Friday, November 02, 2007

The new plenitude of culture but humanities “in trouble”

by Joseph Kugelmass (x-posted to The Valve)
Adam, by contrast, writes that bloggers seek each other out of loneliness. He writes, “I know that my interest in blogs peaked when I was living in the rural town where my undergraduate institution was located. I was fortunate enough to find a vibrant intellectual community in Chicago, so that I frankly don’t need blogs as much as I once did.” I think he is right to an extent. One’s interest in blogging is intensified by periods of isolation, and many blogs go under once their authors become sufficiently comfortable — a partner, enough friends, the right job, more concrete hobbies.
While that may appear to be a natural fate for a blog, it is also true that many would-be artists let go of those ambitions when they reach a certain age. Loneliness, sexual frustration, boredom, and even poverty have been fuel for incredibly successful works of art, and we recognize both that art can be poor compensation, and also that it exceeds its sometimes banal origins. Given the political potential of intellectual debate, the democratic possibilities of online media, and the uncertainty and dispersal that afflicts the humanities, there are professional, political, and disciplinary reasons to go on blogging, as indeed Adam has.
Paradoxically, the humanities are universally perceived as “in trouble” at a moment when culture and criticism are thriving: new journals, new novelists, a whole new era for television serials, an explosion of independent music and film, and new homes on the web for criticism (Pitchfork, Slate, Salon) and imaginative work (YouTube and other video hosting, webcomics, hypertext fictions, etc). Humanistic blogs are one way of restoring the connection between scholarly tradition and the new plenitude of culture...
Bloggers deal with institutional power every day; the Chronicle of Higher Education is almost exclusively for and about institutions of higher learning. If blogging itself is to become a valuable resource for a broad group of readers, and a force for change within the academy, bloggers must embrace the power that organization and collectivity confers. The alternative is innovation in a vacuum. The fact that, at certain times, collaboration produces turf wars, is evidence of the fact that something emerges therein worth fighting for. Readers do not, as we sometimes imagine, flee in horror from fierce debates across blog lines; instead, that is often precisely what engages their interest, skeptics and enthusiasts alike.
De-centered blog conversations are often stepping-stones to mainstream work: ironing the kinks out of a journal article, gathering sources for a dissertation, drafting a keynote address or the chapter of a book. They are adjunct to academic institutions. But the opportunity exists to turn blogging into something more than an interstitial occupation, for the lonely times, and the idle times. It can be the practice, as vital in scholarship as in friendship among equals, of discovering a voice.

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