It’s always a pleasure when my RSS reader brings me posts from one of my favorite academic bloggers, Cosma Shalizi. His “blogospheric navel-gazing” comes with a justifiably melancholy prefatory note about the medium and its displacement by corporate social media. I notice that the Blogging Advice to the Young Scholar genre takes a somewhat different form when its imagined addressee is a scientist than when it is a humanist. The whole question of communicating expert knowledge to a public looks different when you are not in one of those fields that everybody already knows everything about (which would be my working definition of the humanities, capturing perhaps the only thing literary studies, history, philosophy, etc. really have in common). But really my favorite Shalizi blogging is his slightly-more-than-tweet-sized comments on his voluminous reading.
I forbear commentary here on the local news related to saying things on the internet, but the national AAUP’s letter on the matter pointed me to some interesting local history which is also a key stage in the development, if that is the word, of the institution of the right-wing troll mob. In April 1965, Eugene Genovese, then a recently tenured associate professor at Rutgers (cough cough), affirmed at a teach-in on Vietnam that, as “a Marxist and a socialist,” he would “welcome” a Viet Cong victory. The young Republicans, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and eventually Richard Nixon all went after Genovese, trying to get him fired. B. Robert Kreiser’s detailed account of the episode for the 2016 issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom is full of amusing details: “Scarlet and black bumper stickers with the slogan ‘Rid Rutgers of Reds’ could be seen on an increasing number of New Jersey automobiles” (14). The whole performance—the pantomime righteous indignation, the media scandal-mongering—is very resonant with our moment. Less resonant is the response of the senior administrators of Rutgers and the incumbent Democratic governor at the time, all of whom managed to defend Genovese pretty consistently on the basis of his academic freedom and free-speech rights, as well as the autonomy of the university. Imagine, state elites defending a left-wing professor using a public-good understanding of the university! Their stance bespeaks a kind of confidence in the standing of the university and the sources of that standing among the public that is hard to find in our neoliberal present.
In self-promotion news, I’ll be at Penn State next week to join in the Information + Humanities Conference. And all this year I am co-leading the Annual Seminar at the Rutgers Center for Cultural Analysis, on the theme of classification. Hoping to micro- or even macro-blog about it as the year goes on.