“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Blogging, Academic Publishing

This nice post on Knowledge Ecology distinguishes well between blogging and publishing as separate distinct environments. Yes.

But then we do have to ask, why the threat? Why the need to put blogging down?

It's not the "fear of being scooped" (the post's final paragraph) but the disturbing similarity in a number of respects. Having published ten books at this point I can tell you that the thought process I go through in writing a paragraph for an official publication is perhaps to some alarmingly similar to the thought process I go through writing a blog paragraph.

Why else put it down? It wouldn't be a threat if it was totally different.

It's not the fear of being scooped. It's the fear that traditional publication is a slower officially sanctioned paper version of blogging.

Like Zizek on "life 2.0": it shows you that "nature" is life 1.0...


Derek Wall said...

too much academic material is enclosed and not accessible.

viva the blogging!

Eileen Joy said...

I totally agree with this 1,000 percent. With all due respect to, say, a media ecologist who might be interested in the ways in which different writing environments and different writing media affect the kind/types of writing that "happen" [get mediated], blogging one's thoughts, scholarly arguments, research proposals, book outlines, etc. is not necessarily any different than doing the same on pads of lined legal paper or on one's laptop in the privacy of one's study. Sure, as a blogger myself, I am sometimes inclined to write/think *fast* in the weblog environment, without always worrying about whether or not I've really "thought things through" or second-guessed myself via others', more "expert" work, but many of my posts are also also painstakingly labored over, just as they would be if I were putting together a conference presentation, or a draft of a paper for publication, and yes, Virginia, blogging constitutes "publication," although it certainly may not meet with everyone's "official" approval.

I've argued this so many times elsewhere that I'm pretty sure a lot of people are sick of hearing me say this, but I think we need to start erring on the side of open and transparent and hyper-productivity versus "blind" and creeping-slow and parsimonious traditional academic publication. We need more, and not less thinking out loud *in public*. We need to encourage creativity and risk-taking. We need to democratize the forums and venues through which more voices and ideas can be heard.

Why is everyone so overwrought about "quality," as if a certain group of supposed "master"/expert gate-keepers were required to ensure some ideas get through and others are held back? What is gained here? I would rather run a press that published 100 books in a year, even if only 10 of them were deemed, by *history*, to be of lasting value later on. Speaking of which [and I'm a medievalist saying this], fuck history. Yes, I care about the future and want to actually *give* something of myself to that future, but we have to stop thinking about posterity all of the time, as regards the production of intellectual discourse, as if we should always be policing what "makes it," as it were, into the future.

[to be continued]

Eileen Joy said...


Of course, where this all gets tricky is in relation to matters like tenure & promotion decisions. Faculty and university administrators want to have quality controls in place for determining what sorts of "writing" count, and what sorts count less, or not all. But even by the most traditional methods of peer review, schlock gets through and genius gets suppressed. And many tenure & promotion decisions become a matter of checking things off a list, which is just to say that, as far as "quality control" *really* goes, even now that's mainly a matter of how many of your own peers you can convince [in your particular field or fields] in any given moment of the value of your ideas/writing, which is often a separate matter from what your own departmental and university colleagues think of your work.

Speaking of which, although Latour has famously said that "truth" is primarily a function of whatever ideas are prevailing/winning in any given moment, I would love to see us get rid of "argument" in the sense of "winning" arguments. Yes, we need some give and take and struggle between ideas in order for everyone's ideas to get better (more nuanced, more finessed, etc.), but what we don't need is agonistic competition. What's to be gained by proclaiming that someone else's ideas are "dead wrong" or misguided or even "weak"? [We should remember the importance of error, too, in our intellectual work--think Serres's "The Parasite"]. What does it mean to say that one supposedly cements or augments one's own scholarly rep by down-grading another scholar's findings/arguments? [One of the reasons I love Harman, although he occasionally dips into the "I denounce this!" voice, is that he is ultimately a bricolage artist, bringing together the unloved strands of other philosophers' work to bear new fruit in relation to his own "swerves" which are rooted, nevertheless, in others' work.]

[to be continued]

Eileen Joy said...


A better scenario, in my mind, is one where we work together, across disciplines and fields and periods, on common concerns and problems, like: what is sentience? why does the aesthetic matter? what is virtue? what is a self? how do we define "life"? what counts as a grievable life? what new, productive alliances can be formed across the human/nonhuman divide? what is the role of literature in consciousness? what *is* consciousness? is full democracy possible? what is justice? what is hospitality and why does it matter? what is embodiment? And so on and so forth. And then we aim for a kind of all-out free-for-all of ideas and discourses and dialogues and debates and collaborative investigations into these questions with the idea that what we are really aiming for is something that I call *better* "living arrangements" ["living arrangements," moreover, that would take in and attempt to shelter the greatest number of "lives," human and nonhuman, possible]. Instead of individual careers: working groups.

The labor of *knowing* ought to be one at which we would throw every tool we have and from which we would work to remove all impediments and "conditions" [to cadge from Derrida's "unconditional university"], so anyone, anywhere, who puts down blogging, is perversely trying to say [even if unconsciously] that there should be limits on ways of knowing & thinking & writing our "discourses," that some forms of supposedly academic writing are professional, others are para-professional, and others are sub-professional, or not professional at all. They are also assuming that some forms of thinking and writing are easier than others. And further, that writing too much and too often might also mean: garbage in, garbage out.

Ultimately, this is about freedom. What we need now in the university is a reinvention of the term "academic freedom," which has come to mean so little. We also need a larger sense of intellectual generosity and curiosity. Nothing less is at stake than knowledge itself. Also, living well.