Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Chapter the Seventy-Second: In Which Knowing More is Not Necessarily a Good Thing and a Purge Ensues

If you have been following the last few entries, you are aware that this blog has received the kind of challenge that tests the souls of Radicals. Student reading of the blog is even *more* widespread than I knew, so I am informed by a colleague (who I will not write about since one of the things I know now is that many people do not like to be written about without their knowledge. And this friend did me a favor by letting me in on the Big Secret.) Furthermore, as the above indicates, students have tattled (and somewhat incorrectly, I'm afraid) to faculty about *who* and *what* is being represented in these virtual pages. So some of those lurkers I have been picking up are faculty colleagues who are -- I gather -- not amused. And some of them, as I understand, see themselves in certain characters, as it turns out, wrongly.

Well, I can only hope I have added a little thrill to a dull semester enlivened only by the appointment of a new President and the loss of hot water in one of the dormitories. And frankly, no one learned anything that wasn't being gossipped about widely, I guaran-fucking-tee you, and often gossipped about incorrectly. You should hear what people just tell their students for free, without making them look it up on the web.

Once again I am considering dropping the pseudonymity, in part because I have clearly ended up in this situation that is kind of like going to summer camp and having people read your diary and know what you think, but then they don't tell you that they know, they just give you a wedgie one day for no apparent reason. On the other hand, I have also received the impression that some of my colleagues think blogging is a low art, so they wouldn't admit to reading even if my name were on it ("Oh, Patricia Spacks! Where are you when we need you, darling?")

But I started by plodding through, post by post, to see if there was anything else there that could do harm. I tweaked, I edited, I cut, and some of the writing is even better. And in one case, I cut the whole post, but characterized it in a paragraph because the comments were so good. And there were some things, I would admit, that I probably would not have written so graphically had I known I would be uncovered so quickly. There are others where I think I disagree that they are in bad taste: these are ones that mostly have to do with tenure, and mean stuff that happens in the academy. And I have to think about, not whether I will continue to write these things, but how, since now I am being observed and the room for experimentation and snarkiness has narrowed dramatically.

But I would like to clarify a few things, in classic meme mode.

Things that are absolutely true:

1. Everything nice I said about my friends.
2. Everything I said about the Unfortunate Events.
3. I do believe the tenure system is corrupt and needs drastic reform in all its practices, including confidentiality.
4. Thoughts expressed on racism, homophobia and sexism. In other words, phenomena I describe really happen(ed).
5. That I detest how our personnel committee functions, how the people on it sometimes behave, and what values are being represented in the Zenith tenure system at present. As do a lot of people. And people don't speak about it because they are afraid of having their tenure candidates retaliated against.
6. My dog.

Things that are composite truths, or narrative based on facts but not strictly factual (that is, several things meshed togather into one incident; rewritten heavily to disguise the innocent):

1. Illustrations of, or casual references to, tenure cases. These "facts" are even sometimes true, but drawn from other institutions to illustrate a point or disguise specifics.
2. People I caracature (sp?): for example, Dr. Grumpo is a figure who embraces the sins of many, as are Drs. Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum.
3. My fantasy conversations with Paul Fussell.
4. Communication with students.

I am once more debating the merits of coming out, since apparently I *am* now out (btw: I'm gay!) But I will close with what all these experiences are teaching me about pseudonymity, which is: when people find out who you are, they go through the blog looking for themselves, and so of course they *find* themselves even when you didn't actually write about them. They see events they think they recognize and believe that you are talking about them, whether you are or not, and even if there are aspects of the post that would put that identification in dispute. And of course it doesn't help to have someone run up to them and say, "Professor Radical wrote about *you* in her blog!" which plants the idea in their minds in the first place. But it is actually astonishing how *similar* experiences at all institutions are, making these identifications possible in the first place. So part of this evening's work was to go through every damn post to reduce the possibility of misidentification, or indicate when something did not occur at Zenith. Fun, eh?

And for those of you who are lurkers, if you want to see someone really out there, click on Bitch, Ph.D. A quick trip to the Combat Philosopher, a pretty respectable fellow, more or less, will also net you a link to Sonia Belle, who writes a blog about living naked on a desert island.

At least I keep my clothes on, Zenith students.


Anonymous said...

I'm a zenith alumna who has enjoyed your blog for some time now. It reminds me why I love Zenith, and how the place can take itself a bit too seriously.

Recent posts are particularly interesting to me since I just started blogging (under a pseudonym) last friday.
I am amazed/alarmed at how much "snarkier" I am when writing with a psuedonym. So the situation has been a good reminder: comments that amuse my pseudo self can still hurt people. Sometimes that's constructive, but sometimes it isn't.

So thanks for the thought provoking blog.

The Combat Philosopher said...

You say, "...the Combat Philosopher a pretty respectable fellow, more or less,..."

That has to be the funniest description I have ever had. Thanks T-R!

Also, as I have said here before, your blog may be the gossip item du jour, but it will not last. Anyhow, Summer is coming. The students will disappear. Faculty will become distracted by other projects. Soon, it will just be you and some lurkers and a few others. As the weather gets better, people read blogs less.

Also, you could always cause a 'distraction'. What about setting up MySpace/Facebook pages for various people. Folks involved in the Unfortunate Events could be a good place to start... ;) [I'm wearing my 'less' hat here].

As for Sonia, I actually know a little bit about the personna behind this site. If you want to know more though, you will have to ask by e-mail (I now have an address listed on my blog), I respect blog personnas, for what they are. As I have done before, I suggest you keep yours just as it is.

The Combat Philosopher

Steven Pierce said...

I think the level of anonymity you've chosen is very useful. No matter how cleverly you disguise yourself some people from your own university are likely feel betrayed. To this outsider, it's been pretty clear that everyone portrayed unfavorably has been somewhat disguised.

Obviously your anonymity is fairly light. I'm in a different field of history and (I think) have no connection to Zenith, but I still have some impression of where it must be. But that's what makes you able to say certain, very useful things about academia. You can locate them in a particular kind of institutional context. That's something Bitch PhD couldn't do before she came out. You and GayProf are the two bloggers I've seen making the best critiques of institutional identity politics. I think it's no coincidence that the two of you have very similar degrees of anonymity.

anthony grafton said...

Dear Radical,

Please, just keep the stories and analysis coming, whether you reveal your real place and name or not. What you and Margaret Soltan and Flavia and a few others do is unique and valuable. Remember the statement of purpose on UD: "to change things." You will--or so I devoutly hope, because the system has a lot wrong with it.

And what about that move to NJ? OK, Rutgers didn't close the deal last night: but they're really young and really good.

Tim Lacy said...

TR: Wow. What a nightmare all of this has caused! I feel sorry for you, but more for the rest of us. Why? Because I'm sure this is distracting you from other, more worthwhile posts.

Rather than dropping your pseudonym, maybe you just need a break? Perhaps you should take a week or two off from the weblog and gather your thoughts on "coming out."

A likely side benefit is that you will come up with a laundry list of other things about which to post. I'm taking a break this week just for that purpose (and to conveniently edit an article for hopeful publication).

Hmm... - TL

Anonymous said...

Zenith alum, here, who admittedly did wonder if I was being mentioned in one of your comments. Then I decided that would be hubris, and returned to my other forms of daily enjoyment and procrastination.
I'm not sure about the "getting bored" idea some have mentioned. The sheer amount of time current students and recent alums spend staring at computer screens mean that I, at least, and most likely many others, will continue to read.

Anonymous said...

An unnamed fiction professor once told me that if she put a character in a novel that was completely made up, perfect fiction, twenty people would flock to her identifying themselves in her work. If she put people she knew really well in, best friends or relatives, they never caught on.

pamela wynne said...

If the snark level goes down, I will really, really miss it.

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