And So the Blog Starts

After running this site as a personal website and podcast for the last few years, I’ve now decided to launch a blog on top of everything else.  The Word from Porter Street will still continue, but it will focus on the “performed criticism” of poetry and other short readings.  In the next installment I’ll explain a bit more what that means.

So what’s the blog for?  The blog is for giving updates on my research and teaching, my new work in helping to guide faculty development in digital humanities (DH) at Lafayette, and commentary on (largely academic) issues related to my work and life.

I’ve actually resisted this move for some time, as I prefer performing the spoken word to writing in short forms—as much as I enjoy writing—and I think my intensified involvement in DH has been something of a tipping point.  Getting my Twitter account this spring after vowing never to do such a thing probably had something to do with it, too.

And so, as a first thought, I’ll explain the title I’ve given this blog (and the site).  It’s a recycling of what’s now considering something of a cliché: war is the continuation of politics by other means.  My favorite twist on this thought, a somewhat flattened version of a statement by the war theorist Carl von Clausewitz, is Ralph Ellison’s in “Stephen Crane and the Mainstream of American Fiction,” where he declares Reconstruction to be “the continuation of the Civil War by means other than arms.”  My critical work has thus far been done in books, in articles, in classrooms, in conference presentations, and in podcasts.  A presentation I gave at the Society of Early Americanists‘ conference in Savannah last March was largely a reflection on where we find the work of criticism in a digital age (I’m planning another blog post rehearsing that presentation).  It seems to me that criticism is being done by means other than the monograph and its relatives, and that has been the case for most of the history of modern criticism, in fact.

My own young career reflects that as well, and so I hope to use this space both to do criticism in ways I’ve tried before and ways I haven’t—but also to reflect on what it is that I and colleagues at Lafayette and beyond are doing.  If professors of English and American studies are meant to be good critics, what does that mean?  What does good criticism look like, especially under the historical pressure of digital technology, changes in democratic discourse, the coming revolution in higher education that fills so many blogs today?  As I read a distinguished scientist say about an interesting question she raised for her field, I don’t know, but I’d sure like to find out.

This blog is also something of a marker at the beginning of a new stage in life for me.  Two weeks ago I submitted my tenure portfolio.  That same week my wife was told her scans had come back normal.  She had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Spring 2012, within a week of my book being published.  Between those pairs of milestones were a harrowing, confusing, inspiring, unnameable season of life that is just starting to come into the focus of hindsight.  A healthy wife and a healthy new baby (whom we found out existed during that same fateful week in 2012) are the biggest triumphs from that time.  A much smaller, quieter triumph is a real attempt to return to regular writing, part of my effort to “become normal again.”  I share all this not to give the world the update on my family’s health but to say that work and life don’t stay as separate as we (I) often imagine them to be, and work is shaped, enabled, and reined in by what happens beyond it.  I hope the work on this site will reflect a life beyond it that embraces a return to life out of the shadow of death.

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