Sunday, September 23, 2007

In search for a genre: a blog in crisis

There has been relative radio silence from the Guide (I’m taking to referring to my blog in the third person) in the last few weeks. Understand that it is not from lack of things to say. Rather, it may be attributed to the relative plethora ("Effe, would you say that he has a plethora of piñatas?") of things to say, share and talk about, but the absolute lack of time to say and share them. So for this, dear readers, I apologize.

We are entering the second month of school out here at the UIUC and me and the Academians (yes, I just made that term up) are up to some serious no good. Well, okay—there is actually much good to be said about what is happening here. Which leads me to the first (and only) topic for this evening’s humble post:

I am taking this cool (if mindblowing) class in Genre Theory. In it we have been reading theory about why and how genre is a (sometimes) useful way of classifying and organizing text, action, speech, etc. It’s got me thinking about the genre of this here blog. It’s feeling kind of random for me. Part of the reason that I am feeling this way is that I don’t really have a clear idea of its readership, yet I know that it is no longer just a vacuum blog with no audience whatsoever (it used to be that way). I’ve been teaching my students that composition, to be effective, should have a clear idea of the intended audience. Some blogs do a really good job of this kind of “audience awareness.” Tina and her friends have a nice blog circle going. Michelle, too, seems very aware of and secure in her blog genre. Other bloggers, while not necessarily doing the blog-as-a-way-to-keep-in-touch, organize their blogs around some sort of central theme or rhetorical purpose (I’m thinking of you in particular here, Brandon). I like the idea of blogging within a genre—it seems to give a certain pointedness and purpose to the prose. Blogs that fit within a certain genre somehow communicate more clearly. Maybe it’s because the reader doesn’t have to peruse through the writing to decide if a post has something that they will be interested in. They already know that it will—previous “generic” experience has already proven this to them (and for those of you only used to seeing the word "generic" in a retail situation, work with me here).

This isn’t to say that bloggers like Michelle and Tina only blog about one topic (although they may). Michelle, as most of the readers of this blog will know, blogs about a variety of topics, from Zane wrangling, to gardening, to (most recently) sewing and textile design (which she may not think that I take notice of or think is cool—but I dooo (read that last part like Nacho Libre)). But there is something unifying about the prose that exists there. Perhaps it is Michelle’s personality, wit, writing style (most likely a combination of each of these) that makes the blog compelling to read. Whatever the reason that we read it, it retains certain generic elements that provide readers with expectations for what a new post will contain before we ever click on it. Would you agree (and thanks for letting me use you as an example Shell). A lot of folks’ blogs that I read and admire in the wide world of the academe have similar unifying generic undertones in their blogs. Many of them (actually all of them) are liberal arts professors or grad students, so a common theme in their blog writing is, um, writing (what they are working on, what they hope to do future work about, how their projects are coming along, dissertation progress, etc.). Many of them have other (often related) interests which see some light from time to time—and usually these interests are totally awesome and hilarious (I am thinking specifically of Spencer’s “Found Friday” series.) But usually (I may even go for that “always” change again), those interests outside of what may be considered academic, are interesting in that they serve to give clues toward their personalities—perhaps (and especially when we don’t know them as well), to make more “human” connections with them. That's always nice.

Anyway—that is a lot to say to get to my point which is basically this: I don’t feel like my blog really has a very unified genre that it fits within…and I kinda wish that it did. It is attempting, at once, to be a family, friend, academic, music, food, faith, book review, art, & random funny stuff blog. It has no real sense of audience, I think. If we took a poll, I think we would find that the majority of my readership is family—there are a few of my closest friends sprinkled in there (though I think that you might be the only one reading, Mat), and perhaps one person in the academic world reads (thanks Spencer). If I have left you out, don’t be offended—only let it add to my continued struggle for some sort of understanding of who I am writing for.

Part of me wants to say that I am writing mostly for myself. But I think that isn’t really true. We write, usually, not just because we have something to say but because we have something to share—and that would require (by necessity) an audience. I do maintain an offline journal that I am trying to be better about writing in for the writing that may fit into the former genre. That solves part of the problem, I guess. I’m also thinking about the future of this blog space. Over the next few years, there is the potential of this blog being read by more of my peers within the academy. Especially if I publicize it as a space where I am talking about academic things. This, in many ways, puts pressure on what topics I should or shouldn’t entertain. Maybe it shouldn’t—but it will. Anyone who blogs is aware of the sensitivity that a real audience requires. Who, for example, has ever posted something—maybe even a sentence—and then deleted it? Who has ever deleted a comment? Self censorship seems like a kind of sad state to be in. But I really think that it is a reality for all writers to at least some extent.

Maybe faithful readers of the Guide will say, "No, Jon. Just leave it be. You don’t post that often anyway." And maybe you’re right. But I can’t help the thought that my mom is just not going to care about the Andrew Bird concert that I went to Friday night that I want to blog about. My brother Nick (and perhaps many others) probably didn’t get this far down on this particular semi-academic sounding post (if you did, Nick, way to be man. Way to be.). And there are other, potential future academic colleagues of mine who may have a passing interest in my home life, but potentially not in long descriptions of family vacations (like the series that appeared here over the summer). Taking the idea of “faithful” readers in a different direction, my interest in and pursuit of faith is something that surely puts me outside of the academic blog norm.

So there you have it: a blog in genre crisis. I am considering several alternatives—though the most obvious (multiple blog spaces) just doesn’t seem to fit at the moment. There are other ways to manage the variety of topics that I mention above--tagging is one obvious way. But even that doesn't solve the tension that I feel when I write about all the things that are of interest to me for a (maybe too) diverse audience. Never fear, I will continue as commenced until I figure this out. Until then, dear readers of the Guide, endure.

Update: After talking it over with Tina, I think I may move to two blog spaces (though that still sounds a bit presumptuous to me). Details to follow.


  1. piece of crap. i always read (and finish!) your blog!

  2. Way to prove me wrong, holmes.

  3. Yeah, I have a response... What?
    JK, Jon. I enjoy reading your comments. Maybe it would be a good idea to have two blogs. One for family and such and one for more academic musings. -Dave (that's Dave or Papa to you!)

  4. I just don't even know where to start. ok I'll start with a funny thing. right before I read the part about nick (I was reading out loud to brandon), I said to him, "man, I may have to skip to the end, this is so long!" :) so if you must dis, dis multiple siblings. :)

    also, love love loved the post. not only have I been waiting to hear from you via starmaster land for quite a while now (what's the difference between awhile and a while anyway?) but with this post you allowed me to have a reason to discuss this topic on my own, often much less thought provoking blog space. It has been on my mind in many forms, and like a true english professor, your own admitted self-searching inspired me to write. so thank you.

    with that, I apologize for your dilemma. I believe that two blogs may just be the answer...keeping one more "professional" if you will (which let's face it really just means with more words) that you could even not link to silly other blogs like your sister's, lest any academic folk get the wrong idea about you. And for the other one, I even already like the idea of a "soup" full of various ingredients... you know you're still the go-to man for me and several others with regards to music, art, literature, food, and basically everything else that makes life sweet ..(besides maybe textiles..that might be mine!) it would be a true shame to say goodbye to a place for all that happiness coming out of your, er, head.

    so what's the point? we (your loyal friends and family) couldn't live without the spice we enjoy because of you. but if you want to be "academic" as well, I suppose we could share you. :) nuff said? word.

  5. I agree with Tina, do two blogs. I know of several people that do. I completely agree that blogs tend to take on themes and that most of the time the blog writer feels the need to cater to his audience.
    I think if you're entertaining the idea of having fellow workers look at your ideas, they should be separate from say pictures of you in your swim trunks. You want them to respect you right?