The very opposite of pandering

February 24, 2004

John Holbo is guest blogging at Crooked Timber this week. As part of his inaugural address he includes this wonderful description of what it is that a web log is capable of.

There are really two features of blogging – academic blogging, maybe – that seem to me truly superior, and worthy of celebration and acclaim and reinforcement. First, the willingness of some of us, at least some of the time, to do the very opposite of pandering to our audience: we suddenly start teaching a seminar on some arcane subject, concerning which there is no legitimate presumption that another soul in the universe is interested; and if they aren’t – that’s why there’s back buttons. But the fannish enthusiasm for whatever twiddle it may be is so often infectious. Reading, you are sure this person cares. So you are infected. So you find something new and interesting. As simple as that.
I do indeed treat my blog as an opportunity to teach a seminar on some arcane subject, and I do indeed have absolutely no idea if anyone finds any of it interesting. But I like it. And just as my best attribute as a classroom teacher is my sense of enthusiasm and excitement, so too do I like to think that I share some of the fun of history with all dozen of my readers.

John frames "fannish enthusiasm" as a trait of the academic blogs, but I see it in workplace blogs as well. Just as, to seize an example from middlebrow culture, Dick Francis novels all share the fun of the author looking into a new profession and explaining it for his readers in addition to whatever mystery, adventure, and formulaic plot he includes, so too do blogs share the fun of explaining aspects of life that we find just odd of ordinary. There is something compelling in reading about the things that make another person excited, whether they be ideas, job experiences, or the travails of relationships and romances. The challenge for the writer is to make everyday life exciting, a challenge I sometimes feel that I fail at for my prose tends to bog down.

I commented to my students the other day that most people, when faced with a moment of sudden responsibility, rise to the demands placed upon them. It is an attractive human trait, and a powerful one, even if it can be difficult for us to sustain the best aspects of our natures. John touches on that aspect of the human condition with his phrase, "the very opposite of pandering." I like it, I may use it more in the future.

Posted by Red Ted at February 24, 2004 12:48 PM | TrackBack
Comments

I am intrigued by your enthusiasm for history and scholarship. That's what keeps me coming back.

Posted by: Ursula at February 24, 2004 06:36 AM

Thanks!

Posted by: Red Ted at February 24, 2004 07:42 AM

It's funny, because whenever I write about some obscure historical subject, my readers are all over it, commenting with glee, squealing and clapping. It's more popular, even, than when I write about sex.
Now *that*'s amazing.

Posted by: Jessica Lovejoy at February 25, 2004 06:50 AM

A few months ago I casually mentioned building a model rocket online and was surprised to get several 'great idea' emails and comments. I don't know of a single new rocketeer from the series, but I had fun writing it and still get emails about it.

Posted by: Ted at February 25, 2004 12:03 PM

Jessica, it is not all that surprising.

Consider that a great many people have had sex. A much smaller group has studied the Byzantine Empire (although these days I fear that it has become the stock source to be mined for background for military science fiction, but I digress). I am not surprised to find that Byzantines are, well, sexier than sex.

I guess there is a subtle difference between "bone me" and "dig up their bones!"

Posted by: Red Ted at February 27, 2004 08:42 AM
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