Monday, December 12, 2005


On Remaining Nameless

Or, I suppose, on remaining "named" in my current fashion. I've been promising this post for a couple of weeks, and I've had a few false starts on it. Normally, I abandon posts that I can't start and finish in one go. It has something to do with the kind of writing that I want to do on the blog. I like the immediacy of blogging, and if I'm agonizing over a post I lose some of that immediacy. But I'm breaking my own rule about that for this post, because I do feel like it's time for me to revisit this issue. Why? Haven't I thought about the whole pen-name thing enough? Well, perhaps. But a few things have happened (I'm not sure if that's the right way to describe this - I suppose I've read a few things? I don't know) that have made me think that it's an issue worth revisiting.

On Nymity
New Kid posted recently about denying her blog, and in this post, she writes:

Like many of you out there, I toy with becoming nymous, and "coming out" as a
blogger. I'm reluctant to do so because I think I would worry more about what I
write, that I would feel like everything I post has to be a magnum opus that
redounds to my fame, which would create such pressure that I would never post
anything at all, or at least nothing that wasn't perfectly correct, perfectly
proper, and perfectly boring. Of course, then I wonder if I should worry about
such things anyway, because as many people keep pointing out, if someone wants
to figure out who a pseudonymous blogger is, it's not very hard to do (and I'm
not incredibly obsessive about hiding all revealing information, anyway). I'll
continue to muddle along as I am for the moment.

As I read what NK wrote, I thought to myself that I could have written the same. Having a pseudonym allows me freedom when I write on the blog. It disconnects what I think about here from what I think about with my "real name" attached. It's not that I think that my "real" identity is safe from detection (more on that in a minute) but rather that because my real name isn't on this that I will not immediately be evaluated through what is posted on the blog. And I've thought, in the past, that perhaps I should have a blog that is a "professional blog" that has my name on it in addition to the chronicles, but to be honest I'm not excited by the idea of that. The things that I discuss on my blog are interesting to me precisely because they are not those things that are very closely related to my scholarship or area of specialty but rather that relate to the profession generally or to my "real life" as a professor. I don't feel, paradoxically, the need to put up as much of a front. Or, perhaps, this front feels more real than the front that I would feel like I had to put up on a non-pseudonymous blog.

On the Fact that My "Real" Identity is Not Secret
To complicate matters further, though, I've had people discover my "real" identity in spite of my efforts to keep it separate from the blog. Now, in part this has to do with the fact that as the blog progressed I chose to reveal more about my identity - for example, that my field is English. This is also in part to do with a technological gaffe I made when I first set up the blog that made it particularly easy to figure out who I am (which I've since rectified). Finally, for those who are particularly motivated, it's possible to figure out who I am anyway. I've got to say, I've never quite understood why anybody would want to know who I "really" am. It's a bizarre thing to me. What difference does it make? Huh.

At any rate, though, I recently received an email from a reader who had discovered who I am - right around the same time that New Kid posted about denying her blog and right around the same time that someone else wrote about not revealing her identity to a reader who emailed her. Here is a condensed version of my reply to some of the things that my reader brought up:

This isn't the first time that somebody has discovered me, but at the same time I'm never sure how to respond when somebody does. On the one hand, I'm always surprised that people would want to know. On the other, I do understand the reservations you feel about reading pseudonymous blogs. I suppose before I address the other parts of your email that I'd first ask you to keep my real life identity to yourself. I know that you said that you didn't want to out me, but I guess I feel like I should ask anyway, and let you know that I would appreciate it if you did.

[Some parts of the email are cut, but the reader had mentioned that she has a rule not to read pseudonymous blogs that she breaks by reading mine, and this is what I respond to in the following...]

Your take on pseudonymous blogging: I see what you're saying about revealing one's biases when one speaks with authority, but this, I suppose, is the interesting thing about keeping my blog pseudonymous for me. I started the blog with the pseudonym precisely because I didn't want people to evaluate it through my Name and Institutional Affiliation. In part, this idea stems from what Invisible Adjunct did with her pseudonym - the pseudonym became illustrative of the problem of adjunct labor at universities. I suppose when i conceived this blog, I wanted to be nameless and faceless for similar reasons - as a way of exploring the kind of job/lives that many academics have but which we don't often hear much about in graduate school. (It's no mistake, I think, that a huge number of my readers are graduate students and women.) And then there is the fact that I wanted to write about fitting the personal in with the professional and I didn't feel comfortable doing that with my name attached. The pseudonym became a way for me to think about things that I wouldn't necessarily want considered when I'm reviewed for promotion and tenure. What's funny now, having done this for over a year, is that I see very clearly how what I do with the blog intersects with what I'm thinking about in my "real" work. Still, though, the pseudonym allows me freedom, and so that's why I keep it. I don't particularly want to worry about whether or not I'm speaking with authority or as authority, but rather I want to try to speak from both inside and outside authority, if that makes any sense. In some respects, I think people pay a lot more attention to my blog because they DON'T know who I am, but perhaps that's just me running myself down because I'm not some sort of academic superstar? I don't know.

In terms of choosing what to reveal/not reveal, I think I've chosen to reveal what I have as a way of talking about what I want to talk about. At first I didn't reveal my discipline. Later, I felt like I wanted to talk about things to do with my discipline, and so I did. I'm still quite careful not to reveal my specific field or specific things I'm writing about/teaching, mainly because I don't want students finding the blog.

Re: pseudonymity and personae - Yes, of course Dr. Crazy is a persona. yes, of course, there are parts of "me" that aren't evident on the blog. However, I think that one of the things I'm exploring through the pseudonym is the fact that all writing voices are performed, so this persona is no more or less authoritative than the persona with which I write as Dr. RealName, just different. But no, my blog isn't "fiction," and I don't expect people would take it as such.

So the thing is, on the one hand I felt a little bit uncomfortable at being found out, but on the other I just didn't care. And I've revealed my identity to others in the blogging world without thinking about it very much. So why bother with the pseudonym at all?

Who Is Crazy?
This leads to the third item that came up that made me want to post about this, the fact that Michael Berube commented on my blog recently. (Sorry for not including the appropriate typographical accents but I am lazy.) I am in this weird position where somebody whose work I admire and who is in my field clearly reads my blog and enjoys it (I would imagine) but yet he doesn't know who I am. So on the one hand, perhaps it would be advantageous for me to drop the thin veil of pseudonymity, but then on the other the only reason that this person knows who I am is precisely because of the pseudonym that shields my real (and quite mediocre) identity. As I wrote above, "In some respects, I think people pay a lot more attention to my blog because they DON'T know who I am, but perhaps that's just me running myself down because I'm not some sort of academic superstar? I don't know."

I do know this: I get more recognition for the lamest things that I write on this blog than I get in my real professional life. And when I say that I'm not being coy or self-deprecating. I do pretty well in my real professional life, but the reality is that one doesn't get the kind of feedback and acknowledgment that one gets in this forum. Maybe someday (when I have tenure) I'll reveal who I am. Until then, I think I'm going to stay Dr. Crazy, and I would ask those who've figured me out to keep my "real" name to themselves. No need to give the Haters ammunition - know what I mean?

Interestingly, I had my first-ever conversation with my good friend and colleague Dr. G about blogging just recently. She doesn't know about my blog, and I don't even know how the topic came up. When it did, however, she revealed that she refuses to read blogs because they are self-indulgent and narcissistic. I suppose that counts as another check mark in the "don't reveal your identity on your blog" column....

An annonymous blog allows the freedom to say and share things that might not be so comfortable or proper to share in you have a name and institutional affiliation to keep up. Now, that is for the world as a whole. If you choose to reveal you secret identity to friends (either in-person friends or online blogger friends), then that is your business. If they are really friends, then you will be just as free with what you say. Also, if they are really friends, they can be trusted not to share anything about you that you don't choose to share yourself. This is especially true for you, Dr. C., if you don't have tenure, yet. So, I vote to keep actual names and institutional affiliations off of the blogs, unless you are setting up a blog for your class to read. As I said, though, this doesn't preclude your sharing more personal information (including name) with others in private communications, but only at your discretion.

But, don't fool yourself into thinking that you cannot be found out. If you actually share anything of yourself in your blog, then you will drop clues that can be put together to determine your true identity. Some of us are probably easier to figure out than others, but even the most careful person will slip up and reveal themselves to a careful detective. For most of us out here, though, it matters little whether we think of you as Dr. Crazy, or Dr. Jane Doe (who blogs as Dr. Crazy). It doesn't affect how you relate with the rest of us, so why reveal it when it is possible that it could be used against you by someone unscrupulous?
I have to comment on the person who emailed you. In what universe does someone get to puzzle out who you are, at least put the scare in you that she will "out" you, and then upbraid you for remaining anonymous? I like the declaration of principle that she doesn't read pseudonymous blogs...but in your case she makes an exception...but she feels nevertheless compelled to rip the veil of anonymity which you obviously wish to preserve.
This is all pretty messed up....I have to reveal here that I think Dr. Crazy is probably Harold Bloom...or maybe the ghost of Harold Arlen, noted Tin Pan Alley lyricist.

I thought she was E.D. Hirsch.
Good post.

As one who recently opted to be nymous, as opposed to anonymous, it is interesting to hear someones reasons for remaining anonymous.
Axis, I think you're being a dick. In what universe do you get to comment on an email you haven't seen? (Oh, sorry---you were commenting on _me_, the author, not what I wrote.)
(1) I did not "put the scare" in Dr. Crazy, and in fact I told her I wasn't interested in outing her in the original email.
(2) I did not "upbraid her for remaining anonymous." I didn't upbraid her at all.
(3) Did you spend more than 5 minutes on your comment? Because I spent hours on my email to Dr. Crazy. (Not so with this comment-to-your-comment.)

As you can tell, one of my personality flaws is the need to defend myself against people who don't give a fuck whether they're being fair or not.
Anonymous... you don't read anonymous blogs... except this one of course... then you comment anonymously? You're an odd muffin.
Okay, I'm definitely an odd muffin. (No one who's met me would question this.)

Let me clarify: I do not regularly read pseudonymous blogs about whose writers I do not have a sufficient amount of information. I adopted this policy after discovering I'd been misled by a national-level blog. Dr. Crazy's blog was the only pseudonymous blog I read without verifying a real-life identity behind it. I have a couple of colleagues/friends whose personalities are strong enough that I was able to nigh-immediately identify them after happening on their blogs.

I will point out that Dr. Crazy did not find my identity important enough, relative to the pseudonymity discussion, to comment on it in her post. But more importantly, I don't have a blogger account (or a blog anywhere) to link to...and I would find it a bit weird to create an identity just to use for commenting on a couple of blogs.

So let me ask this:
(1) Do you want me to post the relevant portions of my email to Dr. Crazy, if she okays it? It was really only meant for her, but heck, it's stuff I've said to other people before.
(2) Do you want to know my name/webpage, if Dr. Crazy okays my revealing that? I don't mind being on-the-record with my comments.
she revealed that she refuses to read blogs because they are self-indulgent and narcissistic.

Huh. I wonder which blogs she was reading. I mean, sure, sometimes our blogs are that way, but it's still interesting if the person is a good writer. I think that's more than anything why I'm drawn to the blogs I like to read. People are witty, and good writers, and tell the story of their day in a read-worthy way.

I do, however, feel the same way that you're colleague does when I come across high school or college student blogs. I really couldn't care less about whether they worked on their homework and then called Janie and then met up with Alex at the library--mostly because the writing is just frightful.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
You know, Anonymous, at the moment I don't, to borrow your vernacular for a moment, give a flying fuck what you have to say. Don't bother to post your earlier email, as far as I am concerned.

I do know this: I get more recognition for the lamest things that I write on this blog than I get in my real professional life.

Yup. I find it fascinating that Bitch is famous, and I'm nobody. Weird. I rack my brain sometimes trying to figure out how I can take advantage of Bitch's fame for career reasons, but so far I haven't figured it out....
Well, I do read this blog every so often, and I do enjoy it. I think you write compellingly about life on the tenure track and the difficulty of dealing with sundry birth-family matters; more generally, I’m kind of cheered by the emergence of the network of graduate-student and junior-faculty blogs (yep, that includes you too, famous Dr. B.), and the kind of virtual community they’ve created among people dealing with daily questions about their authority in the classroom, their socialization into the profession, their difficulties in balancing their personal and professional lives, and so forth. In fact, I’m not only kind of cheered, I’m kind of jealous: we didn’t have anything like these blogs ‘way back in the nineteen hundred and eighties when I was a graduate student or in the gay early nineties when I was an assistant professor. I really could have used ‘em at many points (and for many reasons) back then. I also like the fact that the blogs help younger academics (I really do sound like I’m near retirement, don’t I) find writing voices that are supplemental (in either a deconstructive or nondeconstructive sense) to their “official” writing voice. And I chimed in on one of your recent posts because in my early career, I became good at prioritizing out of sheer necessity -- and also by way of screwing up time and again. I couldn’t care less about your real identity, unless you turn out to be a colleague of mine, which would be, like, comme c’est curieux, quelle coincidence, et c’est bizarre. I think you – and a lot of other people, who shall remain nameless – made the right call when you decided to blog anonymously. Me, I was going to write in order to have no face, but it turns out it’s been done already. And so I will counterfeit my signature on this anonymous comment. Where? There:

--Michael Bérubé
Ok, first to my reader who emailed (and to those who took her to task, I suppose), let me reiterate, as I said in my email back to you, publicly that I was happy that you contacted me. I took your email in the spirit that (I think) it was intended, and I only posted excerpts of my response here because, well, I was lazy, and it was a way of getting this post out of my system without having to write the whole thing. I didn't post her original email because I didn't feel like it would be appropriate to do so when it was a private email to me. At any rate, I hope this clears up the weird argument that seems to have sprung up in my comments. I certainly don't like the weird arguing to be a part of my blog, so let's let this thing die, ok?

To Peter, I know your heart is in the right place, and it's kind of sweet how you defended me. And, actually, I'm a bastard child and we're not sure whether Harold Bloom or E.D. Hirsch is dear old dad :)

Michael B. - I want to respond, but I also want to think a bit before I do.... this might turn into a post.
I find the question of authority and anonymity an interesting one. Many of the journals and presses to whom we submit our "professional" work have double-blind peer review, in which the writer does not know the reviwer's identity and, likewise, the reviewer doesn't not know the writer's identity (although, as with blogs, these things can be figured out). Ideally, this is so that the work will be judged on its merits alone, not on the writer's status or lack thereof.

So why are there some people who think an anoymous blog has less authority than a nymous one? Doesn't the quality of the writing itself lend it authority? And for those of us who are anonymous bloggers who comment on other anonymous bloggers' blogs, aren't we engaging in a kind of "double blind" conversation, and doesn't that have its own merits? I mean, what if you or someone else I read said something that pissed me off (unlikely, but let's go with it) and then I later met you at a conference? In that hypothetical scenario, I'd be perfectly happy *not* to know that I disagree with what you said about x, y, or z and to have a polite conversation about your work!

OK, nuff said, given that I'm late to the conversation. I may just have to pick up this conversation myself on my blog! Thanks for bringing it up, Dr. Crazy!
Erm, there's a confusing double negative in that first paragraph: I meant "the reviewer doesn't know." Sorry. Typo.
Okay, now I'm posting anonymously because I'm afraid this will come off as too pedantic, but I'd want someone to point it out to everyone seems to make this mistake.

The opposite of "anonymous" is "onymous," not "nymous." The OED will confirm this.
onoma. I think that's greek.
Not too pedantic as far as I'm concerned. Of course, you've demonstrated my laziness, in that I took the invented term from New Kid without thinking about greek roots, but a girl can't do everything....
I've got to say, that one of the wonderful things about pseudonymous blogs is that it is such a delight when you get an email with their IRL name -- makes me feel like I'm being let into the secret club and I like that. I relish personal details - part of why I'm a shrink and definitely why most of the blogs I read regularly are pseudonymous. I like reading about pieces of people's inner worlds. No way, Dr. Crazy, you'd tell us as many juicy details if you were using your IRl identity.

But if I were you, I think that I would probably email Michael B. with my real name and other details so that you can have drinks together at the MLA. I'm always envious of the blogger meet ups I read about. What fun to get to know more about someone you've already seen a slice of on their blogs.
Ooops. I just posted that comment with my pseudonymous tag - and I'd meant to use my IRL identity. That's my personal solution -- I have a work blog and a personal blog kept entirely separate (the downside is less frequent posts on each and thus, probably, fewer readers.)
CAn you get Michael's autograph for me at MLA...preferably on a rifle or beret or French fry?

Every time I read posts like New Kids' or this one, I find myself wondering if I am really just friggin' crazy to be writing my blog when it is so easily attached to my name. I mean, I removed my name from the banner uptop, but it still wouldn't take more'n three clicks to get from my blog to my name. And as far as MoMedusa's comment, I post all kinds of personal details fairly regularly.

I sometimes wonder if I should just shut the blog down, move to Typepad or something, and actually try to be pseudonymous.

And you wanna talk about being more famous for blogging than for scholarship? I'm an adjunct who's still trying to get a draft of a chapter on the diss completed after about a million years of working on it. I'm no Dr. B as a blogger, but I get a pretty goodly number of hits per day.

And to respond to Michael's comment (we're on on a first-name basis in the comment-boxes, right?), I have recommended reading and or keeping blogs to a number of grad students, and I have some senior colleagues who do the same. I guess it's one nice thing about being onymous, I can tell another adjunct or a junior faculty that blogging is such a helpful tool for young academics and then give them the url for the teaching carnival and not be feeling that I need to deny the whole thing.
actually, I'm a bastard child and we're not sure whether Harold Bloom or E.D. Hirsch is dear old dad How interesting! Is it true? Do you wear special glasses like Hirsch?
I just want to thank "anonymous" for teaching me that "onymous" is the opposite of "anonymous." See, this it what's cool about anonymous and pseudonymous blogs -- you talk about those terms and in the course of it, learn a new word! :) Given the contexts, I doubt this would have happened on an "onymous" blog!
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