Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blog Birthday

This blog is two years old today! Incredible, no? I am amazed at how much it has changed over that time. I have kept the research blogging up tangentially, and am in fact typing up some fieldwork notes at the moment, that I will post in a day or two. But really, this has become much more personal, and more practically important to me. Part of the reason for that is that I am now blogging to keep my family and friends up to date on what I am doing, but part of it is also that this has become a space for me to write, sometimes just for the fun of it, and thus maintain contact with an activity I love. I considered becoming a full-time writer, once. I guess in some ways, that is what I am doing, only the writing is non-fiction, now. I still want to be creative with it though, and I don’t mean that in terms of becoming inventive with the facts I write, but rather just with the way I present them. there is so much that is dry and boring about the type of academic writing I am reading vast amounts of, and I don’t want to go that way. At the same time, though, there is a lot of potential for creativity. One thing that I really appreciate about academic writing is that if you carefully justify what you are doing, and remain consistent in how you do it, you can pretty much do anything, in terms of style. It is recognized in the academy in a way that it isn’t always understood in creative writing, that language has its limits when it comes to portraying certain material. Music is the perfect case in point, though critical theory faces similar challenges. How do you put concepts that need to be articulated, but haven’t, usually because they are not easy to express in words, into words that neither simplify the concept, nor mask the meaning? Attempts at doing that often result in all sorts of verbal gymnastics, that can make a person feel like they are reading some sort of secretly coded language. In the case of music notation, particularly ethnographic transcription, it sometimes becomes difficult enough to decifer as to be completely useless. But sometimes something really simple does the trick. Capitalizing the first letter of a word that wouldn’t normally be capitalized, for example, turns it into a Notable Concept, rather than just a word to be glossed over. In the title of this blog, I hyphenate South African-ness deliberately, because I want to highlight the last syllable, and emphasize that I am writing about a state of Being, and not just another adjective. It gets criticized occasionally when I use it in my formal writing, but when I justify it, it is generally accepted. This blog lets me play around with things like that. It also lets me try out a more informal tone that I sometimes have to curb a little when I am presenting something formally, later. Here I get to write as I think, and while I do self-sensor a little bit (who doesn’t, especially when you are publishing online under your own name), in general, the thoughts you get here are as they occur to me. Ocasionally I will put something in draft for a little while, and then post it only once I have had a day or two to get used to it, and decide whether I really mean what I have written. And once I have removed a post that I later decided compromised the anonymity of one of my informants too much. But those occasions are few and far between. So aside from the travel diary part of this, it all sounds a little bit personal and self-indulgent. Then again, isn’t a lot of academic writing like that? How often has someone done research because it was useful to others, but in which they personally have no interest? Surely everyone does this type of writing because they want to know about something, for whatever reason? B* wrote quite a while ago that she was reading the blog of the ex-husband of a friend of hers, in order to see how ‘the other side’ experienced divorce. She was going through a divorce herself at the time. Her post generated a lot of discussion (though her blog doesn't have an archive, so I can't link to the post in question), but ultimately, the issue that it raised for me was that part of why we read these personal writings, and perhaps part of why we want to know about the lives of our favourite celebrities, or even our favourite fictitious characters, is because we learn how to live the best lives we possibly can by reading about how others live. Someone said once that we pick friends, life partners and mentors all because they reflect something of what we would ideally like to be. I think in the blog-o-sphere, we also select bloggers to read regularly who give us a sense of who we ideally would like to be. My blogroll is quite short, because the blogs not listed specifically as music blogs are sites I visit regularly because I get something from the real lives of these people. All of them are involved in academics in some way. Some of them keep me motivated to work hard. Others help me to remember that academics are real people, too, and that we are all entitled to real lives beyond our books. But so few people write about the experience of becoming an academic, of being a graduate student, and an amateur researcher, teacher and writer, that I feel a bit deprived. I hope this blog might fill a little gap there, for other international graduate students, or other ethnomusicology students, or something along those lines. Ah well. One can only hope. Happy birthday, Blog.

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