- The Madwoman with a LaptopNotes Toward a Literary Prehistory of Academic Fem Blogging
When I started blogging in March of 2006, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I also didn't imagine that what I was doing would ever have anything to do with my "real" work or my professional identity as a literary critic with expertise on twentieth-century U.S. literature and queer/feminist studies. Had I had any idea of what I was doing or where it might lead, it's fair to say I probably wouldn't have begun blogging in the persona of a wire-haired fox terrier obsessed with politics, pop culture, and basketball.1 That is one of the many reasons I am extremely grateful I was so utterly clueless about what I was getting myself into when I sat down at my laptop and started noodling around on Blogger on a Sunday afternoon, armed with little more than a vague idea about letting friends and family know how our dog, Roxie, then recently diagnosed with a heart condition, was doing.2 Blogging for me has been a process of experimentation and exploration in which not knowing what I was doing has been crucial to whatever success I've enjoyed. Such blissful ignorance has kept me open to serendipity, making the work of building and maintaining a solo research, writing, and design project feel, most of the time, like deeply pleasurable play.
As the experiment has moved forward and grown more serious, and especially as I've begun to incorporate blogs and blogging into my research and teaching, I've also begun to reflect more critically on my practice as a blogger and to think more broadly about what blogs are, what they do—culturally, politically, and literarily—and what they can teach us about reading, writing, and social networking in the twenty-first century. For the purposes of this roundtable, I will focus my reflections on an aspect of my practice that at first seemed whimsical or just plain silly but which I now recognize as deeply rooted in my training as a feminist critic of literature: my decision to blog pseudonymously. I want to contextualize and historicize that writing strategy as a way to begin mapping out a literary prehistory of blogging by academic and other kinds of feminists. To do that, I will examine a small sample of blogs authored by academic women that aren't strictly speaking academic, though they often take up serious professional issues, and that are published behind a thin veil of pseudonymity—i.e., behind pseudonyms that are given away on the blog itself, in sidebars or profiles. The sample includes Historiann, Tenured Radical, and my own blog, [End Page 209] Roxie's World.3 The goal is to situate such blogs within traditions of female pseudonymous writing and self-publication and in relation to feminist strategies of "talking back," as (the pseudonymous) bell hooks termed it, to patriarchal authority.4
My title's allusion to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic signals the method of this analysis, which will be to explore today's academic feminist (shortened, in the concise slang of the blogosphere, to "fem") bloggers as the latest avatar of the self-divided, subversive figure tracked in their monumental reassessment of Victorian women's writing.5 I am interested in the forms of intellectual and political work and play (and work as play) that occur in these often deeply ironic spaces, which offer a lively mix of professional advice and commentary, book reviews, and cultural critique as well as Barbie photos, vacation travelogues, and rhapsodies in praise of women's basketball. There is a high degree of similarity among the authors of Tenured Radical, Historiann, and Roxie's World. We've all written books. We're all tenured, all Americanists, all white, two publicly out as lesbians, one a self-described married heterosexualist.6 (As readers of this journal [and especially of this roundtable] likely know, Historiann is Ann Little, a colonial historian and author of Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England; Tenured Radical is Claire...