Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Touch No One and No One Touches Me

Hey kids! It's Ginny, from Praying to Darwin. I get all hopped up on goofballs one night, and before I know it, I'm sending out the bat signal, asking Shinerpunch if she's got anything laying around that needs reviewing. In retrospect, I think that's the part where she tented her fingers, murmuring “Excellent...” in her best Monty Burns impression. She knew what she was foisting on me. That diabolical bitch.

Upon opening Archive Fire, I was intrigued. Unlike the vast majority of folks who read blogs (definitely the majority of reviewers on here) I like a good white text on black background site. I have very few problems with the layout in general. Clean.

And then I start reading.

I find what passes for an “About” section. When it starts with the word “warning”, it's a little foreboding. Turns out our homeboy Michael is writing a book. He's an anthropologist, and an activist, and he doesn't give a crap whether you like this blog or not. He doesn't want to engage you. He wants to talk at you, not with you. (If discussion should occasionally break out, he'll go there, but it's not exactly encouraged.) The whole blog's a bit masturbatory – “I have all this knowledge, and if it backs up, well, it won't be pretty, so I'm going to release it here. Go ahead and watch, if you want.”


I kind of liked it. He writes about wildly varying stuff, from aboriginal issues to kindness to capitalism. I like it when he calls bullshit on the opinion driven naysayers in this post.

It's just too bad he has to do it in a way that makes this blog so niche, aimed solely at fellow academics. I can appreciate a niche blog: the good ones stick to a theme, and you know what you're getting when you go there (be it recipes or pictures of cats or sex toy reviews). But in this case, the subject material is fairly diverse – it's the audience that is narrow. (When you're including disclaimers like this: [* please note that all content is provisional and part of a recursive process inextricably woven into a more extensive and multi-tactical expressive project] ? You're not talking to most people. Or even very many people.)

I'm completely flummoxed as to why he submitted to us. I can't imagine he'd ever change anything based on a review. I can only assume it was for traffic. Because anthropology books don't sell themselves. And did I mention he's writing one? Hmmm.

Instead I'm going with this:

The Island. He's alone. And he likes it that way.


  1. Maybe he's trying to make himself more accessible to us vernacular speaking simpletons outside the ivory tower? Otherwise I haven't a clue why he would submit either.

  2. It wasn't like it was bad or anything. Far from it. I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was being talked at, not to, or even with. And that I would be leaving through the gift shop.

  3. At first I figured I wasn't smart enough read this blog. This I saw all the misspelled words in the About section and figured he wasn't all that smart either.

  4. I read a handful of science blogs. I love all things science. I am married to an engineer and as such have become accustomed to getting much more detail on technical things than I could ever want.

    There is a big difference between dumbing something down and making challenging material interesting and salient. Michael fails to do either.

    I agree that it feels masturbatory. It reminds me of when I was little and would turn on the classics station and pretend I was conducting for an hour.

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  6. Dear Ginny,

    You encapsulate brevity, wit, and tenderness. I would wish there were more of you, but uniques must be solitary.

    - Shiner

  7. here's the thing folks: I'm trying.

    I only opened my blog for public viewing about, umm..., 7months ago. Before that, as Ginny notes, it was my own private little ‘jerk-off’ station (mental that is). I’m a knowledge junkie, so I needed a place to put all my precious trophies, and, more importantly, I needed to put things in a place where I could go back to them when I needed them. Hence the ‘archive’ part of the title.

    Now for the ‘fire’. Basically, at this point, the blog is a means of letting all the pretentious shit that gathers there go up in ‘flames’. All my ramblings are just that: ramblings. I have a very real passion for social justice and ecology issues – and so ultimately whatever intellectual babble that flows from me is merely intended as a series of thought-experiments on the way to thinking through some of the nuances of a very complex world. But why? Because I can’t hope to promote and work for positive change (in the real-world) until I actually know how to affect it.

    In much less words, there is an intellectual ‘fire’ burning in me that fuels all my activist (offline) projects. And to be clear, both my employment and my personal interests revolve around precisely that: practical engagement.

    So again, I am trying to be more reader-friendly, and I’m trying to be less pretentious and academic, but the nature of the material I seek out and engage makes in pretty difficult. For example, how does one talk about “resonance machines” or “realist ontologies” in an accessible way? (any suggestions?) But most of my readers continue to be graduate students or university professors.

    That said, I would really like to cultivate the skill to be able to communicate to a wider range of readers. I just haven’t got to that point, yet. I’ve been recently reading a number of blogs that approach the kind of accessibility I would want, but again it will take time for me to hone my skills.

    Anyhow, I appreciate the review and the comments.


    PS - i will indeed be making changes to my site and style based on this review. Thanks Ginny! Sincerely.

  8. oh, and by the way, the book i'm almost done writing is not an anthro book, it a philosophy book.

    My plan was/is to find some godforsaken way of striking a balance between "dumbing something down" and "making challenging material interesting and salient"...

    If only I knew how...

  9. I figured it out.

    I think the reason it feels "masturbatory," which is the perfect word to describe it, is because the reader gets the distinct impression that you're trying to organize your thoughts on "their level."

    I feel like that's a common misconception academic bloggers have regarding readership: we can tell when you're proud that you understand things, and overexplaining things while using professional terminology feels like you're just showing off that you know big words.

    I agree, your topics are interesting. Definitely agree.

    I don't know if you remember Scientific Chick, but she does an excellent job of keeping things readable without compromising the integrity of the subject or the integrity of the reader.

  10. @Shinerpunch

    In my defense, some of the more philosophical posts are indeed trying to explain things to my readers, if only because a number of my academic readers and I are in real ongoing debates/dialogues (e.g., they post at their blogs and I respond on mine) over 'technical' theory issues. For instance: "what are the limits of human knowledge?".

    So if those posts come of as attempts to over-explain, or trying to convince people of a certain perspective, they were intended to do just that. Convince other academic types with stakes in the debate.

    My problem, admittedly, is that I haven't decided who it is i'm intending my reader generally to be. I wish lay readers would get interested in the more theory-laden stuff, but I know that the language is (sometimes necessarily) obscure.

    I honestly make an effort not to be pretentious or self-congratulatory, but i'm afraid it still comes across as such.

    I'll keep working on striking that balance.

    Thanks again for your comments, and I love the site. Humility is a valuable gift.


  11. oh yeah, and scientific chick is a great example, thanks!


Grow a pair.