Friday, 29 July 2005

One Confused Blessay Before I continue answering Mike's questions, I want to thank all thirty-six of you who emailed me last night for the sole purpose of informing me that my academic career can survive the occasional infelicitous sentence. Why you chose to email me instead of leaving your logic in the comment box is something I could think about, but Bill Pannapacker captures, if not the fact (as some have argued), then at least the mind-set that would compel people to console my idiotic fears privately: Blogs are a useful tool for people on the margins of the profession. They help to break up the control of editorial boards and conference committees over the acceptable range of professional discourse. But it will be a long time before they are regarded as a legitimate venue for scholarly discussion; participation in them is not likely to help, and it could do a lot to harm one's career, if that is what matters most. Let me be the first to admit that I think the nerve Pannapacker touched is raw for a reason: we really don't know what we're doing. We are on the margins of academia (or, in Ray's case, beyond them), and we are inclined to dance when someone questions the validity and viability of what we're doing. (Not that Pannapacker said or implied that; any consideration of what we are or aren't doing strikes the same nerve. It's not his fault we're so jumpy.) By "we are on the margins of the academy," I don't mean to imply that we're all on the same margins. McCann's a force in the field and Holbo and the Miriams are internet celebrities. Jonathan, um, Jonathan's Jonathan. His position's so cryptic as to defy description. (But I suspect he too is an internet celebrity. Only incognito.) And then there's me. I'm writing a dissertation. I've never been published. I'm not on the margins so much as the testing grounds. Will I succeed? Who knows. I don't anticipate ticker-tape parades, but I clench my fists in futile prayer that I'll land a job somewhere someday. But who knows. Maybe someday people like Walter Benn Michaels won't be objects of discussions on blogs but authors of position-blogs about their work. (Am I auguring a rigged prophecy? Wouldn't you like to know.) My point is only that the status of what we write on our blogs is subject to changes beyond our ability to predict. Maybe what I'm writing need only adhere to the casual constraints which govern the lion's share of blogs out there. Then again, maybe it ought to adhere to far more rigorous standards, as I thought when I posted my contribution to the Theory's Empire event. I included 29 footnotes. The next highest number? None. That's not a criticism but an admission of confusion. I wrote a Frankenstein "blessay." The reason there's more "essay" than "blog" in that neologism is because there was more essay than blog in my contribution. I didn't know quite what...
The Impossible James Short of an imaginary-Freedom-Tower to dwarf all imaginary-Freedom-Towers, it is impossible to imagine a monument able to capture the greatness of the immortal Henry James. How else to describe a man who could continue to produce short stories and novels for nearly sixty years after his own death? He may never have written the Great American Novel (which more on shortly), but he was America's Greatest Living Novelest. At least until his timely death in 1974. When the editorial board of Library Journal said "The Library of America is starting off with a bang in 1999," they didn't jest: the Library of America scored quite the coup. Forthcoming editions include: his (unpublished) novel about three starving German socialites after the Great War, The Wings of the Pigeon (1931) his (unpublished) sequel to The Ambassadors, the scathing Chamberlain (1939) his (unpublished) update to The Siege of London (1883) entitled The Seige of London (1942) his (unpublished) account of the death of humanism and the increasingly technocratic nature of political power, Washington Squares (1948) his (unpublished) paean to domesticity in the '50s, The Diary of a Man of One-Hundred and Fifty (1952) his (unpublished) biography of the young Charles Van Doren, The Pupil (1957) his (unpublished) sequel to his (unpublished) biogrpahy of the young Charles Van Doren, The Pupil?!? (1958) his (unpublished) story of a young woman's entrance into and rebellion against society, titled The Private-Life-Is-Political (1968) his (unpublished) shameful novella written shortly before his death, The Beasts Rumble in the Jungle (1974)

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