Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Blogs Are Dripping With Pathos, Occasionally Logos, But Where's the Ethos?

It is always interesting to note how much value you put in another's words based on how much you know of them as a person. Pseudonymity definitely has its pitfalls in this respect. No one knows whether or not to trust me at first blush, which is probably why I over-compensate: "too much information," or TMI, is not really too much because I'm trying to make up for the absence of name, face, and identifying details.

I don't identify my school, but I try to establish my credentials by telling you all that I went to a Top-20 law school, and am currently at a Top-10 law school and spefically what programs and at what stage of completion. I back up these assertions somewhat by trying to write intelligently and knowledgeably about my educational experiences. I also put up an awful lot of little precises and assignments to convey that yes, I really am going to school and pursuing a doctoral degree. I put up a lot of my current research to let you know what I'm working on and what I may credibly call my areas of expertise. That's ethos mixed with logos though, and more logos than ethos, unless you take my education as the measure of me. But my credentials back up my arguments, which I would hope stand on their own. I own up to my limitations and insecurities. I don't obscure much besides my geographical/institutional location, and my real name. I even blog personal stuff, so that you know my character and personality as well as my work, only recently acquiring enough discretion to not blog about my family, friends, and romantic life (trust me, that leaves still a lot of neurotic and personal blogging)--and there is my pathos. But when called upon to do so, I do let go an identifying detail about myself, like where I went to college. Over the past year, I hope that I've demonstrated enough of my character for you to trust in this Belle Lettre person, and know that I'm not falsely representing the Real Life Alter Ego.

That's my logos, pathos, and ethos, or at least what I offer. What's yours?

In this year and a half or so of blogging, I've corresponded with many academics, grad students, lawyers, and fellow blog travelers. It's been very awesome. I've found people to surprise me more often than I surprise them. Again, that's partly a function of my blog: my blog readers know more about me than I ever do about them unless we've interacted over email or in real life. I think it surprises people how fast I talk (I mention it periodically, but it really must be experienced) and how nice I am. I may come off as bold and brassy (with bits of snark and peppered with curse words) on the blog, but in real life, I have this unfortunate, inescapable, probably cloying sweetness. I am not bragging. This is just sad fact.

I am dripping with sincerity rather than sarcasm, and I have a wide, hopeful eyes and happy smiles. Crusty old Bostonians and mean New Yorkers stop in their tracks to give me directions when I furrow my brow over my map. People are always helping me reach things off of high shelves, or helping me with heavy doors and objects. This inescapable aura of Bambi-ness is something I can get away from on the blog, and I like that. You know why? Because Bambi gets shot at. My sincerity is coupled with an entirely too trusting character, and this will fuck me over and over again. Naivete is not long for the world. The blog gives me practice for thinking and writing with confidence and brio, and allows me to express cynical, unpopular thoughts that I often am too reticent to express in person. Believe it or not, I am actually restrained and even demure. It's more a function of social awkwardness, but I admit, it's from being shy as a kid. I sometimes defer to others, and do not pipe up and say "I don't like this modern atonalist music," at least until I am comfortable with that person. But suffice it to say, upon the first meeting, you will not necessarily be meeting Belle--not yet, anyway. Perhaps by the end of the day, or over the course of several letters, you will meet me. And then, I will not surprise you.

What surprises me? That some bloggers/academics are warmer/nicer than I'd expect them to be. This is not an indictment of those I've met--it's just that when you write things that I disagree with and that we have publicly disagreed on (or when my blog is your mirror opposite) I wonder if there will be friction and awkwardness. Turns out, not necessarily true. Dynamic Prof wrote THE article that opposed my entire law school education, and not only did I come around to his point of view (sort of, limitedly), I've totally come around to being his friend. TC and I have vastly different conceptions of government and legal authority--but we agree on "the important things," like our regard for each other. I think I've blogged about my devotion to her enough for you to think that TC = my new boyfriend, unless you followed the narrative. The Philosophical Werewolf is scary smart, but not so disdainful and superior as I would expect his intelligence to make him to the rest of us plebes. He's kind, warm and funny, and shockingly didn't say anything scathing when he heard what was coming out of my stereo. The Roving Commenter is a prodigal prodigy of prodigious delight--and I didn't get that from years of reading his smart and snarky comments.

But I wouldn't know all of this without having reached out or been reached out to. Email is awesome. I'm in contact with so many readers and academics that I feel like Law and Letters has become a separate intellectual community for me. But I don't know who most of you are.

I don't know who most people are that I read or who read me. I participate in comment threads all the time with academics whom I've never corresponded with. Lately, I've been dropping in on huge comment threads on really popular blogs (I don't know how to classify them...not academic blogs per se, just sui generis blog powerhouses that are oligarchical in structure and cliqueish in nature). It's like being the new kid at a playground. All the kids look at you warily, as you de-lurk and say "Um, Hi. My name is Belle. My parents and I just moved here. You want to play with me?" So I know how scary it is to de-lurk. You have no known ethos! You have to just say "hi, my name is" and try to immediately establish rapport and bona fides. Or not. You could just comment and leave it at that, or email and start a correspondence. I usually start off with the former, and sometimes segue naturally into the latter.

The beauty of pseudonymity is that it lets me write whatever I want in a safe space (bounded by some internal/external norms, of course). The awesomeness of being a lurking reader is that you get to know me without telling me who you are, which you should only do if you are comfortable. But it would be nice to know with whom I'm talking. When I'm the new kid at the playground, it's up to me to establish my ethos, before others will play with me. They all know who each other are (and believe me they do, I've been dropping in on blogs that have existed for years, and I only started reading four months ago), and probably view me with suspicion.

Not so at Law and Letters! I'm friendly! Feel free to comment away (I moderate comments, but approve everything but spam and the truly offensive and by that I don't mean disagreeable). Feel free to email me!

I give you my ethos. I've given you tons of pathos. I hope, some logos along the way too.

Where's yours?


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