I devote what little spare time I have to perfecting this beast. As someone who prides himself on his ability to stay colloquial and address a general audience, I'm saddened by my inability to stay colloquial and address a general audience. I slip into sentence structures of dizzingly complexity as I attempt to communicate commonplace truths about life in Blogistan. Then I read articles by compression experts like Susan Orlean and weep:
If, in the Kentucky Derby, all the horses were trucked together to some remote spot and set loose, then galloped back to their respective barns, were they crossed a finish line, and their times were compared and ranked in order by a race secretary (factoring in the difference in the distances to the various barns), you would have the equivalent of a pigeon race. It is the inverse of a group spectator sport. Birds in a race are all together when they are first let go, which is done by a truck driver who transports all the competitors to the release point. None of the bird owners watch the start of the race, because the birds travel as fast as sixty miles an hour and they fly direct, so if the owners watch the start of the race they would probably miss being home to see the birds return.
No one implies a scene better than Orlean. She squeezes seven into the space of a single paragraph. Perhaps I shouldn't aim to write like Orlean—what with the scarcity of stageable scenes in Blogistan—but I need to model myself after someone. I stand beside George Orwell in the belief that the best way to learn how to write is to imitate those who write well. Although I doubt mimicking Kipling would do me much good (and cannot spy the Kiplingesque qualities in Orwell's prose) I think the general principle a good one. If you see someone do something particularly well . . . you appropriate it. So if not Orlean then how about McPhee? I have expressed my admiration for McPhee before and so hestitate to do so again.
So instead I want to shift gears entirely and discuss one of the issues I'm writing about in my commissioned baby: the difference between academic blogs and the personal blogs of academics. Of course they are hybrid beasts. You can learn quite a bit about me from reading this blog. But how accurate is it? I point (with some reservations) to John Bruce's discussion of how bloggers manipulate their audience. He's absolutely correct. Were I duplicitous and talented enough I could convince you I'm anything: a ninth grader with body image issues . . . a divorcee with nothing left to live for . . . or a graduate student about to hit the job market. This entire blog could be an elaborate scam designed to evoke undeserved sympathy from you. To wit:
How do you know I'm a cancer survivor? I've mentioned it a couple of times. But am I to be trusted? Because that story presses the limits of believability. How could I have gone through three months of chemotherapy without telling anyone or having anyone notice?
How do you know I caught people having sex in my office? I could easily have invented that to draw attention to myself. That story and the saga it spawned also press the limits of believability. How could the university have behaved as irrationally as it did?
The answer, to my mind, is that I've created the illusion of respectability by having this blog be primarily an outlet for my thoughts about academic life. I don't address my personal life much at all. I create a patina of truthfulness by not hopping on the lastest memewagon and informing everyone of what I think about everything. Because I'm largely serious, the moments in which I reveal personal information are more authentic. This entire blog could be an elaborate scam perpetrated by a compulsive liar. I may not even be "Scott Eric Kaufman." He may exist but you have no direct evidence that I'm him. (I'm reminded of the "Sarah Michelle Gellar" who fooled some extremely gullible livejournal users into believing her Sarah Michelle Gellar.)
My point is simply that one salient fact has come to my attention as I write this article:
There are two distinct academic Blogistans. This blog represents the more scholarly and less communitarian of the two. The other Blogistan is largely populated by anonymous academics who are building a vibrant community of shared professional and extra-curricular interests. Now I've reached the minefield:
I've cruched the numbers—I'll "show my work" after the article's published—and it turns out that 74 percent of the anonymous academic bloggers of a certain linkage-gauged stature are women. I don't want to draw any conclusions from this. I know that Dr. B. is also working on an article on this topic and would be interested to hear what she has to say about it. But for my own edification I would love to hear from my anonymous readers about the rationale behind their anonymity. (If you're uncomfortable listing your reasons in public feel free to send me an email. Because I'm an historicist and an enemy of unsubstantiated conjecture. I'd rather have solid facts in epistolary form than wild and uninformed speculation.)
I honestly don't know why these chips fall as they do . . . but the sabermetrician in me wants to rationalize these statistical according to the felt necessities of his anonymous compatriots. Just as sabermetics combines my quantitative fetish with my thirteen years of playing organized 'ball . . . so too does my historicist fetish dovetail conveniently with my desire to know that my speculations are to some degree informed.