Tuesday, November 22, 2005

blogs and academics

I was directed to this slate article by blogora.

The article talks about how young professors who blog might be hurt inn their tenure hopes because the academic establishment looks down on blogging as an activity for faculty.  This makes me a little distressed about my own future as a grad student and faculty member.  However, I am fully aware that my blog is subject to google searches of my name and invite that audience, at least for now.  Perhaps when I’m on the job market I will find it wise to post a little less frequently and not be very subversive.

For now, though, I see blogging as a responsibility for my academic life, rather than a detractor from it.  First, I’m interested in studying the ways communication changes because of technology and I think participant observation is a good way to find out things.  Second, I think academics spend way too much time talking amongst themselves and the important ideas and discussions never get to real people or practitioners of the very things they are studying, and I think that’s a shame.  Blogging is one way of giving the benefits of one’s education to a more general audience.  And the discussion sometimes directly benefits my work.  Some of the conversation in the previous post about Derrida and the Bible is going to help me in my paper project about Derrida and Christianity.  And it got me really excited to learn more so I can post again and contribute more.

Also, I imagine the terrain on this issue will shift a fair amount in the next 5 years, as technology changes the way we deal with technology and the way we use it.  It will be interesting to see long-term the way technology impacts academia (as well as everything else).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Derrida and Biblical Hermeneutics

I’ve been reading Derrida for my Rhet Theory class, and working on a potential paper about Christian engagement with Derrida.  (disclaimer: I plan to read a lot more and I might later find out that the stuff I’m saying here is obvious and/or wrong.  Hopefully I’ll think of more interesting things soon.)  The idea I have been trying to understand today is diffĂ©rance.  As far as I can tell, it is about the distance between the author, the text, and the reader.  The lacuna of absence, the semantic slippage that necessarily occurs in any use of language because of inherent ambiguity.  According to Derrida this leads to openness of meaning and possibility.  Possibility for new understandings, including new understandings of old texts, as well as possibilities of misunderstandings – we cannot assume that what we express will deliver the same thought or feeling to our hearers or readers, but this gives way to a fecundity of language as well as an imprecision.

This same idea of ambiguity and necessary distance between author, text and audience is problematic for fundamentalist biblical hermeneutics – it means that language (including (especially?) Biblical text) necessarily means different things to different people at different times.  It means that perhaps the bumper sticker “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” does not really settle it at all.  Because how do we know that what God meant is what God said and that we understand it the same way?  Is there even a correct way to understand it?  

Does Derrida free Christians to interact with Biblical text in new and different ways because of the possibility built into language? or does it only mean we are doomed to misinterpretation until the New Earth?  I prefer to think about it in terms of the former, although there is a sense of the latter as well (especially when I hear some pretty crazy stuff).  I know plenty of Christians who avoid the question altogether and that is why they are so scared of postmodernism – it undermines their very epistemology.  Perhaps this is how “postmodern” became a dirty word in the church until recently (thanks to the likes of Grenz, McLaren, etc).  It all certainly raises new questions: if we are following a text that is necessarily ambiguous, how, then, do we choose to read it?  Why would God choose to use a language that is so slippery to tell us things in the first place?  Perhaps God, with Derrida, revels in the diversity, the possibility, the diffĂ©rance the text allows…

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lexical Curiosity: Platonic

I’ve had a troubling question floating in the back of my mind for several days now: why do we use the same word to mean having to do with the ideas of Plato as we do to mean a friendship with no romantic or sensual intentions? What does a Platonic friendship have to do with Platonic dialogues?

Well, I got frustrated and looked it up in the OED, an excellent resource for these sorts of etymological dilemmas. And I found the answer. Evidently, the term “platonic love” has been in use for centuries, and it was originally meant “to denote the kind of interest in young men with which Socrates was credited: cf. the last few pages of Plato's Symposium.”

So there you have it. The idea of platonic friendship, evidently, comes from Plato. Well, I’m sure people had them before Plato. But that’s why we call it what we do. I feel better already, knowing I won’t be arguing for a more aristotelian friendship with some of my friends and acquaintances.

Friday, November 04, 2005

blogs in the news

A recent survey (covered in a number of news sources, see USA Today version here) makes the ground-breaking observation that teenagers use blogs not as a public forum so much as a social tool.  This comes as no surprise to me, as I began blogging in this manner a number of years ago.  Such is the advantage of being my age I suppose.  I know about teen life because it wasn’t so long ago I was one (if a nerdy and not particularly popular one).  If only I knew this kind of material was noteworthy. I really need to start publishing this stuff someplace other than my blog with it’s ~15 faithful readers, because it seems that the news thinks these observations are interesting.

I think what is most interesting about this new information, though, is the ubiquity of teen blogs.  When I started keeping a xanga about 4 years ago there were only a few people I knew who kept blogs.  I thought it was a little bit nerdy and kept it low-key (although I will admit that, like most writers, I have delusions of grandeur and huge audiences from time to time).  Having an online presence was unusual and probably geeky at the time.  Now, college freshman are weird who DON’T have online identities in xanga or facebook or myspace or something.  Online society is an integral part of young society, and this has changed in a matter of only a few years.

This presents a problem for new media scholarship (which I have been considering): how do you make any meaningful generalizations that will not be obsolete by the time they go through a review process and arrive in published form?  I think there are things that remain the same, but the internet changes at such a quick pace, it seems there are always new examples and new challenges to any theory of online communication.