It’s difficult to decide the ideal starting place for a discussion, so I will just talk about the first thing that comes to mind: J. M. W. Turner, since I’ve just recently presented a paper on his works. A virtual tour of Tate’s online Turner gallery always yields fascinating discoveries of his lesser-known paintings, many of which I find more pleasing than his more famous pictures. I love Turner’s Florence paintings, particularly the view of the city from San Miniato (see above) – the view in real life is breath-taking. Turner’s topographical and architectural scenes are distinguished for their details and their relative faithfulness to the actual landscape. This Florence painting was probably based on a sketch that Turner did during his 1819 tour of Italy, though the painting itself would have been completed c. 1827, in connection with a project that Turner was working on for the publisher Charles Heath, entitled Picturesque Views of Italy – unfortunately, the book never appeared, due to the publisher’s financial difficulties.
After perusing so many academic blogs, filled with a range of materials as diverse as personal anecdotes and full lectures, I’ve finally decided to start my own version. Being relatively isolated in terms of my current geographic location, I find a greater need than before to keep an online journal, especially since most of my friends live far away in other countries. This blog is also an attempt to find a new kind of community, or merely a way for me to continue my soliloquies.
I have actually been blogging for about five years, mostly for myself and a select group of friends, and not for any large audiences. The first blog was eventually abandoned because it encouraged excessive outpourings on my part; the second blog, still running, is on travel, design & photography.
I admit I feel a certain degree of ambivalence about academic blogs. For one, there is the question of intellectual property and copyright issues. For example, would I be breaking a law if I publish certain images online? Second, while it is important to adapt to changing modes of communication, there is the problem that virtual communication erodes more traditional forms of communication, such as writing. Third, there is a unique mixing of public and private in these online notebooks and communities, and while they often yield interesting results, I am not entirely comfortable with such public articulation of private thought.
But after going though a few academic blogs that I really admire, I thought it would be nice to have a little online collection of thoughts, ideas and notes, a digital archive where I can sort the vast amount of information that I need to process. This blog is, first and foremost, a tool for academic practice. It is also a form of long-term memory, helping me chart the development of my book-in-progress and future projects, and it might even provide a way of dealing with the messiness of thinking and writing in a profession that demands meticulous organization.
This will be an online ‘room of my own’, in many ways, where ideas are forged, projects begun and opinions voiced, I will do my utmost to give it due attention.
In order to practice ‘public thinking’, I will also try to write in a more journalistic style than the cryptic, winding style that I’m used to. These posts are meant to be like digital post-it notes, swiftly written and ‘pressed’. I also want to explore the ways in which texts, ideas and objects can be related to everyday life and language. It is equally important for me to discuss the real life of the academic world, to destroy certain myths and perhaps point out new ones, which is particularly crucial at a time like this, when high education in many countries is extremely volatile.
A note on the blog name: I chose this name simply because I am obsessed with marbled paper (and all other kinds of paper…), and frequently flip through antique books looking for unique samples of hand marbling. I will write about the metaphoric implications of marbling at some point.
Image: David Mitchell’s Notebook, from The Paris Review