Blog Post

Blog Diss: Public Works 2014 Talk (2/2)

Part One can be found here.


Another, and very related challenge which has come up so far has been how to visualize the process of revision. I’m still on my first draft of my LTP, so it hasn’t been an issue on that longer document yet, but it came up a bit during the process of working on my Statement of Research Plan. It’s super important to us sometimes when we alter a specific word or the structure of a sentence, but beyond us and our committee, is there anyone else in the world who will really care about seeing that process happen? I really don’t know! In some ways it strikes me as really disingenuous to not make this process as open as the original drafting, because really, it’s where so much of the work gets done! But it also seems to inflict a particular kind of cruelty on the audience to expect them to read what in some cases will feel like innumerable versions of the same document—if I’m desperately sick of seeing a particular text as the person writing it, I would imagine it would be even worse to someone just trying to keep a casual eye on what I’m up to. As you can probably tell, this isn’t an issue I’ve figured out how to deal with yet, but it will almost certainly require a kind of hybrid approach, perhaps providing a link to a Google Doc where anyone interested could track the revision history. I’ve also considered using the comment space or even the bottom of the post itself to keep an ongoing list of the changes that have happened to the document.

And really, there would certainly be room for that there because…well, there aren’t a lot of comments right now. This isn’t necessarily something specific to just me; Lauren Berlant notes in an interview in Julie Rak and Anna Poletti’s collection Identity Technologies that people were far more likely to write her an e-mail in response to her blog than to comment directly on it. I’ve found that for the most part, similar things have happened with me. I’ve chatted with folks on Facebook, on Twitter and offline about stuff I’ve said and done in the blog, but there has only been one external comment on the blog itself. Berlant’s explanation in her case is that people don’t want to seem like “fans”; somehow, I suspect this isn’t so much an issue for those of us who, well, aren’t Lauren Berlant. In a lot of ways, I think it just comes down to labour and time; most of us aren’t paid, even indirectly, to read a blog the same way we are to review a book or to teach an article in the classroom. So to take the additional step of (1) making an account on HASTAC, which one has to do in order to comment on that site, and (2) compose the actual comment is a substantial investment of time and energy that many folks don’t have. So in that respect, I’m tremendously glad that the people in my life are respecting there own desires and needs, and contributing to the blog in the ways that are best for them.

One of the unexpected benefits of the relatively low interest in commenting has been in terms of the affective labour this process has required of me. Those of you who know me at all are aware that I’m generally a pretty anxious person, and one of the things that I discussed at length with my supervisors was how writing this way might trigger that. Neither Nat nor Mo, I think it’s fairly safe to say, have any interest in pulling punches when they think something needs improvement, and the three of us did discuss what it might be like for me to get that feedback online rather than in person, without the benefit of being handed a glass of tea or some whiskey to accompany such critique. More generally, online comment sections can be truly vile places online, and indeed one of the reasons I elected to post on HASTAC rather than an all-purpose blogging platform was their very careful moderation practices. At any point, however, there is still a risk that by touching on some of the issues I do, many of which are both topical and intensely personal to many people, the circulation of the blog will change and the comments will pick up and start requiring a different level of affective labour from me. But I am glad in a way that so far, I’ve had some time to get a bit of experience with the genre and what I might like to do with it, and with hearing from my supervisors in full view of everyone reading, before having to take on the challenges related to larger and more vocal readerships.

In a related sense, I’m also still learning what it means to advocate or promote the blog. Self promotion is an awkward (not to mention an extremely gendered) genre, and I’ve had a difficult time balancing when I should remind people that I’m doing this thing, and when it might legitimately become too much. This has especially been the case over the past month, because I’ve been blogging every day while I’ve been writing my LTP. No one on Facebook or Twitter (or very few people, anyway) want to hear about this every day. And sometimes I just want to use social media to talk about my pets, dammit. One of the things I have done that’s worked fairly well so far has been a kind of social media equivalent of the batch-digest one might get as a member of a list-serv. So rather than series of successive posts going “I wrote this thing! And then this thing! And that over here? And have you seen this?”, I’ve tried to collect a series of what I think are some of the strongest or most provocative pieces and then posted them all together, all at once. Maybe this is just as annoying, of course; since I’m friends with many of you on various forms of social media, you can probably tell me! But my sense, anyway, is that this is a way to balance my own personal discomfort with self-promotion and its potential alignment with discourses of professionalization while still reminding people who are genuinely interested that I’m doing this thing.

And now that I’ve circled around it for a bit, I want to hone back in directly on this question of labour. Because the blog has been weird, weird workplace. On one hand, it makes visible and public one’s labour in a way that can be very powerful and useful. There have been several points where I have complained to someone about feeling like I’ve been horribly unproductive lately, and they’ve pointed out something they liked that I said in the blog—or even the fact of its existence, and the fact that I’ve been updating so frequently. So although there’s a way in which it could become or be conceived of as a kind of disciplinary tool, shaming one into working, that isn’t how it’s worked for me, and that isn’t what its primary value or promise is. To me it’s actually about taking stuff I’m already doing—both the formal documents, and the types of things I would usually write on a post-it at three in the morning, and collecting them into one place that’s visible to me, and visible to the friends and family and colleagues who are supporting me through this process.

But there is also no getting around the fact that the blog is also an additional source of work. I suggested, not so jokingly, after my first post that I was studying digital labour by making more work for both myself and my supervisors, but at the end of the day, that really is what’s happening. When you undertake the production of research in, well, not a new but an uncommon way, there’s a lot of logistics to figure out. That’s work. All that time and energy you spend worrying about not getting comments, and comforting yourself with the thought that probably your fandom is out of control, just like Lauren Berlant’s? That’s work. The time that your supervisors spend figuring out how this practice is going to impact their own methods of providing their students with feedback? That’s work too! Most days does it feel like work worth doing? Sure! But I think that anytime you’re undertaking something like this, you also have to be willing and open to reaching a point where you say to yourself that it might be the right idea, but that it’s too much. I haven’t reached that point yet, but a lot of my check-ins with my supervisors are very much centred upon not just how the process is going for all of us, but whether it should continue going for us.

So what, exactly, am I saying about new methods for research, and digital ones in particular? I want to close, in typical queer/feminist/otherwise oppositional fashion, by telling you instead what I’m not saying. What I’m not saying is something like this, that digital media is some kind of saviour of English and more traditional literary work. It’s not. And really, that argument is insulting to everyone; it’s insulting to folks who work on digital stuff, whose job it isn’t to be placed in a service role to justify the existence of the discipline as a whole; it’s insulting to people who have worked in what used to be called Humanities Computing for nearly 60 years, many in relative obscurity; and it’s insulting to folks who have absolutely zero interest in new media, whose work on Shakespeare or contemporary Indigenous literature shouldn’t have to be justified or made valuable by something they experience as largely external to their process and aims. All that I really hope my opening our symposium and talking about the blog has done is invite all of you to consider process as less of a determined space than we often conceive of it as. If there’s something about the work you’re doing and especially the way you’re doing that feels not that aligned with your politics or your goals or even not conducive to you getting anything done, then the question shouldn’t always be just how to get through it (although there are of course moments for that), but how you might change it. That isn’t going to mean blogging for everyone, but hopefully it means that many of us enter various academic and alt-ac positions having produced something that is valuable to us not just as a final product, but because of how it came to be.


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