Not As a Trusted Guide

Halfway through Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects, one of the many wishlisted titles I picked up at last month’s Networked Humanities conference. Stewart’s slow jumps aggregate to an “idiosyncratic map of connections between a series of singularities” (4). A colleague, when he saw the book at the edge of my desk late last week in a place where I would be sure to remember to carry it home for the first interlude of Winter Break, characterized Stewart’s writing as “prose poems.” I can see that. Similar to ornamented essays, i.e., stylistically adven-turous felt-arguments.

And like I said, I’m only halfway through. Slow jumps read slowly. As much as by anything else, I’m struck by–affected by–Stewart’s reconfiguring of pronouns.

I write not as a trusted guide carefully laying out the links between theoretical categories and the real world, but as a point of impact, curiosity, and encounter. I call myself “she” to mark the difference between this writerly identity and the kind of subject that arises as a daydream of simple presence. “She” is not so much a subject position or an agent in hot pursuit of something definitive as a point of contact; instead, she gazes, imagines, senses, takes on, performs, and asserts not a flat and finished truth but some possibilities (and threats) that have come into view in the effort to become attuned to what a particular scene might offer. (5)

To write not as a trusted guide seems at first to go against professionalism and rhetorical ethics, but instead of turning into fanciful indulgence, because it finds gravity in description, it shifts ethos to ethos-oikos, a kind of redistributed or network-strewn, banal registry. A contagious style, Stewart’s.

He noticed frost on the Honda Element outside and put off a morning jog, wrote a blog entry, ground beans for pressed coffee. “March was always warmer than this.”

Vervous Blogging

I have been preoccupied lately with wrapping my head around the question of
"professional ethos" concerning graduate students who blog (e.g.,
Questions: Does the blogging graduate student assume risks that the non-blogging
graduate student avoids? Are there greater risks or rewards in either
choice? What, then, are the payoffs? And are they immediate and tangible,
delayed and abstract?

The puzzler has been, "Why should a professional ethos for blogging graduate
students be any different than it is for non-blogging graduate students?" This
is a puzzler because every response I can come up with demands qualification:
whether A.) it’s no different or B.) it’s the blog.

Take the first response: "It’s not all that different." Professional
ethos is, after all, performed.
It is performed in the more long-lasting snapshot of the CV and in the fleeting
here-now moments when we, say, utter something in a class we are teaching or
taking (any venue, really, where we have a chance to say something insightful
and smart or irrevocable and humiliating). Professional ethos for graduate
students leaks into all of these activities; it is performed at nearly every
turn. Graduate students who perform their professional ethos well
in all its aspects will not be harmed by blogging; graduate students who perform
their professional ethos egregiously
(which is almost to say unethically or unawares in this regard) may find that
blogging makes the quality all the more conspicuous, that it makes ethical
recklessness, to say nothing of the lessons learned from mistakes, somewhat more
transparent and lasting. Already I can see that this tentative response is
beginning to buckle under the possibility that a blog may serve as a record of
the messy lessons where professional decorum gets tested (see Tribble).
Then again, that’s what I’m trying to get at: testing professional decorum,
whether blogger or not, bears consequences, and how we anticipate those
consequences and work through them when we’ve messed up seems thickly entangled
with the very idea of professional ethos, whatever the stage of the game.

At least that much is settled.

To reiterate and to put it more plainly, many aspects of professional ethos
(as performance) pertain to blogging graduate students and to non-blogging
graduate students alike. And yet, as a blogging graduate student (as one, that
is, who has blogged through a near-complete program of study), my own practices
rather tip my hand
(a Euchre reference, not Go Fish) and give away my clear preference. Keeping
mind that many aspects of professional ethos are shared by bloggers and non-bloggers,
what about blogging makes it different? How does blogging add dimension to
what it is we are trying to do while we are in graduate school? I’m not
all that keen on the fast switch to personal, anecdotal experience as evidence,
but maybe I can frame this as a series of professional-ethical convictions or
(as performed ethics) that have loosely guided
Earth Wide Moth since its first entry, just a few months before I moved from
Kansas City to Syracuse in 2004.

1. An ethics of experimentation. Participating in the RSA panel last May on
the ethics of amateuring greatly pushed my thinking in this area (I even read
Booth’s For The Love of It on Jenny’s recommendation). The blog
understood as an experimental space does not always need to explain itself in
terms of "professional efficiency" or productivity drive. This does not make it
unprofessional. Instead it (re)establishes the necessary and delicate
orchestration of "for pay" and "for love": professional and amateur.
Experimentation, like inquiry, favors the side of wonderment, mystery, and
intrigue, the side of "I do not know, but I can’t resist the delight in finding
out, the delight in toying around with possibilities, with unknowns." Now,
this commitment to experimentation does not always come off well. Often,
it fails or rather is about failure, interruption, digression. Yet, in a blog,
it plays out in the midst of others and in such a way that it lays a skein of
re-discoverable pathways for the future. Re: professional ethos, this principle
seems to underscore the vitality in networked experimentation.

2. A second principle involves an ethics of engagement, stale commonplace
though it risks seeming. This is, rather, a point about the outward blog ethos
as one that conveys investment, conviction, and panache for a professional
trajectory, in a disciplinary orientation, in a research specialization, in a
body of work: I am going to make my living doing this, and, thus, I am going to
put my greatest possible effort into it. So: in the blog (as a collection) and
in specific entries, I have sought all along to be genuinely engaged. It
has not always worked this way, and this principle, perhaps like all principles,
grows weaker as I describe it in more idealistic terms. Nevertheless,
where professional ethos is concerned, blogging affords graduate students a
venue for engagement appropriate (arguably) to the rhythms of graduate

3. An ethics of lifework harmony. When I started blogging, I was a
professional, but I wasn’t a graduate student. Thus, when I became a graduate
student, I didn’t experience any remarkable change in how I thought about myself
as a professional or as a professional-in-becoming. Sure, I was leaving
behind a livable salary, a private office, home ownership, and certain daytime
schedule constraints to become a "student." But I had already trampled on
the faux-dyad of work and home or personal and professional for seven years, and
I find in blogging (granting that this is a privilege) a healthy and rewarding
breach in the hemispheric division that would separate life from work.

More to come…