A discussion recently on Jeff’s blog that I didn’t get around to in time to really comment regarding the issue of anonymous academic blogs. There’s the whole practice of being anonymous in order to spread academic gossip without paying a price. I don’t have much use for that, but then I was never really interested in academic murder mysteries either, so maybe it’s just not a genre for me.
But this conversation raised more interesting issues. Three, in particular, for me.
1. Given the potentially broad public nature of blogging, anonymity protects one from strangers and outsiders who wouldn’t appreciate the context in which a conversation is being had. In this way anonymity works in much the same way as the limited access most people have to academic journals. I.e., someone can Google me and find me here, but that same person is not likely to track down an article in a journal or essay collection.
2. Anonymity makes clear the way that normal academic discourse operates on a foundation of authorial identities. That is, for good or bad, comments are likely judged by the identity of the source (e.g. a comment offered by a professor at a small college like myself versus one offered by a senior faculty member with a national reputation at a major university). I’m not griping about that. I’m just pointing out the nature of how we respond to writing. Obviously we don’t read our students’ work the same way we read our colleagues’ texts. Interestingly one can build up the reputation of a consistent pseudonym.
3. Related to point 2, what would occur if texts were published anonymously? Obvioulsy it would alter the academic marketplace that exchanges intellectual property for tenure and promotion. I like Deleuze and Guattari’s comment on authorship at the outset of A Thousand Plateaus:
The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. … Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render impreceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I.
Clearly the ideological impulse of the State is to assign properties to subjects (obviously the term "properties" has multiple meanings here). "You" write something, then "you" are accountable for it. You benefit from its commodification in whatever marketplace, and you receive the consequences arising from any accusations–libel, plagiarism, idiocy, and so on.
To quote Deleuze from elsewhere, "I have nothing to admit." But refusing/escaping judgment is not always that easy. Hence the tactic of anonymity.
That said, perhaps there is something to be said for reaching the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. The path to such a point may lie through anonymity. On the other hand, playing that game may only heighten the mystery, the aura, of authorship. My choice has been to tie my name to my blogs. I suppose I don’t have a national reputation at risk. I’ve jumped the tenure hoop. I guess I don’t have a whole lot ot risk. I suppose someone could do to me what newspapers always do with the titles of MLA papers and panels.
Whatever. Knock yourself out. Any publicity is good publicity, right?
My tactic is to plod along with the mundane nature of blogging. Everyday thoughts. At some point perhaps the "it doesn’t matter what I say" translates into "it doesn’t matter that I said it."