Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Epistemology of the Blogset

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Remembering that today is National Coming Out Day, I've gotten a kick all day asking my friends, gf, etc. "Is there anybody you need to come out to?" and having them chuckle, "Nah. You?" The joke, of course, is that we have all of us been out so long that nobody DOESN'T know we're gay at this point. In my case, even people I don't know would never think for a minute that I was straight. Every day is National Coming Out Day for me, and no day is. If anything, due to my short hair, wide shoulders, baby face, and swagger, I have to come out as female, over 40, and well-educated quite often, whereas anybody anywhere looking at me figures pretty much immediately that I like the ladies.

That said, as I contemplate this year's academic job market, there is another closet whose benefits and dangers I find myself thinking about over and over, and that closet is the blogger's closet, or blogset (because 'clogger' is a whole 'nother identity to circumnavigate). Daniel Drezner's denial of tenure at Chicago is just the latest example in a conversation dating back at least to "Ivan Tribble"'s arguments last summer in the Chronicle and subsequent follow-up blog discussions that blogs hurt job candidates and untenured academics. The latest from Inside Higher Ed actually argues that anonymity is impossible to maintain, even for those who blog under pseudonyms, as Drezner did not. Arguments range over whether faculties are justified in thinking that anyone who has time to blog should be spending more time in the stacks and less time trolling the net, to some bloggers actually defending their blog time as the equivalent of what their colleagues with families spend with their children.

This argument is both chilling and, I think, aptly gestures to the queerness of blogging, which apparently enjoys that same status among many of our colleagues that masturbation enjoyed a century ago. This means that we bloggers are imagined as pale, palsyed, bloodshot-eyed wankers furtively getting off at our desks before rushing, late and unprepared, to teach another anemic class. As our strength ebbs and our hands shake we turn ever more frantically to our solitary vice, which in turn makes us further unfit to lead the nation's young people towards literacy.


And so we learn, much to our surprise, that free speech on the internet, like queerness, or maternity, is a great way to eliminate that pesky problem of too many candidates for too few jobs. We note yet another special issue of some journal devoted to asking "What Happened to Queer Theory?" as if Queer Theory ever had a chance to begin with, as if there were ever reliable listings on the level of, say, Victorian or Romanticist, of Queer Theory jobs, jobs where academics doing queer work have a snowball's chance in hell of getting hired, or published, or tenured. We find out, much to our surprise, that women academics who want careers must, unlike women doctors and women lawyers, forgo children and families, mostly because motherhood is all too often seen as a no-no for a gal on the tenure track. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article titled "Rigid Tenure System Hurts Young Professors and Women, University Officials Say" the first sentence reads: "Officials of 27 major research universities who met here in late September to discuss ways to make the tenure track more flexible said the lock-step, up-or-out nature of academic careers not only leaves no room for young professors to enjoy their family lives, but also hampers women's efforts to advance in the profession." A Harvard investigator quoted in the piece puts it more succinctly: "We have structured an academic workplace for men of a bygone era."

It is worth noting, as Margo, Darling smartly points out, that few of the leisurely-published old boys of yesterday's academy could compete in today's job market. So even this can't be right. This tenure system isn't to keep bygone men in the club. It's to keep many--most--of us out of it.

Maybe rather than defend one's childlessness as a reason that one be allowed to blog, we should all look at the things bloggers, queers, and mothers on the job market or trying to get tenure have in common. These are that we have lives that diverge from the Fifties "norm" that cultural conservatives seem hell-bent on bringing back, the norm where successful job candidates and junior colleagues shut up, toe the line, and pretend to be whatever they need to seem in order to keep their jobs. Maybe all of us need to look harder at the closet every jobless and untenured person is asked to stay in, a closet defined by a professional ideal of normativity where communicative, sexual, and procreative creativity is expected to take a back seat to the safest and most conventional kinds of intellectual production.


Anonymous said...

Amen, sister.

As far as I am concerned, this post is the best response to the whole academic blogging brouhaha, and should be the last word on the subject.

Because you are so right that ultimately it isn't about blogging, it's about enforcing social norms -- norms that make academic life challenging for women, people of color, g/l/b/t folk.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insights.

Camicao said...

Wow! This is a great post. I want to make an argument about the culture that closets academics who deviate from the norm.

Academia is so competitive and individualist that it fosters miserable attitudes in tenured and untenured faculty. What do you expect? 10-20 years of telling kids what to think and "grading" them for it. Spending all your time "making a name for yourself" (for tenure) and then "keeping your name" in the limelight (for your ego? out of habit?). Feeling misunderstood despite your greatness. Being drunk on getting published here or there. Having the summers off. It all conspires to create a pretty obnoxious and entitled bunch of people who lose themselves in their narcisistic alternate reality. We (I include myself, because now I'm tenured)... we are not really responsible to anyone. Nothing in our job and in our routine prepares us for working well with others. Especially in the humanities (where collaborative work is not rewarded, noticed or credited). We are responsible to our self-image, that's all.

My point is that academia breeds self-absorption, arrogance and bullies. This is why we closet junior faculty, bloggers and other liminal figures.

Sfrajett said...

wow! Sounds like Animal House meets Heart of Darkness, with an extra pinch of Lord of the Flies thrown in. Creepy.