I was chatting last night with my internal examiner (I suppose now he is a colleague!) about the fact that I would like to write essays about my subjects, not just ‘what a scholarly article should be’. This was in response to someone telling me what a scholarly article ought to be in response to one of mine that didn’t meet the person’s criteria.
Anyway, I would like to write essays — say, an exploration of consolatio in Cicero’s letters and in Christian letters, just teasing out themes and interesting things, not necessarily saying something new or driving home a very narrow, very specific fact. Or perhaps a wide-ranging exploration of western Christology after Chalcedon but, again, an essay rooted in exploring ideas and culture and writing prose. Not proving anything. Or even a conceptual-philosophical monstrum such as an extended study in Dionysian liberation theology. Not saying anything new. Just saying things.
Tom said that there used to be journals for such essays, but now everyone wants the groundbreaking articles with ‘impact’, trying to up themselves in the European journal rankings. Essays, the familiar essay, are just not on the table.
One could, he supposed, use a blog to that end.
And I sort of do, but not often.
However, he went on to say, the problem with blogs is — what will happen to them? Where will blogging content go? Will people be able to find a blogged essay five, ten, fifteen years from now? Furthermore, there is no peer review process. So the essay might be a nice piece of writing based on rubbish facts. Who can judge? (Well, on this blog, RWB serves as my peer reviewer!) Finally, who reads blogs? I have two blogs — one has a bit of reach, but this one (that which bears my name) has a much smaller draw. Perhaps 10-20 at best. My wife. My mother. A brother or sister. A few friends.
And what happens to this blog in a month, two months, a year?
Words, you see, are fragile.
We seem to think that digital publishing is an adequate replacement for print.
But is it?
As I say, I have two blogs. I have had four. And before that, I had a Tripod page where I uploaded stuff I wrote. And before that Geocities. One of my blogs I think still exists, hosted on my sister’s server in Saskatchewan, but it seemed like every time I posted a blog I crashed the server, so I migrated here.
Where is all of the digital material from the 1990s?
That is the question that was posed to me when I postulated editing Leo’s letters through a peer-reviewed online source such as the Library of Digital Latin Texts. It’s true that much of our earlier issues of durability have theoretically been addressed, but how can we be truly sure until a decade or two has elapsed? By which time it is too late. Print is still the most durable.
After, of course, clay tablets — which come in second place after stone. I doubt Hammurabi was over-concerned with lasting into the next decade:
However, most of us run the risk of living out Keats’ tombstone — one whose name was writ on water — not the durability of Hammurabi’s law code.
Anyway, what will happen to this blog? The other blog? All the blogs? Will they survive?
And can they really replace the familiar essay, as exemplified by Charles Lamb?