September 2, 2007

Even in Blogging, Everything New is Old

I've been reading through the archives of some lively blog debates related to my own questions about the terms and tendencies of contemporary academic literary criticism (see, for instance, here, here or here). Following the long chains of arguments and rebuttals, examples and counter-examples, I'm struck with a familiar sense of futility: when so much has been said by so many so often, what can I hope to add? I'm also struck, though, by just how unaware I was that conversations of quite this kind were going on. It's not that I did not know that the terms of criticism have long been debated,of course, including in polemical and political ways as they often are in these blog exchanges--I did my graduate work at Cornell in the early 90s, after all. It's more that I literally had never heard of blogs until last year, and until early this year, I had no idea that there was such a category as 'academic blogs.' So what seemed to me like something new and experimental, like casually posting some notes on my current reading online, turned out to be entirely old and, as far as rethinking criticism goes, hardly experimental, especially as I did not know enough about the blogging scene to have any particular critical or theoretical agenda when I started.

I'm not really sure why my obliviousness to these online forums and debates--at a time when, after all, I was hard at work on other specialized reading and writing--strikes me as somehow symptomatic of more than just my own individual ignorance. Maybe the point is just that the ideal often expressed by academic bloggers (e.g. here or here) about opening up lines of communication is still a pretty long way off: at least in my immediate circles, blogging is definitely still seen as a fringe activity. In a way, it is 'just' (or just like) another academic specialization, in that academic bloggers know each other and link to each other and talk to and about each other, as do, say, medieval historians or Christina Rossetti scholars. I am persuaded that blogging has the potential to change a lot about our working and thinking lives (this was useful in clarifying some of the issues, as was this, to pick just two of the long and growing list of materials I've bookmarked), but old habits die hard and skeptical attitudes abound. Then, when it comes to joining in the debates, precisely because this form of publication and discussion is so diffuse, it feels like a particularly difficult conversation even to eavesdrop on, never mind to participate in. Also, while in typical academic publishing, with its glacier-like pace, it's hard to feel that you are coming in too late, somehow reading these blog archives on the function of criticism makes further comment seem SO does one 'make it new,' on or off line?

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