Chapter the Seventy-third: In Which The Radical Jumps Out of the Frying Pan and Extracts Herself From a Queer And Paradoxical Situation

April 7, 2007, 6:49 pm

(with thanks to GayProf and Dean Dad for the graphic inspiration)

The overwhelming weight of reader comments suggested that it would be fine to continue blogging pseudonymously, but I have come to a decision that it is not fine for me, for reasons I will describe below. Recent events chronicled here contribute to my decision, of course, as did conversations with a social scientist and with an ethicist that have caused me to reconsider the obligations attendant to writing about live people (as opposed to dead ones, which is what I am trained to do.) So I will publish this posting at the same time as I correct my profile to reveal my street identity (don’t kid yourself that this is who I “really” am.)

I am doing this in part because I am impatient to get back to writing critique, or humor, or whatever else you read this for, and while anonymity served that for a while, it no longer does. I would like to note a few things about why which may be thought provoking for other anonymous bloggers. Let me say that I don’t think everyone should give up anonymity: I just think I should. I am now well-known at my institution as a blogger, and it puts my friends in an increasingly uncomfortable position not to be able to talk to me about issues I raise that implicate them. It also puts the burden on any current and future students of not knowing whether, by agreeing to take a class from me, they are also agreeing to be written about in my blog (not). In both cases, I would have to say there is enough anxiety and drama in the world without me creating it too, even inadvertently and with the best intentions.

I would like to explain a few things about the blog up until now, and then say what I have learned as I move on to my second blogging career.

Why did I choose Tenured Radical? Well, a little bit of ego, salted with wit, critique and self-directed irony. I was shocked, when I put the blog together, that the name was still available, given how widely used it is (and of course, Cary Nelson has published a book called Manifesto of a Tenured Radical.) My intention was that this pseudonym call attention to a critique of the academy that originated on the right and that masks a peculiar reality: that almost none of us are very radical. And really, we need to think about why.

Those of us who are despised by the Right Wing are actually quite ordinary people who vote Democratic, are against the war (and were against the Other Wars) and who recognize that race, sexuality, gender, nationality and class, and their attendant oppressions, are a central fact of the society we live in here in the good old U.S. of A. That’s all. As I say, it’s really quite ordinary and middle of the road. So what I love about the name is that it is a paradox and a parodic way of identifying my own position: tenure, as I have made clear in my posts, is a deeply conservative institution that works to exclude, rather than include, suppress critical thought that falls outside an acceptable mainstream, and discipline people into being deferential. To pair this word with Radical is, then, Divine, in my view.

Why did I choose the name Zenith? Here I have to credit my old friend Clarence Walker, who refers to Wesleyan as “Zenith,” and he of course is making a multi-layered reference to Sinclair Lewis. Which you probably understood all along. But in lieu of a footnote crediting Clarence’s wit, I offer this explanation.

Why do you call your dog Sailor? Because her AKC name is Wizard’s Excalibur Sailor. Her kennel, or “call,” name is Breezy. So is her personality.

Any questions? OK, so let’s fast forward to the part, right after the Wizard has flown away on the balloon shouting, “I dunno how it works!” (which pretty much describes the swift departure of my blog pseudonymity,) but just before I click my ruby slippers; where the Scarecrow says, “What have you learned, Dorothy?” and I realize that I have been living in Kansas all along.

What have I learned?

Part of the reason composite characters don’t work, other than what I have said before, is that if you really write about a Person, make the description of that person and the events accurate, and are willing to take responsibility for it by putting your name on the blog, there will be basically one person who is or is not pissed off and may or may not talk to you about it. I intend not to put myself in this position in the future, but I think this is an accurate assessment of that choice. On the other hand, composite characters written about anonymously guarantee that there will be fifteen or twenty people seeing themselves in each player you have in any given narrative. And if you add a dash of paranoia (I know this is in short supply in the academy, but still–) many of them will be strangers, more or less, who don’t know you well enough to know that you don’t sit at home Sundays looking for people to crucify. So anonymous blog posts can end up being little literary cluster bombs creating that redundant thing we have learned about from the Bushies, “collateral damage.”

Another reason being anonymous didn’t work for me is really internal to Zen – er, Wesleyan, stultifying features of which I was trying to escape following the Unfortunate Events. Like being watched and talked about all the time and treated like yesterday’s news for having done the teaching and institutional work I was asked to do while struggling to find time for my scholarship even as other people were chosen to be groomed as “the scholars.” What happened to me during the last three years nearly destroyed me as a writer and an intellectual (I am actually not joking about this), and I had to start all over again, recreating a literary voice for myself and a confidence that I could command an audience with my thoughts and prose, from the ground up. It was either that or quit. And I didn’t want the blog to be about Wesleyan, because there are certain colleges and universities where, no matter how much you distinguish yourself as an individual outside the institution, it is always about effin’ Wesleyan. It’s kind of a weird institutional narcissism that I suspect is specific to elite colleges and universities that are simultaneously oppressive and have much to offer, where people have all the normal discontents and are so privileged at the same time that outsider
s wonder what could possibly be wrong with their lives.

Do not dare feel sorry for me about this, and let me underline the point: I am a highly privileged, senior faculty member at a very wealthy institution, and many other bloggers are not. Furthermore, regardless of this messy coming-out period, my strategy actually worked. Because of this blog *and its audience*, I was able to start writing again, to finish articles that were lying about undone, to write a book review for the Village Voice, to write a book proposal, to get going on revising the book that various people and committees eliminated all over during the Unfortunate Events, to do a ton of research on a new project and to begin speaking about some critical reforms that might really help faculty – on the right and the left – enjoy their work as academics again. In other words: I Saved Myself. And I have been transformed into something more powerful as a result of my trials.

So really, I am less like Dorothy Gale and more like the Incredible Hulk.

But it is also true that in being anonymous, the blog did end up being about Wesleyan, far more than I wanted to admit before I was uncovered. I have also discovered that there are many people who simply assume that anonymity is a sign that you have something to hide, and that blogging anonymously makes you more or less an unstable, or even unstrustworthy, person. This has nothing to do with who the Radical is, or who she has been, as an intellectual or a political creature, but to a number of people this is clearly beside the point.

Therefore, in its anonymous incarnation, the blog is provoking some of the things I was trying to evade, such as gossip, misperceptions and misrepresentations that are annoying to me and to others. I have one friend (an untenured person in fact who displayed a level of maturity and friendship that should cause hir to be tenured immediately) who called immediately upon discovering the blog and said, “I love it but do not ever write about me.” This was useful – not because I was going to write about this person – but because I could actually say that and be properly reassuring. And this friend has been one of the people whose counsel has been really important as I rethink my blogging ethic. So I would like to extend that position – the possibility of speaking to me – to whatever public I have. Use it or not as you will, but now, my friends, you know everything I know.

So you needn’t say goodbye to the Tenured Radical – she will be here. The difference is that you will now also know that she is eminent nuclear physicist Dr. Robert Bruce Banner.

There I go again! Stop it!

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