Blog Post

other ways of doing it

other ways of doing it

 

We have a lot to learn here in North America about the possibilities of the digital world from our peers down in the global south. Sometimes, when we feel we know a tool well, someone comes along and uses it in a strange and exciting new way. I have experienced this in my own work, where I have discovered some uses off the beaten path for the Juxta collation tool. Thinking about the different global approaches to new media, I was struck in particular by the way Dominican intellectuals and artists used Facebook as a full-blown publishing platform. I’ve been told that this might be a Caribbean-wide phenomenon. Sadly, Facebook limits you to a bubble of ‘friends’ that makes it difficult for me to survey too far afield. Of course, I am limited also because my approach to ‘friending’ is radically different than the one being used by those publishing work on Facebook. While I have to excuse each new friend based on some personal narrative --which privileges the random acquaintance at the coffee shop over those interested in my work--, my counterparts amass followings based on interest.

There are two kinds of publishing practices I can distinguish from my limited POV. One is exemplified by the work of one of Dominican Republic’s foremost living thinkers and poets, and one of my first mentors: Armando Almanzar Botello. He has disassembled his book of poetry, Cazadores de Agua, and re-mediated each of the poems on Facebook and 2 blogs (I still don’t know why he has two blogs). He has re-published each of the poems in their entirety several times on Facebook using the note feature, effectively recycling the poems every so often. I have never seen a similar publishing rhythm, and under such constraints. Paradoxically, at the same time that he limits his audience to his ‘friends,’ he has never reached a larger audience (as far as I can tell).  The poems look clunky on Facebook to say the least, but they are read and commented on by a large group of interested readers. In that sense, the community he has built around his work using Facebook is not that much different from the small communities DHers in the north build around their public work in more open venues.

The same can be said of the second kind of publisher, exemplified by senior Dominican historian Frank Peña. Dr. Peña publishes highly charged polemics on his page, ranging from 1000 to 2000 words, also using the note feature. The pieces are well documented and written in unimpeachable Spanish. He usually draws 50+ comments on these pieces, even several days after they are published. In contrast to Armando, Dr. Peña is publishing original material of the sort one would associate with a political blogger. He is not the only one using Facebook as a blog. If I had to venture a guess, I would say the practice is born out of Facebook’s ease of use, as opposed to even the most user-friendly blogging platforms. Or, we could say that these intellectuals have found a vital way of building community in a way that can reach that ever-elusive anonymous public of public humanities. Although I remain critical of locking the content within a bubble of followers and the unsearchable abyss of the Social Network, I do have to admit the intellectual communities bubbling up around these writers are vibrant, relevant and anything but ephemeral. 

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3 comments

Thank you so much Alex for this post. I am not a Facebook, er, "fan" (I'm not on Facebook at all) but I am aware its huge popularity and adoption levels makes it an ideal platform for some types of engagement. As a Latin American scholar who also writes and publishes poetry, and who used various online platforms to publish, promote and experiment with my poetry, I found the story of your mentor truly inspiring. I am so glad you have written this post! As a way to reciprocate, I'd like to share with you this recent post of mine about my experience going back to Mexico to give a lecture on blogging, over at Inside Higher Ed

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Like Ernesto, I'm no fan of facebook (I'm not there either). Your post thoughtfully troubled my dismissal of facebook as "closed," "proprietary" (etc etc); those remain very real and genuine problems. But facebook has advantages; it is not only (perhaps) easier to produce content than other platforms, as you note, but it also isa place where many people already are.

Your provocation here, I think, is to suggest that insisting on openness as a standard may, at least in certain cases, reinstitute (we might, as lit folks, like to say reinscribe) a sense of hierarchy and exclusion that advocates of open standards would think of themselves as constitutionally opposed to.

It is perhaps worth insisting (emphatically) that this is not an argument again open standards; you are, however, astutely suggesting that the beautiful soul of openness might itself be insufficiently open to the complexities of how culture actually circulates.

There is an enormous virture to revealing the ignorance and bad faith which may lie in our most confidently held beliefs; this post has helped to do just that by troubling the way that an insistence on openness might sometimes be insufficiently attentive to how things are actually working.

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Thank you, Chris for your interpretation. I was struggling with these issues when I wrote this. I just saw this comment. The HASTAC automatic message went straight to my spam. I fixed the situation. I think you really nab it. It: " the beautiful soul of openness might itself be insufficiently open to the complexities of how culture actually circulates." I couldn't agree more. I would add that our sense of northern moral superiority might be tempered by the cases I talk above.  

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