Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why I am a Cog

Dear Graduate students from my department,

I knew that eventually someone who knew me would find my blog and potentially recognize me, my sartorial tastes, or my cats (hello! what took you so long? Why isn't everyone bowing down to my greatness and showering me with worship and approving recognition?) and today I see from my sitemeter that someone from my city has, at last, visited. Even if by chance this was a random connection and not someone from my school or department, I wanted to post a few words about my identity and my choice for anonymity.

I do not want my identity known or my real life name associated with this blog. This should already be clear but it bears repeating. Even if I weren’t going on the market and already freaking out about the various academic horror tales about search committees prejudiced by the mere existence of those newfangled “blogs” out there on the “pile of tubes” or the whiny tones perceived on personal blogs, I would not want my professional public identity irrevocably yoked to this blog identity in print form. I should note that I rarely post on this blog during the normal “work day” --- this is an after-work hobby. But the level of silliness I can successfully pull off in person and still have people take me (relatively) intellectually seriously is quite different than what works in print. In person, one can grant a colleague an off day, a momentary spate of grumpiness, or share silliness about pop culture (or bad puns about one’s work), and return to “more serious” matters. A blog post, however, can be returned to again and again and reinterpreted in uncharitable ways. There’s no need for people to equate my name with “someone griping about her students and grading load” rather than the mellifluous prose and incisive theoretical interventions of my research on nose-picking in eighteenth-century literature. Or whatever my topic might be.

If I know you, or you think I know you, or you just want to say, “hi,” feel free to drop me a line at my gmail account ---- it’s up under the cat picture on the right. I will delete any comments that get publicly posted if they out my identity, location or otherwise too closely identify me. That may include comments that out yourself. And please, just to be on the safe side, don’t email me at my university account (what if you're wrong, fool?) or randomly post things about this blog to the grad or (heaven forfend!) faculty listservs.

Second, I write as an anonymous cog because I am larger than life, mythic even. (And not mythic because I don’t actually exist. The other kind.) At least on this blog, I stand for experiences greater than myself, if not quite universal. Rather than seeing myself as just a chick who writes personal things here, I prefer to present myself as a cog chugging away in the great academic-industrial complex. For I have come to see that (coggishness? coggery?) as my fundamental position in academia, and I wish to explore how the cog, as a facet of academic labor, works. You may notice my interest in institutions and power, and I find the structural aspects and subject positionings of being a grad student, a teacher, a professor, a researcher, to be just as interesting and important as any personal vicissitudes. Forget the individual --- the personal is structural! is my new motto.


I don’t see this as changing anywhere in the near future, either --- the power balance might shift a bit, the pay get better, the free gov’ment ride dry up (oh sweet sweet subsidized loans, how you are like crack to me!), but I think I will never be more than a cog in a vast and intricate machine. Some might hate this thought; I find it soothing. There is no “outside,” no utopia where everything is solved and resolved at the level of the tenure track or the full professor ---- academia has gotten so big that even A Very Good Professor at a wonderful school is but one element of a much larger system, one node in a vast network of shifting power relations and resistances. I don’t think we should cry about it, or avoid it; I want to study it. Just because there will always be bureaucracies and power relations does not mean we cannot shape to some extent the way those structures will be. And if we don’t actively reshape them, others will.

6 comments:

Horace said...

Though I am not the person from your department or city, I can say that this was a cogent a raison d'etre as I've seen for anonymity in an academic blog.

Plus that de-motivational image is classic.

medieval woman said...

Yes! A very nice post, Sis - are you sure you aren't a closet medievalist? Being a comfy cog is right up the alley of the medieval mindset, I think! And I mean that in a good way - we resist being cogs because it strikes us a Borg-like. But 'taint necessarily so...

hee, hee...

Sisyphus said...

Heh, I hadn't pegged you as the culprit, Horace! Seems as though, perhaps, it was an unwitting discovery and the person did not realize our closeness. But, better safe than sorry!

And MW, if I find any medieval cogs I will certainly post them! Or you could send them to me. But, alas, I'm no medievalist --- I don't have the languages!

I got an "A" in Crazy Beeyotch said...

I am new to academic blogging, and sincerely wish I would have read this post 6 mos ago...it likely would have done away with some awkwardness! Nonetheless, thank you.

wow power leveling said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The PhD war said...

Hi! Love your blog and your cat! :)
Looking forward for you new posts!