Phil Ford

Jonathan writes that we both feel “powdered” (I’m assuming in the Colorado-centric sense of crashing into a big pile of snow). Never has a truer thing been blogged. Sorry to resort to the Teachout Method once again, but this post will consist largely of bitching about not having time to post.

I think it’s the usual end-of-year frenzy, though, because it’s not just Dial M that’s been phoning it in. Phil at 2’23” asks “is it just me, or has the world of musicology blogs lately been a bit…well, humdrum? I certainly haven’t been helping matters myself, but what’s going on? Are we all bored with blogging all of a sudden? Is all of the energy of technically-adept musicologists going into maintaining the job wiki?”

No, it’s not just you. After making certain biggity claims for the blogosphere as a new model of scholarly enterprise, I’ve been more and more aware of the limitations of academic blogging. It really does suck that the best stuff you write gets ignored and the stupid novelty isn’t-this-weird stuff is all anyone seems to care about. I’ve been cynically keeping Dial M on life support by posting tons of Youtube things, and it’s worked. Our numbers are basically as good as they ever are. So does this mean that I never have to take any trouble with anything I write — just trawl through the internet looking for weird and funny stuff and we’ll get hits? Probably. This doesn’t say anything good about academic blogging, though. I’ve written that I hold a weak technological-determinist view of blogging — you can resolve to write anything you want, but the exigencies of the medium tend to knock the edges off your resolve. And this is a case in point. Youtube, lolcats, and whatnot are easy fixes — the spackle of blogging. If you don’t have time to write something real, you can find something cool or funny in no time and fill a hole in your writing schedule.

And, further, I just haven’t been feeling it. I was just at the Experience Music Project pop conference this weekend, and saw some amazing things. Joshua Clover’s paper “Terrorflu, or Where in the World is M.I.A.?” was perhaps the best presentation at an academic conference I’ve ever seen. The panel on the Iraq war was a revelation. Finally, after a number of false starts, I think we’re seeing the emergence of a strong music-scholarly discourse on the post-9/11 cultural scene. (That is, a discourse minus the bullshit affectation and condescension usual to academic work on current political issues, or at least relatively free of it.) Although all the papers on that panel were good, I’d have to single out J. Martin Daughtry’s paper as something that’s finally synched into the undercurrent of dread that’s been missing from scholarly discourse on the Bush years. For a conference about pop and politics, there was surprisingly little grandstanding — just a lot of dread, a lot of ambivalence, and a lot of doubt. But that’s all I’m really going to say about it, because, as I said, I’m not feeling it. I don’t want to write about it; it was enough to be there.

It’s the time of year. I’m ready for the semester to be over, and so is everyone else. One of the melancholy jobs I have to perform every now and then is to weed out the “music academics” blogroll. Peter at Loose Poodle has stopped posting, which makes me sad, though I understand why he’s stopping. Blogs, if you do them right (and Peter’s was one of the best) take a lot of headspace, which might be better devoted to writing other things — things like a dissertation, for example. Posting on People Listen To It has slowed to a crawl; The Black Torrent Guard is apparently inactive; Byronotes hasn’t updated since October; etc. I’m not criticizing anyone here, because blogging can be a brain-sucking monster and it’s not as if we don’t all have other things we need to do. The thing is, I’ve been able to do this blog because it’s helped loosen me up. I figure that, even with the time it takes me to write this stuff, I still come out ahead with the other writing I have to do, because blog writing keeps the pot on the boil. It’s like playing scales or something — it keeps you in shape even when you don’t have a lot of time to practice. But when you have so many things going on it’s a strain and a pain.

The blogosphere is littered with “goodbye cruel world” posts — people who have kept a blog going for years and then just up and quit. Often they write about how they’re sick of wasting their time, how they now realize that blogging doesn’t do anything useful, etc., but I don’t feel that way. I still think blogging’s great. But I can see how you can suddenly find yourself waking up and saying, y’know, I don’t feel like doing this anymore. But I haven’t hit that point. Yet. I think.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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8 Responses to Powdered!

  1. Miss Mussel says:

    There isn’t enough time to get the big ideas from head to screen in OM Land either. I continue to live in hope, however, that one day that will change. Ideally, that development won’t coincide with the day I run out of ideas.
    I enjoy Dial M very much. Here’s hoping complete disillusionment with blogging doesn’t overtake you or Jonathan for quite some time.

  2. Byron says:

    I suppose my own silence coincides with my return to graduate coursework. Byronotes provided a way for me to work out my ideas when I had no papers to drop them into, and it also gave me feedback at a time when I wasn’t surrounded by graduate students. Am I selfish for failing to help the discourse along now that I don’t need it? Yes. But I’d like to think that whatever I contributed to a broader discourse last summer, I’ve simply redirected into my own musicology department.
    I wish I had the desire to post again–perhaps I will someday soon–but right now I’d rather spend my precious free time doing the things I used to write about.

  3. Phil Ford says:

    I hear you.
    No, you’re not selfish. You don’t owe a bunch of strangers your time and energy. You can decide to donate your time and energy, to give it away for free, and you might even be rewarded for it (in ways that don’t involve money, alas), but it’s not like anyone can *expect* it.
    I blog because I like doing it. The moment I don’t, I’m done. There’s no other reason to blog, so far as I can see.

  4. Empiricus says:

    One, you do have devout readers.
    Two, whether you think so or not, you’re an integral part of a(n), albeit small, community of like-minded folk.
    Three, and perhaps this is because my cohort and I are still relatively new to the blogosphere, we feel/think that blogging, in such a niched world as ours, is the perfect forum to incite dialogue about the stuff we care about, even if our one friend is the one commenting. I could be wrong on this point, but isn’t that the point?
    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  5. I think of blogging as keeping the journal I know I wouldn’t keep if not for the incentive that posting provides. (I wouldn’t want those 10-12 readers to miss their fix.) While part of the beauty of blogging is that posts don’t have to be finely polished, there is something frustrating about the blog structure which can make you feel as if you’re only as good as your last post. The truth should be that a good post is good, whether it’s from today or last year. When I first started reading blogs, I noticed one (let’s call it “ablogIwontname”) that had stopped updating but still showed up on many blogrolls. For awhile, this annoyed me until one day, for reasons I forget, I dipped into the archives of ablogIwontname and discovered lots of good stuff. There may well be a point at which such a blog doesn’t belong on blogrolls, but maybe we need a category for high quality archives.
    The basic point here is that a blog that has stopped updating can still be a useful resource; some blogs may logically reach a point of diminishing returns anyway, kind of like a TV show, but there’s no reason the better posts can’t live on in virtual syndication. However, the typical blog structure means that even a rich blog archive is still an unwieldy resource. I don’t doubt that there are fantastic posts that I missed buried in the archives of Think Denk and Soho the Dog – maybe I’ll stumble on them some day, but it would be nice if they were indexed. Not indexed by vague tags, but really catalogued into a subject index, maybe even with 1-2 sentence abstracts. The most important feature of such an index would be too winnow out the more appropriately ephemeral posts and point the reader to more substantive material. Maybe the blogging medium is naturally inimicable to this kind of permanence, but I hope not.

  6. Yeah, I’ve been feeling that way too. For the whole last year-plus I’ve been dealing with personal issues, sucking a lot of the energy I used for blogging. And this time of year is always hard, with all of the grading piled up, etc, as Jonathan already said.

  7. Phil Ford says:

    Thanks for your kind words, OM and Empiricus. It does matter to me that people read Dial M and like it.
    There is something to be said for sustaining a conversation within a small niche where everyone knows one another (often in real life, not just online) and where there is a sense of shared work. A lot to be said, actually. I guess one of the points of this post was to think about how small that niche remains, and how tenuous it continues to be, even after several years. I wish I knew how to encourage blogging within the American Musicological Society, but the thing about it is that blogs are inherently personal endeavors, not institutional ones, and the impetus to blog has to come from individuals who, for whatever reasons, feel impelled to do it. Those of you who blog — thank you. Those of you who don’t — that’s cool too, because it’s not a cost-free endeavor too, and we all have to make decisions on how to spend our time.
    I guess I’m not totally disenchanted about blogging yet, since I’m fretting about how not enough musicologists (and musicological fellow-travelers) are doing it.
    Michael’s point about lasting contributions being buried is an excellent one, and one I will have to ponder more. The architecture of blog software assumes that blog posts are ephemeral, but as MM points out, they’re not, or at least not always. Some of the old posts on the best blogs repay repeat reading — indeed, some could profitably be anthologized between the covers of a book. Is there any way of de-ephemeralizing blog posts? I wonder.

  8. I smell a project! (In grad school we used to say “I smell a dissertation thesis,” eventually shortened to an appreciative sniff after an interesting line of inquiry was mentioned.) The folks at Crooked Timber have collected some of their posts into book format. It would be interesting to do so with Classical Music blogs, finding the best of the last five years, perhaps.

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