Time to Bifurcate: Shed Dead Skin, Take on a New Identity

(A long memo to self, shared with friends in mind.)

That title sounds a little too serious, as a title about something that, after all, is just a blog. Then again, if not a problem of mixed messages, I do have the problem of mixed “wavelengths” of communication: I am one of those unfortunate individuals who is often thought to be serious when just joking, or that I am joking when I instead mean to be serious. In fact, I would probably make a good comedian, if I would only be serious about it.

One little example: Sara recently asked, “should sociologists blog? should anthropologists blog?” Without any smiley faces, I replied that, yes, sociologists should blog, but anthropologists would be better off becoming sociologists (which also implies they should not be blogging until they do). I provoked an “oh come on!” like response from a colleague whose patience I have been testing, and had to explain that I was joking. And then I said, but let’s pretend to be serious, and discuss it anyway.

The point of this post (discovering it as I write it), is that my writing for this blog has reached a point that feels like a crossroads. I have advocated against compartmentalizations, the latter running against the “open” ethos behind the blog. Yet, I like focus and concentration. I never expected something that is just a blog to be so challenging — the mixture of wavelengths, different messages pitched at different levels, sometimes alternating between one kind and the other in the same day, or even in the same hour, going from wining in a Trinidadian carnival to social science co-opted by the Pentagon. One resists it, the other dwells on it. It’s uncomfortable gymnastics.

The tensions within this blog have left me divided. Trying to do many different things, oriented to different audiences, with multiple goals in mind. For a while I thought: no need to compartmentalize (something I have set out as a problematic way of thinking); just let the hybrid develop, with its mixed messages and mixed allegiances; bring the practice I preach into practice through the preaching; send different signals, to break established boundaries, and thus bring about the “openness” I have been seeking; get accustomed to being uncomfortable with the interior friction; bring a “trojan horse” into the virtual department, and so on.

There was this interest in projecting the “discipline” outwards, engaging with colleagues, finding new ways of writing and communicating anthropology, and addressing immediate disciplinary concerns. Conference calls, calls for papers, university news, book reviews, notes, summaries of papers, summaries of news reports, and essays on questions of ethics and practice thus all formed part of this thrust.

Then there was this desire to just enjoy myself, to play around with ideas and different media, to spoof and satire, to be purely polemical. The funny thing was that it ended up being me who grew uncomfortable with the juxtapositions. I have thesis, and I have antithesis, but I don’t see a possible synthesis. Besides, not every hybrid is strong and beautiful, healthy and enduring, just for being a hybrid.

There are only a few objectives I could agree on, and I am deciding to allocate separate spaces for them. What continues is the interest with militant critique, with anti-imperialism and decolonization. But what needs space of its own is the more literary side, the interest in music, the broadening of attention to Caribbean cultures beyond that at the centre of my published ethnographies, the writing of what a friend called a “hilarious body slam,” the “open source ethnography,” the sharp pamphlet-like denunciations, the side that is more raw, and one that does not play up to any expectations of any kind of “anthropology” in any form.

When you go and put “anthropology” in the title of your blog, or book, or whatever else, what you end up realizing is that you are signing on to a finite measure of scripts and roles. Maybe that is a conservative view of tradition — an anthropology like the Roman Catholic Church, which is not an amusement park and therefore does not need to have the latest ride (such as gay female priests). Maybe the “open” is better served by doing it over there, without flashing any membership cards, and the “anthropology” can stay here. And of course this is all a symptom of the past year, where I have found myself at a crossroads of many things, having to completely revise and rethink affiliations, engagements, interests, directions.

And I hate envying Guanaguanare and Black Girl on Mars at a distance, wishing I could do what they do, more regularly, more often, without distraction. Then I suddenly remembered that I was free, and so away I go.

This blog will remain here where it is, still relatively active, but with a narrower focus. “Just for the record” I may change little of the overall self-descriptions of the blog produced on this blog, but I may “migrate” some posts over to something new that I am working on, leaving both with greater focus and greater intensity. I certainly have enough material for more than one blog and I can keep them all pretty busy.

Until soon then, I will leave you with one little hint of what is coming next, and it is the most obscure hint I could possibly find:

1D4TW.

I can hardly wait. Now comes the good stuff.

16 thoughts on “Time to Bifurcate: Shed Dead Skin, Take on a New Identity

  1. You have been working hard to keep us all abreast of recent developments. I am glad to hear you are planning some fun, free, creativity. I will be back to catch up and contemplate when the syllabi are done and the students have ceased to cling. Don’t go to far.

    Pam

  2. The point about this blog’s title (and domain) is probably the most important one, IMHO. But my impression is that diverting posts isn’t a complete solution to your dilemma.
    In just over three years, I’ve started a good number of blogs, including some academic ones. I do still post on several of them, trying to manage different foci. Still, I always end up posting everything on my main blog, Disparate.
    Chances are that we have different approaches to many of these things. Maybe you enjoy more concentration than I do. But there seems to be something about blogging which makes for a lot of “porosity.” It’s not too difficult to separate writing for peer-reviewed publication from blog writing. But I do find it rather difficult to separate blog writing from blog writing. In part because blog writing tends to be quite immediate.
    At any rate, this will surely be a great case example for Owen to discuss. I’m even surprised that he hasn’t left a comment here, yet.

    Good luck in the split blogging. Even if it doesn’t have the expected results, it’ll likely be a fascinating experience.

  3. Thanks to both of you Pam and Alexandre, I appreciate the comments, and your insights Alexandre. Working on this alter ego blog that I am readying is proving to be a bigger drain on time than I expected — WordPress does not import posts and comments as well as it might think. Then formulating a separate vision, and producing what will in fact be blog #5 (all of them active…in fact, there is a 6th but it used for very dry admin purposes in a network), is slowly becoming a career in itself. Good thing that I enjoy it, or I would be resenting it deeply right now.

  4. Hey JW, you too can write everyday without distraction! Just put the rest of your life on hold, it’s that easy. Just kidding. The words come quikly to me and I put a lot of material into scheduled posts over the past few months….I almost forgot to say: I think that you will like 1D4TW very much when you see it.

  5. Hi Max,

    You know, it really is fascinating how tonality never gets conveyed well in this medium . I made my “oh come on!” response with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, an evil glint in my eye, and a series of debates from ~1900 in the back of my mind. Body language just doesn’t come across at all . I do think you’re right that the discipline has become constricting in many ways – maybe that’s why I teach out of an interdisiciplinary institute right now.

    Good luck with the split blogging. I hope it helps you with your dilemna.

  6. @Enkerli -> Coffee only works for so long, then one of course needs sleep.

    And I certainly have felt the desire to start a second blog. I’d like to blog about the renovation hell I’ve been going through, and about gardening which I love. Since I’ve been trying to use the blog as a research environment, as a place to discuss my research, I’ve held off from posting things like “Hey look, our radiant heated, polished concrete floor is working!”.

    It’s interesting that you are splitting up the blogs based on your own feelings towards the blogs identity as opposed to your readers. I figured that if I posted about my garden and renovation that I might bore readings looking to learn about my thesis, and vice versa. I am sure I would bore interested gardeners with my thesis. That feeling of fulfilling expectations stops me from writing about a lot of interesting things…

    So I’m all for the de-anthro’ed blog. Can’t wait to check it out. Of course, for me personally its much easier just reading it all here. [because I think all your blogs will work to inform each other].

    Also, it is hard to read body language and humor online, but after reading so many of Max’s comments, I find it very rare that I rarely miss the sarcasm, humor, edge, etc… The range of posts really let readers/me get a better understanding of how you approach problems from the extremes. I wonder how that balance will play out on two blogs, and to what extent readers will experience both – or will they be pulled to only one.

    But enough speculation. Wheres the blog already?

  7. readings = readers… oh you can figure that out.

    this is why I hate commenting on other peoples sites and prefer blogging about their posts – I can !@#! edit them when I make typos.

  8. LOL @ o.w. !

    Max, that’s exactly what I try to do, but life in the “real world” sometimes makes it difficult for me to write or plan ahead at times!

    You have my interest piqued now… but let me get back to my 9-5.

    I have lots of “real world” work to get done!

  9. lol I also meant that its not rare that i rarely miss … no… not quite it, rare that its rare that I rarely miss,… nope…

    “I find that I rarely miss…”

    that woulda worked.

    Hey cool I can spam your blog with typo corrections. fun. Is this what they call cyber anthropology fieldwork?

  10. Thanks Owen and JW! This was quite funny to read, but really good comments, enough to give me a lot of reason to think twice. I will probably press ahead with the parallel one, if anything to turn it into a kind of repository.

    However, I must say, importing from a WordPress blog to another WordPress blog is far from smooth. Comments were dropped in many cases, and about two dozen posts went missing as well.

  11. Good luck! It’s my sense (others above have already indicated this, so I won’t harp) that your feeling here is almost ubiquitous for those whose blogging attempts to have any focus beyond ‘whatever happens to grab my attention right now’ – witness the host of deeply depressing new posts on sites supposedly dedicated to ‘fun’ stuff like Neatorama.

    It’s certainly happened to me, and in fact my own blog has been ‘restarted’ three times in four years. None of those restarts have solved my problem of focus over the long term, but in each case it was much like burning a field of dead crops, providing new energy for new work. So it was useful in that sense.

    Good luck – I’ll be following the ‘split blogging’ with interest, and solidarity.

    Warmly,

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