a means for me to play around with writing in a way that I don't get to in my day job. I suspect there are people for whom blogging falls somewhere between these two extremes. In any case, it probably is unfair for someone who sees blogging as a means to criticize someone who sees blogging as an end (but again, I think to define blogging only as an end does come across as criticizing those who do it differently.)
Finally, I want to repeat something I said over at Dr. Crazy's: I made a comment there about the fact that one of the blogs that Rice cited as a model of blogging was that of his girlfriend, Jenny Edbauer. I called that "cheesy," perhaps not my finest professional moment. But I want to apologize again for any implication that I believed Rice was citing Edbauer just because she'd slept with him (her phrase, not mine) - that is, for any implication that Edbauer's blog isn't worthy of being cited in such a context. I knew/still know nothing about her blog; it only struck me that bringing it up as an example is a conflict of interest. Obviously if someone is partnered with someone in the same field and sub-field, the issue of how to deal with citing each others' work is going to come up, and I didn't quite think that through. But I guess I will say that I responded to the citation in the same light as a book review: most journals that I'm aware of have a policy against having spouses/partners review each others' books, for example. It was in that light that I made the comment about the citation of Edbauer's blog, and it wasn't meant as a slight of her own work. So for the sexist interpretation that my comment left open, I apologize.
I also hope that this post can be taken in the light of Rice's stated desire to respond to posts that engage the content of his article, rather than his personality. All comments welcome, although I realize people may well be ready to move on from this tempest in a teapot!