Friday, January 28, 2011

Historiann and Benjamin Franklin

Historiann has a terrific article about blogging and especially pseudonymous blogging up at Common-place. If you go to read it, as you should, you'll find out find out why we are like Benjamin Franklin's Silence Dogood and other good ideas.

I was especially struck by this:
Pseudonymity can work in the service of community-building in the blogosphere. . . . Although I'm not fully pseudonymous, my commenters are overwhelmingly pseudonymous. Nevertheless, regular readers and commenters probably recognize the commenters who appear most frequently because most of them have individual personality traits or interests that remain fairly stable. That is, they fully inhabit the names or roles they've chosen to play on my blog, and their pseudonymity, as well as the role I play as Historiann, is key to the kind of supportive community I wanted to build.
Supportive. Community-building. Can you see why I like this idea? Even though Historiann, like Roxie's World, is a "lightly pseudonymous blog," Historiann herself gets why some of us are, or are trying to be, pseudonymous.

That's important, because every so often, "real" bloggers who publish under their own names will write something like "why don't you man up and write under your real name?" (And yes, I used "man up" deliberately.)

I've thought about this a lot lately, because after listening to Moose at MLA, I was ready to stand up and say, "I'm a blogger, too"--sort of like an "I am Spartacus" moment. That feeling dissipated as I listened to the other speakers talk about the disadvantages, and I went back into my pseudonymous cave.

There was a lot more to this post about why I'm staying pseudonymous as long as I can, but really, Historiann explained it all. How about you?

Update: See also posts by ADM, Dr. Crazy, Comrade PhysioProf, and Prone to Laughter and their links.

17 comments:

reassignedtime said...

I've kept my pseudonym for a few different reasons:

1) I never wanted my blog to be about my field of specialization. I always conceived it as a "life of an academic" blog, and I always wanted it not to be something that I thought of as "work."

2) At a certain point, I realized that I've been Dr. Crazy for so long that I'm pretty much stuck with it. People have a relationship with the pseudonymous me, and to take that away from them after nearly 7 years seems like it would do more harm than good.

3) I really resist the idea that every part of our intellectual life must translate into a line on a cv. I think that is unhealthy and unproductive.

A lot of people know who I am now, and it's not terribly hard to figure out. I'm not terribly worried about anybody finding out who I am anymore, but I have tenure now and I'm at a very different place in my career than I was when I started blogging. For me, the pseudonym feels like a comfy sweater that I put on when I sit down at the computer. And it allows me to write about my life in ways that I wouldn't feel comfortable doing under my professional name.

By the way, for the "you need to write under your legal name" post, head on over to Tenured Radical's place, where a guest blogger says just that.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Without pseudonymity (pseudonymousness?) we would have no blog!

undine said...

Nicole and Maggie--same here!

Can I steal your reasons, Dr. Crazy? I agree with them. Thanks for pointing me over to TR's place for the "write under your legal name" post. I don't agree (big time) with the attitude the guest blogger expresses, but I guess she thinks she knows what she's talking about with pseudonymous bloggers.

Roxie Smith Lindemann said...

I have to confess to not comprehending why folks get their knickers in a wad over the issue of pseudonymity in the blogosphere, academic or non-. Pseudonymity has a long, noble history in a range of literary and cultural modes. Sure, it can be abused, if people want to hide in the shadows in order to be buttheads, but it can also give protection to those who need it in order to be able to speak the truth.

I like my extremely thin veil of semi-pseudonymity for a number of reasons. It's perfectly obvious to readers of the blog who I "really" am, and yet I have a little cushion in terms of searchability and just enough distance from the particulars of my job, my institution, and my self that I feel liberated to say things that would otherwise be difficult to say. It's tricky sometimes, especially as the blog has become a significant part of my public, professional life, but I am with Dr. Crazy in feeling pretty darn comfy in the snuggly sweater of my pseudonym. I can't imagine trying to write the blog in my "own" voice, because I have no idea what that would mean anymore.

Oh, dear, I had hoped to avoid posting on this topic, and now it would appear that I have. Thanks, Undine, whoever you "are." ;-)

Arbitrista said...

Given the nature of my job, I'd have to quit blogging entirely if I didn't have a pseudonym. I think only by operating under an assumed name do I really have anything resembling "free speech."

Historiann said...

Thanks for the link and the compliments, Undine. I'm with everyone who has commented here--we all play with identities and voices in our writing, so bloggers can make their own decision about eponymous vs. pseudonymous blogs depending on their goals in blogging (as Dr. Crazy points out so nicely.)

I'm glad you picked up on the community-building point I was trying to make--one thing that never gets discussed in these debates is commenters, who are almost always pseudonymous or at least post just under part of their "real" names. No one ever suggests that commenters need to come out of the closet--and for me, at least, the commenters are more than half of the action on my blog.

FWIW, I think Katrina over at Tenured Radical was making more of a comment about the visibility of feminist bloggers rather than trying to revive tired, old debates, though. I don't think she meant to pick a scab, or a fight, or her nose, or whatever, but her post might read differently to a pseudonymous blogger.

undine said...

Roxie Smith Lindemann, I like that snuggly sweater feeling, too. Have you ever had people give you a hard time in real life about something you've said on your blog? This identity I have here is one I enjoy, and it's not exactly like my real-life identity.

Arbitrista, I agree. There are posts here I'd have to take down for fear of offending colleagues if I began to write under anything approaching my own name. Also, I'd probably take down all the struggles with writing posts, although they are really helpful to write (for me).

Historiann, the community is the point of blogging, and I'm glad you talked about it. I launched this blog in the first place so I'd have a platform to comment, and it grew from there. You're right: no one demands that commenters reveal themselves fully, so why should pseudonymous bloggers?

Oddly enough, I think that Katrina got tripped up by getting the blogging tone wrong in some way. All those snide comments about pseudonymous bloggers may have been her way of trying to match what she thought was a blogging tone to what she was saying, but all they did was put off readers who might otherwise have been more receptive to her message. See, if she knew more about blogging, she'd have known that :-).

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I blogge pseudonymously because it's fucken funne to inhabit a different persona than the one I'm in all fucken daye at worke!

tenthmedieval said...

Oddly enough, I think that Katrina got tripped up by getting the blogging tone wrong in some way. All those snide comments about pseudonymous bloggers may have been her way of trying to match what she thought was a blogging tone to what she was saying, but all they did was put off readers who might otherwise have been more receptive to her message.

I saw that post and thought I had no comment to make (never having been pseudonymous on the open Internet) but it does strike me as *odd* that the one person she straight-out accuses of letting down the sisterhood, Rachel Leow, is not herself a pseudonymous blogger. It seems like Ms Gulliver's mixed up two different things she feels angry about and people have taken the tone of one of the attacks (feminists not fronting the struggle) badly but reckoned it to be about the other one (pseudonymists burn your secrecy because the Internet has grown up).

I think she's dead wrong about the latter, for what it's worth, but I am also on record as thinking that pseudonymity is never fully safe if you have anything to say that may cause ructions, and I would cite the pseudonyms Belle de Jour, Nightjack and Damn Good Technician as proof of this. If it's on the open Internet, and there's enough of it, it's identifiable by those who already know the author offline, if they want to work at it. So I think only those who know they're identifiable and use pseudonymy solely for fun or comfort have really got viable reasons; the others may be fooling themselves in dangerous ways.

Jonathan said...

I'd rather suppress the occasional critical remark about a colleague and be able to blog openly about the books I am writing. Of course, reasons for blogging pseudonymously are valid for those who do so. I guess since I already had tenure when I started blogging in 2002 it didn't even occur to me to hide who I was. I was also involved in a dialogue with other poets and critics who knew exactly who I was.

Even if I blogged with pseudonym I would still assume that anything I said could come back to bite me.

undine said...

Comrade PhysioProf, that's my reason, too: it's fun. It's a diversion from what I normally say and normally write.

undine said...

tenthmedieval, that's a good explanation of what happened (better than what I had offered). I think I'd misunderstood her anger as being about pseudonymity and become annoyed, as always, by what I saw as sanctimonious lecturing about what pseudonymous blogger ought or ought not to do.

I'd agree that it's probably impossible to be fully pseudonymous. If someone had the time and interest, they could track down me or any other blogger by references we make to conferences and so on. I don't check, I don't look, and I don't try to find out, but it's naive to think that others don't, human curiosity being what it is.

undine said...

"bloggers," not "blogger"--sorry.

undine said...

Jonathan, I think my reasons are closer to what CPP (and earlier, Dr. Crazy) have said. I would stand by what I've said on this blog, but it's freeing to build a persona by being just a voice without the surrounding "noise" of a real-life reputation. I feel more free to try out writing things that are funny or critical (or both) without having what I write be the official party line. For example, when I write about writing, as you do over at SMT, I do it because it's helpful to me and I hope it's helpful to someone else, but if I were giving advice from a real-life persona, I'd be much more serious and less inventive. Maybe that would be better or more helpful, but it wouldn't be in this voice, which I kind of like.

You're right: anything I (or anyone) says could come back to bite me. I don't know what to do about that, but I'm well aware of it.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Argh -- see what I miss when I fall behind in my blog-reading? And now I have to read up, especially as I've been asked for a couple of my papers on pseudonymity!

If it means anything, I would say that my reasons for remaining pseudonymous are almost exactly the same as Dr. Crazy's, though.

Katrina said...

Thanks for the mention, and this interesting discussion. I will cop to not having expressed myself clearly in my original post, and thank you to tenthmedieval for explaining so cogently part of what I was trying to say.

I never said "You need to write under your legal name" btw, or that there are no good pseudonymous bloggers.

My own experience of pseudonymity was kind of the opposite of some people's: on the one hand I felt a freedom and licence to express things I wouldn't under my own name. But I was constantly aware (and very much made aware by the outing of a close friend) that nothing online is secret. People who really want to track you down, will. So I ended up not really saying anything I wouldn't be happy to put my own name to.

I find it a useful check on my own online behaviour: it is so, so tempting to just unleash and vent, or slam people when you think you are "hidden" by a pseudonym.

undine said...

ADM, where are your papers on pseudonymity appearing? I'd like to read them!

Katrina, thank you for stopping by and commenting. I'm sorry to have misread your post and am glad that tenthmedieval was able to read it correctly. You're right about the dangers of pseudonymity and the possibilities it offers for rants, etc., although I think (or maybe hope) that there are fewer of the slams and so on in the academic blogosphere than elsewhere--or maybe just fewer in what I read in my obscure corner of it.