Partially Disenblogged

Apart from being overextended on various fronts, I've been going through a little spell of uncertainty about what role blogging plays -- whether actually, potentially, or what have you -- in my work as a writer. Hence the slowdown here over the past two or three weeks.

When Quick Study launched a year ago, it was with an essay of sorts on the experience of finding myself both caught up in this medium and out of touch with the culture it is fostering.

Actually, rereading it now, that inaugural post still seems like a pretty good diagnosis of the confusion and ambivalence lately at hand. There may be very little to add to it. The situation it describes is not going to change -- or at least not for the better.

The experience of involvement/disconnection is probably structural. It is a matter of personality or sensibility, perhaps. But possibly there is also something more to it than that.

Once, people discussed the online world in terms that were more or less literally utopian -- the idea being that it was an emergent space in which power, hierarchy, etc. would be suspended. Of course it has been a while since anyone took that idea very seriously. Having read Bourdieu, I never really could -- so it wasn't surprising to find that the old distinctions reimposed themselves online, just as soon as everyone found their bearings. That's just the way the world works.

But beyond that, there is the way the medium itself works. I've been slow to understand that part.

For example, I've been writing the column for three years now and still have almost no sense of there being an audience for it. That there is one, I do comprehend. (They aren't paying me to write it out of sheer niceness.) But it doesn't seem to meet the needs of the digital culture. It doesn't "go viral."

At this point, I'm more or less resigned to such a state of affairs -- if only of necessity, because it's not as if complaining has done much good. The same baffled acceptance applies in a different way to blogging. It seems not to be a means (in my experiencing anyway) of constituting a "community," as another buzzword has it.

It's not that such things are impossible, of course -- just that I haven't figured out how to realize them, and probably won't. These are matters of having, or not having, knowing how to do things. A matter of habitus. (Which does not mean habit, but rather something like "a feel for how to play a game, apart from your knowledge of what the rules are.")

Which brings up the question of why anyone would continue to do something in the absence of any confidence of success.

No reason at all to continue, unless the doing itself is its own reward. Pretty obvious in some ways. But not always, it seems.

And so, exasperation or no, I'll resume here before long -- and probably on a somewhat different basis than has been the norm until now. Watch this space.

January 29, 2008 2:49 PM | | Comments (11)

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11 Comments

Remember our conversation about hubs and skyhooks a few years back? Well, it's been completely undermined by RSS readers. (The point, not the conversation itself.) I read Quick Study religiously, but only comment occasionally. This has more to do with the role of blogging in my life, i.e. as what I do at my place to wind down. But when I read blogs, it's mostly in the morning, in the same passive way one reads the newspaper: half-awake, half-aware, and gearing the brain up for the daily slog. So I don't comment that often much of anywhere. Which is only to say, to a certain extent the community's invisible, which, I suppose, makes it not much of a community (even if it feels like one).

(And even if some of us fear going through the Intellectual Affairs archives trying to distinguish "best" from "bester" will occupy the better part of two days.)

Thanks for the comments, SEK. That's a good point about the effect of RSS -- something I hadn't considered until you said it, but doubtless a factor. My own experience of using Bloglines is that I will click through to read a few blogs in their original format precisely in order to have a look at the comments as well (with Acephalous and The Weblog being cases in point). With most, I don't. Obviously this is different from what it was like to make the rounds a couple of years ago. And likewise, I'm less and less prone to leaving comments.

With Intellectual Affairs, I probably only look at the comments section one time in five -- if that often, even. It's just too dismal, most of the time.

If you quit blogging, so will I. Same goes for writing a column. Let's not kid ourselves -- in Arendt's labor-work-action scheme, columnists are laborers, endlessly filling a hole that opens up again the following week or month. Point the way forward, maestro.

Yeah, but I've insisted on making work out of it, as much as humanly possible. That's always been the intention, and it's what I'm trying to push myself back into doing now. Otherwise there would have been no reason to leave the Chronicle.

Have you written anywhere about how Bourdieu's work applies here? I read political blogs as substitutes for most newspaper columnists. But such blogging has become, for some, the antechamber to the echo chamber (of the chattering classes). Crossing over seems to depend on what you acknowledge and what you ignore--more accurately, who you acknowledge and who you ignore. Seeing its reproduction, the corporate media feels immutable. Well, almost immutable.

No, I haven't. Nor has anything of that sort been done on the topic, at least that I'm aware -- but it's an awfully interesting question.

The one paper by Bourdieu wrote on the nature of the journalistic "field" is definitely among the most minor of his works -- not very much help, really. One problem being that, as is the case with most academics, his grasp of what goes on in the journalistic world consisted pretty much of hearsay and guesswork. He had a general schema or set of terms for understanding differentiation and power in cultural production, and it is useful, but he didn't really study the particular circumstances. (Although Bourdieu obviously did think that TV was a huge and distorting influence on print journalism, and on intellectual life in general, which sounds about right.)

The question of the relationship between established media and blogging seems as if it would be very hard to work out in B'ist terms. There are hierarchies within each field; the relationship between the fields is now very fluid; and each of them is subject to various kinds of economic pressure, direct and indirect.

My sense is that Bourdieu's methods are useful for understanding how relations of power function (and reproduce themselves) over long periods of time. But the capacity of the existing structures to continue to reproduce themselves is very much what is in question lately.

Last year, I spoke at an event alongside someone who has spent her entire career at one of the more well-established newspapers. She said she wasn't sure there would still be newspapers in a decade. There is a natural tendency for anyone from such an entrenched institution to want to assume that its previous durability gives it vast authority over some medium that just came into existence within the past few years. Such distinction-mindedness is a lot harder to perform with much plausability now, though.

I don't say that in a mood of triumphalism, by the way. New doesn't mean good. If anything, I tend to think of George Trow as being more to the point than anyone else. New media seems to be the context of no context disguised as participatory democracy. This sucks. (More or less in the sense that a black hole would.)

I enjoy my blogging despite my low numbers. But then when I'm getting paid to write, I'm not writing sentences.

As I think about it, I wonder why don't you post more at Crooked Timber -- there's more chatter (it seems a bit much to say "community") over there.

On the microblogocosmic level, I share your frustration. Some of the most important writing I've done in Blogoramaville barely gets read, while my fluff at Mostly Harmless actually has regular readers. Blogging is weird.

Delicious: The answer probably has to do with laziness on my part.

Constructivist: Agreed.

Actually, what with the heavy investment in blogging now by established media entities, it might be time to come up with an equivalent of the t-shirts that I've heard are sold in my old home base: "Keep Austin Weird."

"Keep Blogging Weird" shirts would of course need to be sold via Cafe Press. One day there is going to be nostalgia about all of this. Don't doubt it for a second.

Did someone announce Bourdieu Fest 2008 and I missed it? Why will people not stop talking about him?

That said, I need to think more about the relationship between the hierarchies in traditional publication and those in blogging circles, since I don't think anyone's come to a clean conclusion about how the latter functions. ("Skyhooks and Punctuated Equilibriums Oh My!" ain't all that punchy.) More later.*

*Something I seem to be writing a lot lately. If people would stop providing me free-but-intensely-interesting things to consider, I'd be done already.**

**Not really. I'd just have one more thing to obsess about.

Scott, having finally put aside enough time to read (properly) your piece at Bookforum, "After the Last Intellectual", I can't help noticing the synchronicity of this discussion.

In short, a new phase is opening in the history of public discourse: it's global, interactive, and more "democratic" (even felons, minors and illiterates can chip in) than ever before possible.

You write (in the cited piece):

"And so something disappeared from American discourse. The give-and-take of serious discussion was damaged. Ideas did circulate, but only in narrow channels. This situation was unhealthy. It enfeebled the public's critical intelligence while doing considerable damage to the ideas themselves; they became inbred and started to grow in peculiar shapes."

Here's the chance to participate in, and shape, the baby-steps phase of a tech-enhanced corrective, as thanklessly wearisome as doing so can be. It's only common sense that the most talented thinkers/writers will want to bail on the "bloggerverse" first, but, if the best all give into the impulse, we'll be left with nought but online porno (sexparts porno/politico-porno/ celebrity kitsch) and a bunch of sometimes-endearing blowhards blabbing about the hundreds of books they've managed to misread every year.

Hang in there, Scott.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Quick Study published on January 29, 2008 2:49 PM.

Why Complain about Homophobic Crap on Fox News When You Can Laugh at the Death of a Beloved Conservative Icon? was the previous entry in this blog.

Not as Keen on "Mao More Than Ever," Though is the next entry in this blog.

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