Monday, January 01, 2007

Ringing in, blogging out?

I must do a New Year's post, because this day is not just the first of 2007 but also the second anniversary of this blog. (More or less. Beginnings, as Foucault tells us, aren't cut and dry.)

And as I enter the third year of my blogging life, I find some blogging anxieties circulating here and there, especially, it seems, among some of the members of the big blogging panel at MLA Saturday morning. Last Friday, at The Valve, John Holbo posted a pdf of his MLA talk, but not before noting,

Damn, this place is quiet. I would be a bit embarrassed if the Valve died of neglect at the very moment I am talking it up at the MLA. Wouldn’t I look like a fool?

And then there's Michael Bérubé,, who berates his own quite good blogging paper at the MLA (he had easily the most memorable line of the panel, as Collin reports [though my notes read "content" where Collin's read "value"--hmm, which is it?]), talks about 2004 as being back "when blogs were still cool," and ends with something ominous:

And also feeling like I’ve been trying to write way too much for way too long, so that my prose has been getting flabby and weary too. You know how it feels when you think you’re just repeating yourself over and over again? Well, I made my mouth utter the words I’d written for my MLA talks, but I had no idea how to end either paper, and I think that was kinda obvious. There was even a rumor going around the MLA that this here blog is in its last throes, and since I started the rumor myself it may actually be true.

Goodness knows that if I was writing as much as Michael Bérubé, I would feel quite tired, too. It makes me wonder, though, if there's greater sustainability for blogs that don't rely on a strong persona? That rely, instead, on the kind of "sounding out" that Jeff talks about in "The Making of Ka-Knowledge: Digital Aurality"? In fact, let's go back to that quote that Collin and I both noted from Michael Bérubé's talk--

intensity comes to function as a value [or is it content?] of its own

Although Michael (and I feel weird referring to him as Michael, since I cited him back in the old days under his last name, but I'm tired of doing the acute accent thing) is referring to blog spats, it might be said of blogs overall, mightn't it? In fact, I feel as though that's something of the very argument I was thinking of making in the "Affective Blogging" paper I might be giving at Computers & Writing next year. And I don't know that I thought it was a bad thing.

But there are different ways of generating intensity. If it's always mostly through one's constructed persona, though (and Michael is, I think, something of a genius in this regard), then weariness is bound to set in. A person can be intense for only so long before it starts to be a matter of diminishing returns. Or something.

But there's a different kind of intensity that comes from "sounding out." Jeff's example is BoingBoing--a blog that has no agenda except the one of connection, "showing off" what the contributors have found in their own travels on the web. What matters isn't the voice of the writer, but that there's something "found," connected.

Much to think about there, as Collin suggests. But I'm signing off. And in celebration of my second anniversary, I'm changing my background color. Woo hoo. (But seriously. This blog is way overdue for a serious facelift. Maybe the layout features of the new Blogger will make it happen? Then there's my academic website, too...)


Collin said...

I was typing from memory, but here's what I wrote down exactly: "intensity comes to operate as if it is a value of its own."

But, I did jot down a note before that about "contentlessness exacerbates blogspats," so it makes sense to me that it would be content rather than value.

You want to ask him or should I?


Donna said...

Well, it was *you* he said hello to.

jeff said...

If I understand you, then, you are asking about a "persona" not based on personability or personality (ethos as the person), but something else, either a BoingBoing sounding out thing or something different.

The problem with basing the credibility or reason for reading or whatever on the "person" of "persona" is, of course, there are only a few Michael Bérubés. How many folks can command that kind of daily audience? Not me, that's for sure. And when everything depends on a person, then when the person gets tired or wants to move on, the experience ends. That doesn't have to be bad, but my love of reading and interacting with other spaces online would suffer if all the intensity of the Web was based in a few personas. I like the idea of a sustainability based on relationships (which can be good and bad) then on a person or on people. What makes Latour's work attractive to me is how much emphasis he places on people AND other things.

Too bad we had to miss that last panel. We had to rush for a flight that ended up delayed for two hours anyway.

Michael Bérubé said...

Hey, this Technorati thing really works! Hi, everyone.

OK, Collin can ask me for the exact wording. Did I meet you and not say hello, Donna? If so, my apologies. Jenny introduced me to Jeff, and then they said, "bye, Collin," so I figured that "Collin" must be the Collin of Vs. Blog fame, so I said hello.

Anyway, the sentence was "intensity comes to operate as if it is a substance of its own." "Content" is close enough. The idea is that on some issues, the salient difference between the liberal-left and the further-left is the volume of denunciation (since neither camp, for instance, was going around apologizing for pro-torture Democrats), and that this volume quickly becomes the very subject of the blogspat. Donna, I'm curious about the "Affective Blogging" paper you mention; I didn't mean to suggest that affective blogging in itself is necessarily a bad thing, but you can see where the idea that "someone with Bérubé’s position and status is pretty much (can I do the sous rature thing here and use a term while simultaneously acknowledging its problematic nature?) interpellated — like Caesar — into being open, indulgent, and engaging, while entrants to the conversation, those with less established status, are free (and, in fact, expected) to say outrageous things and toss rhetorical Molotov cocktails" sort of loads the affective dice, so to speak.

And thanks for the kind words, Donna. My online persona, fwiw, has managed to keep chugging along for three years, though I think it took me at least six months to begin to get the hang of this here medium. Unfortunately, my actual person is having a much harder time keeping it all together lately. I'm sure I'll eventually return to blogging in one form or another, but right now the thousands-of-words-a-day gig has got to go, for obvious reasons.

Donna said...

Hi Michael! Thanks for stopping by. I was kinda hoping we might attract you over here if we said your name often enough.

And thanks so much for giving the exact wording of your sentence. Turns out both of us were a little off, huh? It makes me wonder about the accuracy of all those famous rhetoric books that are really the lecture notes of students.

No, you didn't meet me, though I was talking to Jeff while you were talking to Jenny. I should have introduced myself.

And I do, of course, see how intensity *can* be a bad thing, given the blog spat experience. I guess my point is that intensity operates even when we aren't spatting.

Which brings me back, Jeff, to your comment and to my belief that Latour (whose work I'm finally getting around to) will be helpful in making sense of how intensities do or don't work in setting up associations.