Friday, October 15, 2010

Au Revoir, Bitch

For bloggers of a certain vintage -- those of us who marched into the academic blogosphere around 2004-5 -- the news that Bitch, Ph.D. has called it a day is a bit of a shock.

In her day, Bitch was the undisputed champ of the academic blogosphere. She combined attitude, insight, attitude, humor, autobiography, attitude, sex, and attitude in unpredictable but irresistible ways. She could single-handedly change the entire conversation -- yes, kids, there was a time when there was a single conversation -- just by calling attention to it. And I have to admit that her stories about Pseudonymous Kid struck a chord, since he isn’t much older than TB.

Her links were mighty. The day she linked to my Elephants piece, I got more traffic than I ever had before, and probably since. In one of her early rounds of guest blogging, she even let me pinch-hit for her for a few posts. It didn’t go especially well -- I decided to try to fit her voice, only to discover that she was an original -- but I was flattered and thrilled to have the chance to try. (Her commenters were a lot tougher than mine!) Though we wrote from wildly different situations, I saw a kindred spirit there, and at one point even tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit her to my college.

In many ways, she was a sort of successor to the Invisible Adjunct. For a few years there, the sheer novelty of an open, public sphere in which people could write across ranks and tell their respective truths in narrative form drew a spate of frustrated people whose pent-up frustration gave rise to some prickly, but damned interesting, writing. Some of the topics had never been discussed candidly in public before, and while the efforts often wore the awkwardness of first drafts, they also carried the energy of discovery. Those early flame wars got as heated as they did because they felt like they mattered.

Since then, the blogosphere has evolved and fragmented. Facebook and Twitter came along and sent conversations in different directions, and after a few years, many of the “I’ve always wanted to write about this” topics had been written about. That’s not to deny that nifty writers still come along, but the sense of a ‘scene’ has faded. I have to admit reading far fewer blogs than I used to, and being surprised somewhat less often than I once was.

I recall a piece Bitch did several years ago about bloggers as living, breathing “author-functions.” (They’re sort of like personas.) Part of the appeal of following blogs is watching the author-functions evolve, and become more like themselves. Some, like Dr. Crazy, actually mark the transitions with formal changes of address. Others, like Aunt B., become the published authors they always should have been. My own space became a cross between a blog and a column, which was how I had always thought of it in the first place. Bitch herself moved away from academia, and the blog did, too.

Heaven knows we need people who speak the truth about academia, in their own voices, across ranks. People who can do that in interesting ways are rare. Those who can add humor, and attitude, and the unmistakable stamp of a person underneath it all are even rarer.

Au revoir, Bitch. May you and PK bring your characteristic grace and vinegar with you, wherever your next adventures take you.