Tag Archive: blogosphere

Beyond blogs… to where?

Ian Bogost throws out a challenge to us (bloggers) all: How should blogs evolve? What kinds of media do we want for our thinking, writing, debating, communicating?

In other words, rather than celebrating what blogs allow us to do, or lament the knee-jerk negativity they still elicit in some (notably, academic) circles, and rather than merely taking them for granted as we’ve received them, how can we make them do what we want them to do? And if we can’t, what can we (eventually) replace them with?

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digital agora

Levi Bryant has an interesting post on how the internet is changing the way philosophy gets done. For Levi the web, despite its drawbacks, represents

“something of a dialectical synthesis between the Athenian agora and text. Any idiot gets to speak and participate in discussion, and audience is no longer an audience of fellow scholars within a discipline, but whoever comes along and has something interesting and intelligent (hopefully) to say. As a consequence, the sorts of dialogues that emerge in print are no longer determined by the gate-keepers of elite journals, conferences, or the pedigree of schools, but rather are the consequence of the formation of collectives that are borne of people that would like to talk a bit more with each other. Not only do we witness the emergence of electronic journals and presses devoted to rendering intellectual labor a dimension of “the common”, of that which is owned by no one, of that which is readily available to everyone who is able to click on a link, but all sorts of new possibilities emerge within this common as well. [...] It is now possible for graduate students to engage with established thinkers one on one whether through email or through blogs.”

And over time, I’m sure (it’s happening already), those among the established thinkers who engage with these electronic-pioneering graduate students — blogging philosophers and cultural theorists like Bryant himself, Harman, Leiter, Shaviro, Jodi Dean, Henry Jenkins, et al — will grow in influence, while those who don’t will gradually fade away.

I don’t think the open-access internet will ever become the sole venue, and probably not even the primary venue, for philosophical and critical thought. Specialized journals and elite societies with their gatekeepers and credentials-checkers will continue to play an important role, because they perform a useful function and because the academic profession requires that sort of thing. But the two will grow into a kind of symbiosis with each other. So tomorrow’s Socrates and Zeno will be debating in the electronic agora as much as they will be lecturing in the academy, and Epicurus and Plotinus will be blogging the daily regimen from their philosophical communes. Traffic will flow smoothly and steadily between the streets, the teahouses and libraries, and the deserts and monasteries to which the empire’s refugees have retreated. (Or ecosteries, rather, where the practicalities of sustainable living will be figured out as society redesigns itself for a post-carbon future. A sweet thought in a time when the gushing blackness of oil seems bottomless.)


With all that in mind, it’s good to see Progressive Geographies, Archive Fire, Critical Animal, and others chipping in to the Vibrant Matter blogathon (which is becoming ever more spread out, including on this week’s host blog, Philosophy in a Time of Error).

And good, also, to see the continuing activity everywhere on the Middlesex crisis — which reminds us that without the academy the digital agora, at least its philosophical wing, risks losing its muscle, if not its raison d’être. Philosophy still needs the intensity of face-to-face discussion, debate, close mentoring, and the institutional grooming that goes along with it.

Still, it’s nice to dream of a world in which philosophy and the liberal arts aren’t seen as unprofitable appendages left over from an era of bloated welfare states (a neoliberal narrative that is deeply problematic), but where they are vital nodes within a culture of social and ecological transformation — not because philosophy feeds social change in some direct, instrumental way, but because of a shared recognition between philosophers and activists of how and why it is that we have come to live in a world of oil spills and economic crises, and how and why it could be all different.

I’m on the road, and haven’t been able to keep up with the continuing exchange that’s now drawn in Steven Shaviro and Chris Vitale in addition to Levi and Graham, with side comments from Peter Gratton and others. That despite Graham’s call for a “cease fire,” which elicited some spirited responses from Levi, Steven, and Chris.

For me, some of Levi’s most beautiful writing comes when he gets personal. The first few paragraphs in his reply to the cease fire call are among the peak of the whole discussion, because they get at why he and probably all of us, to some extent, engage in this form of public debate:

“Where Harman is of the sentiment that arguments should take place in written text, I find that I only come to know what I think in my interaction with others. In certain ways this has been the plague of my academic career. Where the ordinary order of things is to treat the published text as what as important and the exchange as derivative, I often experience an acute suffering when it comes to the written text. The written text, to me, feels like excrement, like a remainder, like a waste or a frozen petrification of a living object: Dialogue. [. . .]

“I conceive the written text as a missive, a letter, rather than a statue. And since dialogues or discussions are distinct objects, it follows that I am not the author of these posts and texts. And this for the very simple reason that in a dialogue one can never know what comes from where. If there is an author named “Levi”, then the name Levi can only name a space of entanglements, of discussions, of dialogues where it is impossible to determine what idea or concept might have originated from me and what ideas, concepts or arguments might have originated with my various interlocutors. [. . .]

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triple digits

At some point over the past few weeks the number of GoogleReader subscribers to this blog inched up into the triple digits. (That doesn’t include subscribers on other feed readers.) While that’s no big deal compared to some of the blogs I follow, in terms of blog growth, which is probably more geometrical than arithmetical, one could think of it as akin to breaking out of the troposphere, where the bulk of the atmospheric mass is, into the stratosphere. The mesosphere, the next layer up, would be where the four-digit blogs are, like Leiter Reports (the most popular philosopher’s blog I’m aware of), Crooked Timber, Savage Minds, Culture Matters, Henry Jenkins’s Confessions of an Aca/Fan, Mark Fisher’s k-punk, David Byrne’s Journal, and some others.

Above the mesosphere is the five-digit thermosphere, which is the atmospheric layer where you find communication satellites. In the environmental or political blog worlds, those satellites would include WorldChanging, Grist, Dot Earth, Tree Hugger, Paul Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal, and the big political blogs like Huffington Post (61,000 subscribers), which tops Technorati’s authority list, and The Daily Kos. GoogleReader’s count puts the Daily Kos at a stunning 270,000 subscribers, which ranks in the ionosphere, by my count (like the Aurora Borealis). The New York Times, with 1.7 million subscribers, is close to the moon, but that’s a feed, not a single blog. (The Times’s Opinionator is more like a blog aggregator, and that has just under 5,000 subscribers, though individual Times-hosted blogs, like Krugman’s Confessions or Revkin’s Dot Earth, get a lot more readers than that.) Of actual blogs, as opposed to feeds from popular web sites, even the top celebrity entertainment blogs like Gizmodo, TMZ (eBizMBA’s current popularity leader), and PerezHilton.com, are only in the upper thermosphere or, in the case of Gizmodo (115,000), just getting into the ionosphere.

I’m not sure how other blog readers correlate with popularity or influence, but from what I’ve seen they bring in far fewer subscribers than GoogleReader, probably because GoogleReader is so convenient: all your blog feeds come into one place, automatically, like your e-mail, but even more quickly, and they’re always there no matter where you are, since they’re saved on Google’s servers. Best of all, you can do almost anything with the click of a key: ‘like’ or ‘star’ a post (which adds it to its own folder), e-mail it, comment on it, forward it to your own blog, search all your feeds, follow others’ recommendations, organize them into folders, etc. While not all blogs can be read in full in GoogleReader — this one, for instance, usually only appears as the first bit of text — clicking on the title of the post will take you to the actual blog. It’s much easier and quicker than reading blogs by individually visiting every blog site you’re interested in. This is beginning to sound like an ad, so I’ll stop… But if you don’t use it, I do recommend giving GoogleReader a try.

Actually, most of the more specialized theoretical/philosophical blogs of any consequence are in the three-digit stratosphere, so I’m happy to be able to join them. (Well, just barely, and with the reality-suspending illusion that 100 is closer to 900 than to 10; on a geometrical growth curve it may be, but in real numbers it is far from it.) The numbers of ecocritics (i.e., working in cultural/literary/media studies) or ecophilosophers here are, in any case, pretty sparse. Maybe I should head over to warm my hands at the speculative realists’ bonfire — their excited conversations over in the distance (to gently mix metaphors) make up one of the brightest star clusters in the galactic vicinity.

(All that said, amidst the weather balloons and satellites of the blogosphere, there is still a lot of hot air and an increasing accumulation of space junk. The last thing I want to do is to contribute to it.)


more serious (nutritious) morsels…

Judith Butler’s recent talk on Alfred North Whitehead, which you can listen to here, is very impressive — and a heartening sign of the times. With Butler distancing herself from some of the implications of her earlier work on sex and gender (30-some minutes into the talk) and decisively settling into post-constructivist, non-anthropocentric, process-relational*, immanent naturalist**, vibrant materiality*** land, we can start to wonder: Of those who really shape the terrain of public thought, are there any real social constructionists left?

(*=Whitehead; **=William Connolly, ***=Jane Bennett; but the scope of all of these, which is the theoretical scope of this blog, is much broader.)

It’s a rich talk and I will probably have more to say about it soon. While I may be a little prematurely triumphalist here, it seems to me that the humanities are coming together around a paradigmatic convergence of sorts — a post-constructivist, post-representationalist, post-anthropocentric humanist, and post-Kantian one (I mean one that is post- exclusively each of those, not one in which there is no representation, no Kantian subjectivity, etc.), but whose positive terms have yet to find an agreed-upon center, an identifiable and singular “ism” (which is good). This shift has been long in coming, and I’m convinced it can be a powerful player in the public ‘making sense’ of the twenty-first century. While it still needs to be articulated in ever more coherent forms, a crucial next step — perhaps the crucial one — will be to communicate it across the “two cultures” divide. Because science is an important player in it, though it (unfortunately) hardly knows that yet.

And secondly, a useful new study of the religion blogosphere has come out, with the support of the Social Science Research Council, which is behind the Immanent Frame blog (that I’ve mentioned here before). “The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere” provides a very good overview of blogging in general (section 1) and academic blogging more specifically (section 2) before it goes on to map out the world of religious-themed blogs. Jason at The Wild Hunt notes that minority faiths remain sparsely represented, but within the more mainstream faiths, the landscape covered shows some healthy diversity in political orientation, style, and more. The whole report can be downloaded here. I can think of a number of other blogospheres that deserve this kind of study (environment, philosophy, etc.).