"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Friday, February 17, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

Blogging, we commonly presume, carries with it a veracity similar to autobiography. Whether bloggers use real names, totally anonymous pseudonyms, or pseudonyms openly linked to real people, we attribute a subjective truth, at the very least, to the lives bloggers appear to represent.

Why is this? A persona is not a person, no matter how much or how little correlation exists, or that readers think exists.

At least with other kinds of writing, we respect distinctions: An autobiography is not the same as an autobiographical novel, which is not the same as a "regular" novel merely informed by the author's experiences. Nor, again, is a "regular" novel the same as an epistolary novel, with its deliberate gesture towards "real" people telling a "real" story through "their own" writings.

But we assume blogs are like diaries. Whether we know the authors as real people, think we know them, or have utterly no idea who they are, we read each entry believing its contents more like autobiography than fiction.  Yet, it is a persona, not a person, that speaks to us, a digital construction of an identity that develops and evolves with each new post.

Some graduate student has probably already written a dissertation entitled Blogging, Baudrillard, and Barthes: Authorial Simulacra and the Creation of Hyperreal Identities in Online Communities.

Barf. Don't worry. I won't take that any further. But, just as a thought experiment, consider the following:

What if you were to find out that "recent Ph.D." didn't have a Ph.D., didn't work at a think tank or as a secretary, and had never even gone to graduate school? What if "After Academe" were a work of fiction, invented by a stay-at-home mom who had once entertained aspirations of going to graduate school and becoming a professor and wanted to explore the "road not taken" as a means of finding consolation for her choices? She had considered writing a novel but found the immediacy and flexibility of blogging more appealing. Her husband has an important position at a think tank, and she sometimes helps out with administrative tasks.

What if you were to find out "recent Ph.D." was actually a tenured professor who, while always advising his undergraduates NOT to go to graduate school, saw his graduate students year after year -- many of them very talented and committed -- trying and failing repeatedly to get jobs, lingering on in the department as adjuncts? What if he felt terrible about this situation but couldn't speak openly about reforming the department, despite tenure, without being ostracized by other faculty and administrators? What if graduate students wouldn't listen when he told them to walk away because, for them, his position undermined his ethos, making them feel as if he simply thought they weren't good enough, a feeling that only reinforced their determination to prove him wrong? What if "After Academe" were a work of creative nonfiction this professor hoped would convince graduate students and other recent Ph.D.s, whom he could not otherwise reach, that they had other options? What if a former graduate student of his was now working at a think tank?

Of course, you can believe whatever you want to believe, but sometimes readers do raise questions about the real identity of "recent Ph.D." My answer is this: I am as "real" as you want me to be. And the "book" you ask about ... why would you treat it any differently than the blog? If I wrote a book, it would have to fit in a genre: autobiography, creative nonfiction, novel. I'd be an "author" and I'd "die" when you read my "text." Blogging is its own genre, but it can freely incorporate any number of others. And since a blog only ever is, as a text, incomplete, the author/persona retains an active role, disembodied but not dead.

What if "recent Ph.D." is just a highly imaginative, clever, and creative undergraduate, contemplating graduate school but discouraged by what ze has heard? Ze would be just as happy, happier even, if ze could become a famous writer, inventing new literary forms, reaching wider audiences, cultivating "art for art's sake," but for now, ze finds hirself interning at a think tank, bored and overdosing on critical theory.

Won't you follow me through the looking glass? How much of me is you and vice versa?


1 comment:

  1. hmmm... Interesting questions you raise. I for one am applauding the imagination/political engagement/accuracy of these possible people behind the persona. Keep up the good work -whoever you may be. I enjoy reading your posts.