Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts

"The Classroom is a Public"

The following is a shortened / excerpted version of a keynote address I gave at the Literature and Social Justice (LSJ) graduate conference held at Lehigh this past weekend (see details here). The topic of this year's LSJ conference was "Public Humanities," and I wrote this to address that particular topic. 

Many of my colleagues and students know me as an enthusiast for social media but in truth I have grown increasingly ambivalent about these services as tools for social transformation. I felt misgivings about giving a boosterish talk that would have aimed to show everyone how great it is to be on Twitter, Tumblr, and various blogs. Finding publishing success via social media and mainstream venues like is highly dependent on market forces and ratings/rankings structures that quantify -- or economize -- the fundamental mechanics of communication online. While doing this kind of writing can be very rewarding, writing for commercial venues and ranking-based social media will not, by itself, resolve the "crisis in the humanities." In my talk, I tried a different tack: instead of encouraging attendees at the conference to retrain themselves to be more "public" than they already are, I argued that teaching -- something we're already doing, but don't always value -- is a very important way in which we all already engage with a non-specialist public. What's more, humanities teaching in particular plays an important role in helping to create the next generation of questioning citizens. 

As mentioned, these are excerpts from the longer talk. If anyone would like to see the full text of the talk, please feel free to contact me. 

* * * 
The Classroom is a Public

1. The Idea of the Public Is In Crisis

It’s customary for talks like this to begin with a discussion of how the “humanities are in crisis.” We’ve heard that phrase a lot -- maybe a little too much -- and academics writing in public venues have become very skilled at diagnosing the causes of that problem. And my talk today will speak to at least some facets of what’s ailing the humanities and what might be done to better defend and advocate for the kind of work we do. But I want to start somewhere else: with the stipulation that the idea of the public is in crisis.

In his classic book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jurgen Habermas put forward the idea of a modern bourgeois public sphere as an intermediary between the private space of individuals and families, and the state.

[... section removed ...] 

Habermas’ idea of the public sphere has been widely and persuasively critiqued, and I’m not too strongly attached to the ins and outs of his argument, especially as pertaining to the putative decline of the public sphere. (Among other things, it seems strange that the era of the public sphere he talks about was one in which women and people of color were by and large excluded at the very period when he claims the public sphere was most effective.) That said, Habermas continues to be helpful in giving us a vision of what a public sphere might look like, where we might find it, and why we might want it. We find it in evidence in a free and independent press, in public spaces where citizens of different socioeconomic strata can engage in free and open debate about pressing issues, and in institutions that are designed to support and sustain it: museums, public libraries, civic centers, coffee houses -- and yes, universities.

Another political theorist who may take us further in terms of providing a useful way of understanding the present-day crisis in the public sphere might be Wendy Brown; her recent book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, explores the triumph of neoliberal ideology. For Brown,

[N]eoliberalism transmogrifies every human domain and endeavor, along with humans themselves, according to a specific image of the economic. All conduct is economic conduct; all spheres of existence are framed and measured by economic terms and metrics, even when those spheres are not directly monetized. In neoliberal reason and in domains governed by it, we are only and everywhere homo oeconomicus, which itself has a historically specific form. (Brown, 10-11)

Notes on MLA 2013

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has already put up some stories about MLA 2013, including this article covering the growing attention payed to "Alt Ac" (Alternative academia) career tracks, and this one focusing on the general theme for the conference, "Avenues of Access," which was explored by the MLA's President, Michael Berube in his address, as well as in numerous presidential forums interspersed throughout the conference that focused on facets of "Access" broadly construed. (The panels on that theme were on everything from "Open Access" journals, to questions of access and diversity in the Digital Humanities, to disability studies.)

I would recommend the above Chronicle links (not paywalled, I don't think) for anyone looking for a general sense of the MLA this year. (Update: or check out this link at Inside Higher Ed, on the MLA's Big [Digital] Tent.)

Below are my own particular notes on the panels that I ended up attending, starting with the one I organized. My goal in writing these notes is not to "opinionate" about the papers or evaluate them, but rather to simply give some thumbnail sketches, and maybe offer up a link or two for people interested in these topics who weren't able to attend. The notes and links are also, needless to say, for myself -- there's lots of "further reading" for me to do in the links and references below.

In general, I attended three "Digital Humanities" panels, two panels related to South Asian literature, one panel on modern Anglo-Irish literature, a panel on "Public Poetry," and a panel on Modern British Literature and the State. I also branched out a bit from my core interests and saw a panel on 19th century American literature ("Secularism's Technologies"), which featured both Michael Warner and Amy Hollywood -- two scholars I admire -- talking about secularism.

Click on "Read More" to read my notes on the panels I attended.

New Course Idea: Writing For the Internet

I am trying to put together a new course, called "Writing For the Internet." The idea would be to teach it in Spring 2013. I haven't done anything quite like this, and I am curious to hear feedback from readers, as well as any personal experiences from others who have taught courses along these lines. 

New Course Idea: "Writing For the Internet" 

In their future professional lives our students will likely do more and more writing in an internet context. Their paths may be different – some may be involved in journalism, others in creative work, and quite a few may fall into writing for the internet as an accidental part of jobs that may be technically focused on something else. Many of the conventions of the traditional “5 paragraph” paper assignment will remain important in this new world: students will continue to need to know how to establish a sense of topic and put forward a thesis, and how to offer evidentiary support for that thesis. But in some ways the internet is a very different environment, with its own context-specific writing conventions.

In part this proposed course will be structured as a conventional writing course. But unlike traditional writing courses that stress a divide between creative, personal, journalistic, and expository work, here students will be encouraged to do work that might blur the line between those different modes of writing. There will be an emphasis on rhetorical persuasion and argument, and revision will play an important part in the writing process -- but we are adding a focus on audience and readership, as well as the mode of publication.

Here are a few premises of the course: 

1. Writers on the internet have to think about how to grab and hold the attention of casual readers as well as how to integrate links and images into their work.  
  • These used to be thought of in the context of publishing, but increasingly, with self-publishing venues proliferating and a number of media organizations requiring elements of web production as well as the drafting of text, it may be that publishing and writing are no longer truly separable.
  • Another issue is length and attention-span with internet readers. While the hyper-compression of Twitter leads to arguments sometimes conducted in non-ideal situations, even writing formats
  •   that aren’t length-restricted have to deal with internet readers’ attention spans. 
  • As a result, people writing on the internet,
  • even as non-journalists, have to learn some of the basics of journalistic writing – how to find a catchy but telling title, how to use text boxes to present overviews or pull quotes (along the lines of what you see in newspapers), and how to manipulate images (this is of course especially important in new image-centric writing formats like Tumblr). Writing on the internet one also does things that are very much frowned upon in conventional essay-writing, such as using bold face and italics for emphasis.
  • The course I’m thinking of will likely use examples of people using new writing modes really effectively. Lately I’ve been particularly impressed by the way the novelist Teju Cole has been using Twitter to make complex kinds of arguments, often in serial & connected Tweets. These are then compiled by professional journalists. Teju was recently interviewed on NPR regarding his innovative Tweeting. The larger point is to show that while these new forms may have certain conventions that participants are expected to follow, in fact inventive writers might find ways to push the envelope of what can be accomplished using the formats like Twitter or Facebook. (See:
  • Another issue is of course the self-promotion element of writing on the internet.  Traditional writing and publishing maintained a pretty strict division between the labor of writing and publicity and attention. But increasingly writers on the internet find their own audiences and create their own markets – and use success in getting attention as a segue to formal (and paid) publication. Besides simply “announcing” oneself, one can use strategies such as semantic tagging and metadata to maximize search engine attention (not quite the same as Search Engine Optimization, but we’ll probably read some background material on what that is in this unit as well – especially since it’s become such an important part of how sites like the Huffington Post earn their money).
  •  I may ask students to start a series of blogs on topics that they choose (perhaps in groups of 2 or 3), or I may try and all ask them to write on a given topic of general interest. (One option might indeed be to write about and comment on issues in the news involving writing on the internet – there are always stories out about something Twitter is doing, something Facebook is doing, etc. Not to mention issues like the recent lawsuit (now dismissed) against the Huffington Post, initiated by a group of disgruntled bloggers.)
2. Writers on the internet have to navigate complex issues related to citation, borrowing, and sharing. The standard distinction between blockquotes and short citations, the approach to footnoting, and the construction of Bibliographies can follow a very different pattern on the internet. As in other classes that entail (or at least, allow) some measure of research online, students have to learn to evaluate the reliability and accuracy of materials they find on the web. They also have to learn to produce their own, authoritative seeming materials.

3. Above all, the internet is an environment where writers have to learn how to actively seek out and find their readers, through social networking sites, blogs, forums, and Twitter. The reader is not simply "there" as a captive audience anymore.

4. One component of this course will entail classifying the forms of online writing, including email, blogs and message boards, formal journalism, wikis, and scholarly publications. Students will learn the conventions of the different online writing genres and learn to contribute to them on their own. Students will contribute to a course blog engaging with current events, and author or significantly edit a Wiki around a chosen topic or area of knowledge.

5. We'll also have a component entailing a more conceptual consideration of issues such as the ethics of online writing and the boundary between private and public. What is it fair to share about the people we know in real life? How to effectively navigate privacy controls to choose the right forums for particular kinds of sharing in the evolving social networking internet landscape? Here, too, there has been much discussion in recent months. One bit of required reading for this unit would have to be Ian Parker's essay in the New Yorker about Dharun Ravi and Tyler Clementi. The issue of privacy in social networks was one of the key issues in that case.


From friends on Facebook, I've received tips regarding using the work of Edward Tufte, Cathy Davidson, and Clay Shirky in this course. These all seem like great suggestions.

Reflecting on Sepia Mutiny, South Asia and South Asian Americans

So, Sepia Mutiny is shutting down.

At its height, from 2004 to about 2009 or so, I think it was the most active South Asian diaspora-oriented forum on the web. Posts on everything from M.I.A. to Bobby Jindal to interracial dating would routinely draw 200, 300, sometimes even 1000 comments. And while some of those comments were less than thrilling, we as bloggers could always count on interesting new voices to show up in between. Blogging on Sepia Mutiny was addictive for me (and I think not just me) during those years in large part because it was impossible not to be excited to encounter so many different perspectives and ideas.

Sepia Mutiny was always somewhat divided over its function and focus. On the one hand, the directive from Abhi and the other founders was quite clear: the point was to create a space for a South Asian American perspective. The "South Asian" part was important and essential (and we had many fights, mainly with skeptical readers, about whether it wasn't after all just an "Indian American" blog). Also important was the "American" part of the equation; Sepia Mutiny was never intended to be an "Indian subcontinent" forum.

This policy of not focusing on South Asia itself was, however, always a challenge for me, since I have a deep personal and professional interest in what is happening in the subcontinent itself in terms of politics, culture, the media, and of course literature. And this past decade has been a really interesting one on all those fronts, from the debates over communalism and secularism (and we had many good arguments about those issues in the comments), to the rapid changes in the style of commercial Hindi cinema, to the debates about economic trends like outsourcing and globalization. Despite the blog's stated policy of focusing exclusively on the diaspora, many of my colleagues at Sepia Mutiny joined me in posting frequently on these types of issues, leading to some very rich discussions. As I see it, it was a policy honored more in the breach than in the observance, and that's a good thing.

Another source of tension, not within the circle of Sepia Mutiny bloggers, but rather between bloggers and readers, was around generational issues. All of the founders of the blog were second generation Indian Americans (later Bangladeshi American, Pakistani American, and Sri Lankan American contributors would also join). However, many, if not most of the readership during the years I was involved seemed to consist of first generation immigrants (and many 1.5 generation folks -- people who immigrated between age 5 and 15). This reflects the demographics of the South Asian American population -- there are more immigrants than second or third generation South Asian Americans in the United States -- and the fact that these readers were all interested in hearing about and talking about the same stuff underlines the commonalities between different generations of immigrants. Recent immigrants from South Asia might be interested in reading my post in 2005 about Katrina Kaif, but they might also be interested in hearing about Kal Penn or Padma Lakshmi. I think both bloggers and readers evolved quite a bit on this kind of issue over the years. In the beginning, first and second generation commenters used to make fun of each other as ("FOBs" or "ABCDs", respectively), but somewhere along the line a more respectful and intelligent kind of conversation started to occur. The first generation scorn for ABCDs speaking Hindi badly started to lose its edge, while the second-generation's dislike of the "awkward immigrant" stigma also evolved. In short, I think we all grew up, and started to appreciate and understand one another better.

My dream would have been a half diasporic, half "home" oriented blog; it was very nearly there for a little while. Luckily, there are fantastic new, highly professionalized blogs hosted by the New York Times (India Ink) and the Wall Street Journal, that provide much of what used to be my Sepia Mutiny fix. I read them every day. And I get just a little smidgeon of what was once the excitement of the Sepia Mutiny comments on venues like Twitter (not so much, these days, from Facebook).

Finally, I should say that while the new social networking venues are helping to carry on the kinds of conversations that went on at Sepia Mutiny, they are a little lacking on some respects. For one thing, both Facebook and Twitter require super-compressed conversations. While it's true we may have been a bit too long-winded in some blog posts over the years, I think there really is value in spelling out an idea or a perspective at some length, and then giving readers as much space as they want or need to discuss it with you. I don't think I have ever changed my mind based on a discussion I had with someone on Twitter. But I did, often, in response to discussions on Sepia Mutiny.

I am not sure what the solution is. There's no question that social networking is here to stay, but maybe as that ecosystem continues to evolve we can again find a space for long-form (but still immediate, and unfiltered) discussions of the issues that are on our minds.


I was a contributor at Sepia Mutiny for about 5 of its 8 years, and a full-fledged blogger for four of them (2006-2010). That period saw the birth of my first child (we now have two!), a period of severe illness in fall 2007, the publication of my book in early 2007, and the dramatic and sometimes difficult experience of going through tenure in 2007 and 2008. There was a Sepia Mutiny post (by Ennis), celebrating the birth of my son in 2006, and I relied quite a bit on the Sepia Mutiny community during the fall of 2007, when I was home sick. I also used the space to talk a bit about the ideas in my book when it came out in the spring of 2007. All of this meant quite a lot to me; my blogging was an extension of who I was in a very personal way during this time period.

I can link four academic articles to my blogging, and three of those four relate to Sepia Mutiny. The most directly relevant is an essay I wrote on Jhumpa Lahiri and the problem of naming of the "South Asian" diaspora. (I also have an essay out on Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues, which had its origins in a Sepia Mutiny post about the pluralistic nature of the Ramayana; an essay on Tagore's travel writing, which started as a Sepia Mutiny blog post; and finally, a more theoretical post on blogging pseudonyms and the changing nature of authorship.)

The years 2007-2010, when I wrote and published those essays -- while also blogging quite frequently at Sepia Mutiny -- were very productive ones for me in terms of scholarly productivity. At times I have thought that I was hurting my career as a scholar by blogging too much (and there's no question that the content of some of my public statements and interventions may have harmed me, especially during the 'Sonal Shah' debate). But considering that my academic writing has actually slowed down a fair bit since I left off regular blogging in 2010, I'm not so sure about the "distraction" argument against blogging. It may be that the daily regimen of composing in public is actually conducive to better discipline in academic writing, even if it means one is sometimes distracted by the latest outrageous comment from "MoorNam."

You can see a collection of my Sepia Mutiny posts here:

Changing Blog Host:

Hi folks,

As you've already seen, I've not been blogging actively much over the last few months. It's a mix of being busy and also not feeling the pull in the same way I once did.

Blogger, the service I've used to publish this blog from the beginning, has recently announced that they're discontinuing FTP support for Blogger in the next few weeks. That means I won't be able to have this blog hosted at my Lehigh webspace while also using their service. The stated reason is that FTP and SFTP create a large number of technical problems -- which rings true, since I've never quite been able to get Blogger to update my blog templates right.

It turns out it's fairly easy to move Blogger-based blogs to a custom domain name hosted by Google. I used to own, but I let it go, and now some parasite company owns the domain.

As a result, for now I'm going to be using WWW.ELECTROSTANI.COM, which is also my Twitter name. The entire blog should already be available there, though most of the links will point back to posts at Lehigh. All new posts will appear there.

Please update your bookmarks.

Review: Amit Varma's "My Friend Sancho"

The mighty Bombay blogger Amit Varma's first novel, My Friend Sancho, is a quick and entertaining summer read, which also manages to make some serious points along the way. It does not aspire to be "serious" literature, but it is certainly several significant notches above One Night @ the Call Center. Indeed, I would not even put the two books in the same blog post, except Manish planted the damn meme in my head before I got around to reading Amit's novel.

(Before I get much further, I should mention that, while My Friend Sancho has not been published in the U.S. yet, you can still get it in the U.S. from here.)

I gather that Manish's comparison, in the post I linked to above, had more to do with the new market for books like these -- books that are primarily directed at a growing popular market for English language books within India, rather than the western "literary fiction" market to which most diasporic writers really aspire (even those who say they are writing with Indian readers in mind).

But still, do we really have to go there? Bhagat's Call Center was a mind-numbing collection of topical cliches, juvenile crushes, and predictable silliness. I gather that Amit would not be averse to selling a few copies of his book, but My Friend Sancho is a much smarter and more provocative book, which gets into the ethics of journalism, police encounters, and even, to some extent, cross-religious romance. Admittedly, Amit's book does have some blemishes, such as the bits where his fictional character references Varma's real-life blog, for instance. Also, the romance between Abir and Muneeza has a kind of innocence to it that doesn't fit Abir's otherwise jaded persona that well. But neither of these are fatal, and perhaps Varma will iron out some of the kinks in his next one.

You don't have to take my word for it; below are a few paragraphs I liked in particular in My Friend Sancho. If you like them, you'll probably like the novel. If not, perhaps not.

First, my favorite passage in My Friend Sancho is where Abir, the slacker, procrastinating journalist, puts forward his credo with regards to writing:

I worked on the story till about four in the morning. One of the problems while writing a piece like this, I've since realized, is that you get too ambitious. You read your New Journalism pieces from the books where they are collected, you read the features in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and you tell yourself you want to write like that, and you paralyze yourself. The trick is just to tell the story simply, the best you can, without thinking of how impressed people will be when they read it. So I wrote and wrote.

Spoken like a blogger, except here is one blogger (Amit Varma, not Abir Ganguly, his character) who stopped procrastinating his novel and actually wrote the thing out. I also think he's exactly right about telling the story you have to tell simply and straightforwardly, without worrying whether you'll impress others.

[Note: another Indian blogger who has recently published a novel is Chandrahas Choudhury, of The Middle Stage. Chandrahas' Arzee the Dwarf just came out on HarperCollins India; an excerpt from it is here]

There's some great stuff about procrastination in My Friend Sancho, which resonates particularly well for me since I am a world-class procrastinator myself:

I went to office late in the morning. I worked for a couple of hours. That is to say, I tried to work. My mind kept wandering, and the internet gave it places to wander to. Every three minutes I told myself, Just two minutes more, let me just check out this page, then I will work. But I'd check out that page, and click on a link there, or think of something because of what I was reading and go somewhere else, and so on and on until it was almost lunchtime and I was better informed about the world but less so about my own piece.

I have been there. I have been exactly there, more often than I would really like to admit. (And I suspect Abir Ganguly and I are not alone in this!)

Another aspect of the novel I found provocative relates to Abir's attempt to cope with a police officer in his acquaintance named Thombre who has done something questionable. Rather than demonize Thombre as a clear villain, Abir finds himself sympathizing with the officer, who has risen up from a working class background:

Yes, yes, self-loathing is fashionable and I cultivate it well. But really, had I been born in Thombre's place, with his background, his parents, his circumstances, I have no doubt that I'd have turned out worse. Yes, worse: I would have been the lazy schmuck who failed to clear his MPSC and ended up as a mechanic somewhere, or maybe tired for a lower grade of government job, and was miserable--genuinely miserable, not just down because angst is fashionable. I'd have looked at a career path like Thombre's with envy. He had made the best of what life had thrown his way. I couldn't bring myself to condemn him on moral grounds--the world around him, the real world as he put it, had not place for morality. He did what he had to.

I am not sure I agree with Abir's act of sympathy here; what Thombre has done is not really forgivable in my book, no matter what the extenuating circumstances might be. Still, I find the moral quandary Abir has found himself in intriguing, and it's intelligible given where he is going as a character in this novel.

The writing in all three of the passages I've quoted is functional and unadorned. Excerpts like those above probably won't give anyone Grand Mal seizures as Great Writing. But the voice Varma has invented is interesting and the insights are honest; they resonated with me, giving me a reason to keep turning pages.

1,000,000 Visitors

Sometime last night, my SiteMeter recorded my millionth visitor.

It's been nearly four years now since I started this blog (March 2004), so in fact that isn't all that impressive (blogs with larger numbers of readers might record the same number in much less time). But it is still a bit of a landmark, and maybe an opportunity for a little self-reflection.

Writing this blog has had a rather large impact on my life, mostly in positive ways. It's certainly been an asset professionally -- I meet quite a number of people at conferences who say, "oh, you're the Amardeep Singh whose blog I randomly came across when I googled [X subject]." Especially amongst people who are in my sub-field, the blog has become a kind of calling card (mostly because of Google, I find; the number of regular readers remains somewhat limited). It isn't magic, of course -- nowhere near as good as publishing, say, a really influential essay or a widely read academic book -- but it is sometimes nice to find that people know who you are.

There's also been the occasional media moment, though in the end getting quoted by a newspaper or two doesn't really make that much difference one way or the other (newspaper articles are quickly forgotten).

Perhaps most importantly, some of my longer blog posts have been the starting points for serious scholarly projects (including a couple of things I'm working on right now). Blogging has been a really effective testing ground for ideas, and a place to (publicly) jot down notes on an author or idea that could be developed into something more substantial later. It's also been good way to stave off intellectual stagnation: since I started doing this kind of writing, my sense of what might be worth writing about in a serious way has expanded quite a bit -- I've become much less "specialized," and much more prone to humor my broad, wandering curiosity. (I have always been more the kind of person who likes to know something about a large number of subjects than the other way around, which is probably why I've found blogging such a congenial medium.)

I've made a lot of friends through blogging, sometimes with people I've ended up getting to know in person, and sometimes with people who, because they're far away, I haven't yet met face to face. (One day I'd like to do a grand tour, and go and meet in person all the people I've corresponded with over the years via blogging... it would be quite a trip!)

I do sometimes regret that the blog isn't quite as dynamic or personal as it was during the first two years I was writing. For one thing, I simply have less time to blog than I used to. Having a baby means that your evenings and weekends are mostly computer-free, meaning that you really have to get everything (including "real" work and blog writing) done before 6pm on Friday afternoon. Another big culprit for that shift has admittedly been my participation in Sepia Mutiny, which has very active comment boards that tend to suck up attention.

That said, I'm fairly satisfied with the general direction I've followed with this blog, and not worried if the readership is no longer expanding by leaps and bounds. I'm now pretty comfortable doing what I'm doing here, and not particularly pressed to rustle up new readers. I've also said a lot of what I have to say on some glaring issues (like, say, communalism in India) and, after having debated back and forth with people on hot-button topics over months and years, I'm not in a big rush to re-open certain old debates out of the blue, unless something controversial occurs. (When it does, be assured that I will be there, if I have something to say about it...)

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, or sent me feedback over the years.
I hope you stay with me through 2008, too; I'm not going anywhere.

Sameness, what Sameness?

Mukul Kesavan has a column in the Calcutta Telegraph. It is, I think, the first full-frontal attack on the desi blogosphere that I've seen published in an Indian newspaper.

And it's so, so wrong. Let's start at the beginning:

Every English-speaking Indian man between 25 and 60 has written about the Hindi movies he has seen, the English books he has read, the foreign places he has travelled to and the curse of communalism. You mightn’t have read them all (there are a lot of them and some don’t make it to print) but their manuscripts exist and in this age of the internet, these masters of blah have migrated to the Republic of Blog. A cultural historian from the remote future (investigating, perhaps, the death of English in India) might use up a sub-section of a chapter to explore the sameness of their concerns. Why did a bunch of grown men, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, write about the same movies, novels, journeys and riots? Why Naipaul? Why not nature? Or Napier? Or the nadeswaram? Why Bachchan? And not Burma? Or Bhojpuri? And, most weirdly, why pogroms and chauvinism? Why not programmes on television? (link)

First, my biggest complaint with Kesavan's piece is his refusal to name names. The "Republic of Blog" is for him guilty of a mind-numbing sameness, but if he doesn't tell us what blogs he's reading, it's impossible to verify what he says.

Second, why only men? Aren't there lots of Indian women bloggers? Indeed, there are too many to list, so let's just name one good one: Rashmi Bansal's Youth Curry.

Third, why not acknowledge that people are blogging in various Indian languages? In addition to its English "main page," Desipundit links to blogs in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bangla, and Marathi. (Sadly, no Punjabi...)

Then the substantive question -- amongst Indian male bloggers writing in English, is there in fact a deadening sameness? Do people really only talk about, as Kesavan suggests 1) Hindi films, 2) English novels, 3) various and sundry travels, and 4) Communalism? And do the comments on communalism all take a left-center approach (commonly derided as "pseudo-secular")?

Two of the four topics named by Kesavan, English-language novels and communalism, are a little strange coming from him; Kesavan is himself the author of an English-language novel (quite a good one, actually), as well as a book called Secular Common-Sense. (More recently, he published a book about Cricket, Men in White, which I haven't seen.)

I think a quick look at some of the links at the (now dated) Top 100 Indian blogs at suggests a great deal more diversity than Kesavan allows. He doesn't mention all the tech blogs (there are LOTS of those, and they get many more readers than even popular general interest blogs like India Uncut), cooking blogs, defense policy blogs, or, for that matter, cricket blogs.

It's true that a lot of what people post on their blogs often isn't that exciting; it's intellectual chit-chat, quick links, and regurgitated news. But I think that chit-chat is, in an indirect way, actually a really important sign of a society's well being. And when the discussions turn to politics, the to-and-fro of conversations (and yes, arguments) that take place on blogs as well as in the mainstream media can be a really important way by which democracy sustains itself. Blogging can be one measure of the health of civil society.

Problems with Google Docs

You may be wondering where I've been. I've been working on some essays, most recently on E.M. Forster. That's about done, but now I have two more essays to write by April 1 -- one on the State of Postcolonial Theory, and the second being a revised/extended version of my MLA talk last December.

Shockingly, I've noticed that not blogging is sometimes correlated to getting more writing done. Amongst friends and colleagues, I've often argued that this actually isn't the case, that blogging and writing/publishing can in fact be fully complementary. At least for right now, for me, less blogging seems to mean more scholarly productivity. (I might yet change my mind, especially with the onset of Spring Break next week).

* * *

On my non-teaching days I've been doing research at the Van Pelt library at the University of Pennsylvania. I generally don't carry my laptop (it's both heavy and fragile), and for the most part that's not an issue, since most of one's time at the library is spent finding books and articles, photocopying them, and reading them. However, if you actually want to write at a computer, you have to use their public terminals. Some university library terminals have MS Word, but many times you just get a bare-bones Web browser.

But if you have Google, who needs MS Word anyways, right? Haven't we entered the golden age of "all you need is a browser"? (Wrong. And, No.)

For my session this past Monday, I uploaded my Word Docs to Google Docs to get around the public terminal problem. I then spent a couple of hours working on a paper in Google Docs on a browswer at a public terminal. And here's problem #1: there's no footnotes function in Google Docs! My MS Word footnotes do still appear in the document, but at the end. Instead of footnotes, Google Docs has a "comment" function, where you can insert the equivalent of a footnote. I tried using that to insert a few footnotes that needed inserting.

Upon returning home, I re-converted the files to MS Word, and noticed the second problem: the Google Docs Comments don't translate back to MS Word comments. Moreover, all the footnotes formatting in the original document is now gone. The footnotes are still in the text, but they aren't actually "coded" as footnotes anymore -- they're just text with a number attached.

Needless to say, if you have upwards of 30 footnotes in your article, this can be a huge pain. Until Google improves both its internal functionality and its compatibility with MS Word, I won't be using Google Docs for any serious writing.

Have other readers worked with Google Docs? Likes, dislikes?

I'll take the bronze

Congratulations to Falstaff on winning "Best Humanities Blog" at the IndiBloggies, with 141 votes. Falstaff actually lives in the Philadelphia area, so it's slightly odd that we've never met. (Well, not that odd, considering that I spend most of my free time these days at Babies R Us, tussling with other "soccer dads" over who gets the last can of powdered Enfamil...) The incredibly prolific Chandrahas also got more votes than me (110). See his brilliant and scholarly comparison of William Blake to an Oriya devotional poet named Salebaga here.

To the 91 people who voted for me, thanks for your support! I appreciate you taking the time to navigate the Indibloggies' rather convoluted voting system.

I also wanted to congratulate Greatbong, for winning blog of the year. He is actually quite funny, and has a way with words -- both Hindi and English (though, perhaps, surprisingly, not Bangla). I'm not quite sure I'd be as quick to joke about the Samjhauta bombing as he is, but you can't go wrong finding silly stuff to laugh about and/or cringe over in big Bollywood multi-starrers.

Vote For Me, If You LIke: IndiBloggies

I've been nominated for "Best Humanities Blog," in the 2006 IndiBloggies. You can vote for me here [UPDATE: Voting has now closed]. Voting continues through February 20th.

Though recently most of my blogging has been short-form, I think I did some decent posts in 2006, and many of the more substantial entries are listed on the sidebar. But since I haven't actually updated the sidebar in several months, here are some of the highlights from between October and December:

Masud Khan

2006 in South Asia-oriented books

Anthems of Resistance: Progressive Urdu Poetry

The Myth of Martial Races

Nabokov, Butterflies, Mimesis

The Silencing of Tenzin Tsundue

Macacas, Youtube, and the Question of Respect

The Illusionist vs. The Prestige

Notes on MLA and SALA

Gandhi-Giri in Full Bloom

"Blogger Authenticity" vs. Presidential Campaigning

Amanda Marcotte left Pandagon to be the head blogger for the John Edwards presidential campaign. But now she's being attacked by right-wing bloggers for snarky comments she'd made earlier on the Catholic church; here is her carefully-worded (and laudable) response to the current blog-tempest in a blog-teapot. (I actually thought she was in the wrong on the whole "Burqa" blogspat issue, but that was a whole 'nother can of worms.)

The paragraph that caught my eye in the Time Magazine article on the pheneomenon was this one:

But bottling the lightning of blogger authenticity is not easy. Many blogosphere activists suspect anyone signing on with a campaign of selling out. And in the era of drum-tight message control, campaigns are not inclined to tolerate the independence bloggers need to maintain their credibility. (link)

Wait, do bloggers still have authenticity?