Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chasing the White Whale of Literary Blogging

flickr - Skelly B (creative commons licensed)
So ignorant are most landsmen . . . they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory. --Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 45, "The Affidavit."

With apologies to Melville, I'm indeed going to use his famous tale (and whale) allegorically to investigate the topic of literary blogging. I've chosen a rather benign looking white whale in the picture here. His home is an aquarium, and he looks like the sort of sea creature that would roll over to let you pat his tummy. And maybe that's what I want literary blogging to be -- a tame creature, like this one, that can both delight and educate visitors.

But after piloting three courses in which I have had students blog, I've learned that the new media -- of which blogging is merely one well-known species -- is certainly not tame. The new media is a set of cultural and technical practices that are engaging, yet evasive -- like a certain whale from a certain novel.

And I resume the chase, reviving this blog which I started in May, 2010, when I first piloted research blogging at BYU, repeating this for the current course, "Writing about Literature in the Digital Age" (Spring term, 2011).

I am both an enthusiast and a skeptic of student blogging, and I hope to get my students to adopt the same stance toward digital culture generally. This is a time of much exploration, many false starts, and equally bright hopes.

I asked my students to create a basic blog and try to get a post up by Friday, April 29. I wanted them to start with an entry about a literary work they love. Mine is Moby Dick. Here's just one quotation -- a vivid description Melville lifts from Montgomery's World Before the Flood:
"In the free element beneath me swam, 
Floundered and dived, in play, in chace, in battle, 
Fishes of every color, form, and kind; 
Which language cannot paint, and mariner 
Had never seen; from dread Leviathan 
To insect millions peopling every wave: 
Gather'd in shoals immense, like floating islands, 
Led by mysterious instincts through that waste 
And trackless region, though on every side 
Assaulted by voracious enemies, 
Whales, sharks, and monsters, arm'd in front or jaw. 
With swords, saws, spiral horns, or hooked fangs."
That sense of wonder about a capacious, flourishing, novel world -- it's a theme that is timeless, but is certainly timely as we stand on the shores of that wide open sea of things digital. The romance of the ocean is part of the allure of Moby Dick, and like Melville's novel, cyberspace also is a sea of darkness, danger, and confusion. But that doesn't mean this "free element" is not worth the adventure.


  1. darkness, danger, confusion ... you really know how to chalk up ENGL 295! j/k. Looking forward to the course!