Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Internet and "sustained analysis"

On The Reading Experience, Responding to Other Scholars: is the internet incompatible with "sustained critical analysis?"

An interesting exchange.

My comment here:

I'm not an academic in my critical interests. As a writer, I gravitate toward thought "in-process" --working out, rather than "worked out." The essay, as Montaigne would have it, essayer, to try out ideas, but in the company of others, as an ongoing, multi-faceted conversation.

In the blogs, 'peer review' takes place in the open. The quality of critical writing, like that of the academic journals, depends on editorial selectivity. In the blogs, you see this in the links. I find that I judge blogs by their content--and classify them by the links they choose to publish.

There's a sorting out at work here. Those who are primarily interested in increasing hits and raising their "authority," to the degree they succeed, drift into a general bookish cloud of blogs that now and then will have posts that might interest anyone, but I see more discriminating, more sharply defined associations coming into being, recognizable constellations, proximities of interests and ideas and modes of expression that encourage readers to draw connecting lines, as between stars, galaxies, nebulae.

Sustained analytic works are hardly absent from these blogs, but they more often appear as links: sources suggested for readers to visit and harvest, to bring back what they find to the more protean, generative milieu of interconnected conversations--the characteristic mode of the blogs.

There is no incompatibility between this and the academic mode. I think that academics who claim to have no time for searching them out might be astonished--if they were to do a search--at how many academic scholars and publications are referenced in these blogs. I would like to see longer, more systematic articles published on blogs. I see no reason why that shouldn't happen; but they would serve a different purpose here, address a different readership, opening into ever wider concentric spirals of response, throwing out sprays of sparks and light, of fructifying energy, as opposed to the self-consuming vortex of the academic journals... black holes devouring everything they produce into the same gapping maw, impotent to generate anything but more of the same.


  1. I like your emphasis on the idea of forum and Montaigne's method of "essai" - that is how I like to think of blogging. Indeed, his whole project was intended to step outside traditional scholarship and look to his own observations, his own innate and constructed knowledge to get at truth. I agree that there are academic conversations to be found on blogs and I have discovered a refreshing level of collegiality between bloggers that seems to be missing in many more traditional academic structures.

  2. Very interesting. And speaking of journals: Its ironic that despite the condescending attitude in some quarters for blogs, most critics and students (due to geographical constraints) are unable to access them. The only available alternative resides in online editions, which serve the same purpose as blogs without the option of instantaneous debate and discussion.

    P.S. Thank you for the last post and blog link.

  3. "...most critics and students (due to geographical constraints...)

    A consideration I suspect those inclined to dismiss blogs give little thought to, perhaps imagining everyone to live in the shadow of a great university library.

    Which brings to mind an unfortunate change in recent years. Forty years ago, when I lived in West Philadelphia, it was one of my great pleasures to visit the library of the University of Pennsylvania. Though I was not a student, I could freely roam the stacks, carry books to a table and spend hours reading, pursuing my own idiosyncratic research. Alas, no more.

    Not for such as I was then, a young man without a University I.D.

    Odd, isn't it? That as we take steps to make ourselves believe we are more secure, we make knowledge both more expensive and less accessible, widening the divide between the educated and privileged few (and if one thinks in terms of the world, they are indeed, the few)... and the many left to nourish their resentment in ignorance, making the world still more dangerous, and less secure.

  4. "...we make knowledge both more expensive and less accessible"

    Your point hits home. There is often a lot of debate in Switzerland whether to up the cost of univ education (still only nominal) and start following the American model. I tend to scream in rage when I hear this suggested because of exactly what you said. Keeping education free and accessible is definitely one way to fight ignorance and cyclical poverty.

  5. I see at least three serious trends affecting college education in the U.S. (I was going to say, "higher education," but that leads to a whole new set of questions, doesn't it?), all related to the growing expense: increasingly limited access, an increasing burden of debt both for parents and graduates, and a trend to run colleges and universities on the "business model," where they are perceived and operated essentially, as Vocational Training Schools.

    The president of Drexal University in Philadelphia famously referrs to his students as consumers, and justifies cutting courses in the humanities because of lack of "consumer demand."

    With a college degree being so expensive, leaving such a heavy burden of debt, only the wealthiest student can afford not to plan his or her courses and major toward a career that they can reasonably hope will earn enough to pay all this back... or at least keep them even with their parents.

    How can you nurture independent thinking when there is nothing you can do with it? When you are trapped into an economy that requires dependence for "success?"

    No wonder there has been so little effective resistance to our descent into the semblance of a fascist police state. In a society of well remunerated slaves, as Marcuse would put it, what can you expect?
    When your house, your automobiles, your children's education are all essentially on loan from the banks, and can be lost in momentary downturn of the economy, you keep a low profile, work extra hours, and turn your head and pull your blinds when they come for your neighbors.